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  2. Abstract


A lexicon describing the flavor characteristics of beef across different cuts, grades, and cooking temperatures and methods was developed. Four major cuts of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) quality grade beef were cooked to five endpoint temperatures using braising, broiling (oven broiling and electric charbroiling), roasting and grilling (indoor and outdoor grilling). Six highly trained panelists identified and defined a total of 38 aroma and flavor characteristics in 176 beef samples. Beef identity, brown/roasted, bloody/serumy, metallic, fat-like, overall sweet, sour aromatics and five tastes were present in practically all samples. Other attributes were present only in certain samples, depending on either the sample group or the cooking method/endpoint temperature combination used. This lexicon potentially offers the beef industry a standard tool to identify and quantify flavor attributes as impacted by temperature, cooking method, aging process, storage time, diet regime, packaging, USDA quality grades, etc.


Until now, the beef industry's main focus has been to assess beef tenderness and juiciness, with an emphasis on ways to improve beef texture. Meat companies and academic institutions have been using the 1995 American Meat Science Association guidelines to assess the flavor of beef, which are not comprehensive. Recent work has focused on flavor, and the industry needs a standardized flavor lexicon that can be used for many projects. It is important for the industry to be able to systematically identify and quantify flavor attributes that drive consumer acceptance.


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  2. Abstract

Flavor, juiciness and tenderness had been reported by various researchers as the main drivers for beef consumer acceptability (Morgan et al. 1991; Neely et al. 1998), but both flavor and texture are major properties that include a wide range of attributes. Flavor in beef is not a single attribute, although it has been measured as a single attribute for many years as defined originally by the American Meat Science Association (AMSA 1978), which was modified later (AMSA 1995). Beef flavor consists of multiple attributes, including general categories of flavor aromatics, basic tastes, feeling factors and aftertastes as similarly seen for other foods. Although a lot of studies have considered flavor attributes when studying beef products, the industry does not have a complete library of terms, a general reference that describes the actual flavor components of beef. There are hundreds of volatile compounds that contribute to beef flavor and aroma, compounds that can be altered through storage and cooking (Calkins and Hodgen 2007) and that make meat flavor a complex object of study.

In some studies, beef flavor has been measured as “overall flavor” intensity to evaluate how different treatments affected this broad attribute (e.g., Carmack et al. 1997; Baublits et al. 2005; Rowe et al. 2009; Hayes et al. 2010). Other studies took into account different components of the beef flavor, but never with the aim of developing a general lexicon for intact beef muscle. For example, Johnson and Civille (1986) developed a standardized lexicon for off-flavor descriptors in different meats; this lexicon, which has been referenced more than 60 times from its publication, provided eight flavor descriptors: cooked beef-lean, cooked beef-fat, browned, serum/bloody, grainy/cowy, oxidized/rancid/painty, fishy and cardboard, but focused on warmed-over flavor (WOF). That same year, Lynch et al. (1986) used 13 different flavor and mouthfeel terms with references to study the flavor changes during display of different packaged ground beef. The terms generated were beefiness, fat, freshness, stale/off, bloody/serumy/metallic/sharp, dairy/milky, sweet, sour, bitter, salty, oily, metallic and astringency/drying. Several studies have provided different definitions or references for beef flavor attributes, but there is a lot of variability in the terms used in these studies. Miller et al. (1996) examined flavor attributes of beef fed with different diets and added eight more flavor descriptors to the current list (livery, soured, corn, corn/barley, barley, sour, bitter and salty); however, these terms were not referenced. Luchsinger et al. (1997) examined the flavor attributes imparted in whole muscle and ground beef as a result of different dosage of γ-irradiation; a total of 10 aroma and 13 flavor descriptors were identified and referenced in this study. Campbell et al. (2001) defined and referenced six flavor terms associated with dry-aged meat while studying the effects of dry-aging on palatability of beef: overall, aged-beef flavor, beef flavor, brown/roasted, bloody/serumy, metallic and astringent. These terms were used by Yancey et al. (2005), who evaluated the variability in flavor characteristics of three types of beef muscle with differing maturing levels, marbling grades and pH levels.

Other studies involving the flavor of beef have been conducted in the past decade, studies in which some of the aforementioned attributes were used or in which some new terms were developed (Adhikari et al. 2004; Bruce et al. 2005; Lorenzen et al. 2005). Recently, Maughan et al. (2011) studied the sensory flavor profile of rib steaks from grass- and grain-fed cattle. The panel developed 13 terms (astringent, barny, bloody, brothy, browned, fatty, gamey, grassy, juicy, livery metallic, oxidized/WOF and roast beef) other than the five tastes with definitions and quantitative references. Although the number of studies in which beef flavor is mentioned is fairly large, no consistency could be found in the terms, definitions or references of the components of this general sensory attribute. Also, in each of these studies the breadth of samples used was limited.

As more value-added cuts of beef and new beef products are developed, the beef industry would like to have a standardized flavor lexicon to characterize and evaluate the flavor attributes among different beef products. The objective of this study was to develop a universal lexicon for flavor of beef by determining a comprehensive list of aroma and flavor attributes present in commercially available intact muscle retail cuts, varieties and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) grades across different cooking methods and degrees of doneness.


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  2. Abstract


All the beef samples were supplied by Texas A&M University. A wide spectrum of samples was chosen to capture the flavor variations in beef (Table 1). In brief, factors such as quality (prime, top choice, choice, select and standard), age of the animal before slaughter (calf/veal, 18–24 months and >40 months), gender (cows and bulls), age of meat (dry-aged and wet-aged), diet regime (grass-fed) and the effects of packaging (vacuum-packaged, modified atmosphere and polyvinyl chloride [PVC] overwrap) were considered for sample selection. Some samples of premium grass-fed Wagyu beef were also included in the study.

Sample description
GroupSubgroupSamples used (n)
  1. PVC, polyvinyl chloride; USDA, United States Department of Agriculture.

QualityHighWagyu (5)
USDA prime (12)
USDA prime grass-fed (13)
USDA top choice (16)
USDA choice (17)
LowUSDA select (22)
USDA standard (21)
Age/genderVealVeal (9)
CowCow (16)
BullBull (15)
TreatmentAgedDry-aged (6)
Wet-aged (4)
PackagingVacuum (2)
Modified atmosphere (2)
PVC overwrap (2)
Other Long frozen (3)
Warmed-over (6)
Spoiled Spoiled (5)
Muscle categories  
 Strip loin  
 Top butt  
 Top round  
Cooking methods  
  Oven broiling  
  Electric charbroiling  
  Indoor grill  
  Outside charcoal grill  
Endpoint temperatures (C)  

A full factorial was not considered because it was not possible to obtain, nor necessary for the study. Instead, a wide range of combinations was selected that the researchers believed would represent possible and reasonable combinations to provide the widest range for attribute determination. A total of 176 samples ultimately were tested.

Sample Preparation

Beef samples were cooked to five endpoint temperatures (57.2, 62.8, 68.3, 73.9 and 79.4C) by braising, broiling (oven broiling and electric charbroiling), grilling (indoor grill and outdoor charcoal grill) and roasting (Table 1). The endpoint temperatures used in this study do not correspond to AMSA/USDA doneness levels (ranging from 55 to 82C), but represent a wide range for capturing the heat-generated flavors such as those generated through Maillard reaction.

The outdoor grill was used on selected strip loin samples to capture the characteristics that resulted from the grilling process using charcoal and/or woodchips. For inducing WOF, a selection of beef samples cooked by different methods was kept overnight in the refrigerator and reheated in the conventional or microwave oven to simulate the common techniques used by consumers. Some spoiled samples were also cooked and evaluated to determine the presence of possible aromatic characters associated with spoiled beef. The panelists were instructed to only sniff (orthonasal aroma) the spoiled samples and not to taste them.

Beef samples were stored at −26C until they were ready to be cooked and evaluated. The samples were removed from the freezer 24 h prior to cooking and allowed to thaw in the refrigerator (4C). Because of their larger size, the samples for roasting were removed from the freezer 48 h prior to cooking in order to allow samples to thaw completely in the refrigerator. For all cooking methods, a temperature probe (Mainstays Black Acu-Rite meat thermometer with probe, model 00993STW1, Lake Geneva, WI) was inserted into the approximate geometric center of the sample.


One tablespoon of vegetable oil was heated in a nonstick aluminum pan on high heat. Once the oil was hot enough, the steak was placed in the pan and seared for 2 min on each side. After browning, the sample was taken out of the pan and placed into a Dutch oven containing 500 mL of reverse osmosis, de-ionized, carbon-filtered water, and the sample was placed on the stove on high heat. The heat was kept on high until the water started to boil, then the heat was lowered to medium, and the sample simmered until the target internal temperature was reached.


Ovens (Whirpool self-cleaning oven model RB160PXYB, Benton Harbor, MI) were set on “broil” and preheated for at least 5 min at 260C. The beef was placed on a broiling pan with the pan surface approximately 90 mm below the heat source. The meat was broiled until half the endpoint temperature was reached and the sample was flipped and continued cooking until the target internal temperature was reached.

Electric Charbroiling.

A countertop electric charbroiler (model B-40, Wells Manufacturing Company, Verdi, NV) was used in this study. Water was poured into the metal tray below the grill until the water level was at 5 cm. The grill was preheated on high (approximately 316C) for 1 h before use. The sample was placed on the grill for 4 min, then flipped and cooked for another 4 min. After that, the sample was turned every 2 min until the target temperature was reached.


The oven was set on “bake” and preheated to approximately 163C. The sample was placed on a wire aluminum rack (fat side up if there was a fat side) in the roasting pan. The roasting pan (with the rack) was placed in the oven and cooked until the target internal temperature was reached.


An electric grill (model GRP100, George Foreman Grill, Miramar, FL) was set on high and preheated for 10 min. The sample was placed horizontally in the middle of the grill. The top of the grill was closed, and the sample was cooked until the target temperature was reached.

Outdoor Grilling.

The grill was set up in a well-ventilated area outside the building. Seventy-five charcoal briquettes were used and allowed to burn for 10 min with the grill lid opened. The grill was then closed and the vent shut half-way, letting the charcoal burn for another 10 min. The top rack was placed on the grill, the steak sample was then placed on the rack, and the grill lid was shut. The steak was turned every 4 min until the internal temperature (68.3C) was reached. Also, following the same methodology, woodchips were added on top of the charcoals for some samples to test the aroma that the wood would bring to the sample. The woodchips were soaked in water for 12 h before use.

Warmed-over Samples.

After some samples were cooked to the assigned level of doneness by a specified cooking method, they were wrapped in aluminum foil and refrigerated for 24 h. After that time, half of these samples were reheated in a microwave oven (2 min on high power; model NN-S740BAW F, Panasonic Household Microwave, Secaucus, NJ), and some other samples were reheated in a conventional oven that was preheated for 10 min at 204C. The sample was heated until an internal temperature of 60C was reached.

Lexicon Development


Six highly trained panelists from the Sensory Analysis Center at Kansas State University (Manhattan, KS) participated in the lexicon development. Each panelist had completed at least 120 h of general descriptive analysis training and had a minimum of 1,200 h of descriptive sensory testing, including food products with descriptors similar to those that might be found in beef.

Serving and Evaluation Procedure.

Glass jelly jars with screwed lids (approximately 120 mL) were used to serve beef samples to the panelists. Each sample jar was coded with random three-digit number and placed on a warming tray at least 1 h before serving. Immediately after the internal temperature was reached, the beef sample was cut into approximately 1.25 cm cubes and three pieces of beef cube were given to each panelist. The tendon, cartilage and excess fat on the edge of the beef piece were removed prior to cubing the samples. The covered sample jar was placed on a warm clay brick (which was warmed at approximately 127C in an oven for at least 2 h) in a tin tray and served immediately to the panelists. One sample was served at a time, and panelists evaluated five to six samples over 90-min sessions. A total of 176 samples were evaluated in 36 sessions. Panelists used unsalted-top saltine crackers (Nabisco, East Hanover, NJ) and reverse osmosis, de-ionized, carbon-filtered water to clean their palates and reduce build-up of any flavors from one sample to the next. The evaluations were done under red light to reduce any biases that could occur from the color and appearance of the beef samples.

Development of Definitions and References.

The panel was instructed that a complete beef flavor lexicon needed to be developed. They were not given any other information regarding the quality of beef, different cuts or cooking methods that were used in order to minimize any biases. The attribute determination and description procedure was adapted from the Flavor Profile method (Keane 1992) and was similar to that used by Civille et al. (2010), Talavera-Bianchi et al. (2010), Koppel and Chambers (2010), Dooley et al. (2009) and Thompson et al. (2009).

Four orientation sessions were held to establish the base terminologies for flavor and aroma attributes using 16 beef samples of different cuts, grades and cooking methods, including the grass-fed and warmed-over samples. The lexicon development was based on consensus data obtained from the panelists.

The panelists initially evaluated each beef sample individually, writing down the list of descriptors present in the sample. Then, the panel leader led a discussion to reach an agreement on the flavor and aroma descriptors present in the sample. Once the panel came to an agreement, the attributes were defined more precisely and the references, as well as the preparation method for each reference, were established for all attributes.


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  2. Abstract

A total of 38 terms, including the five tastes, were observed after evaluation of the beef samples by the panel (Table 2). Out of these 38 descriptors, 26 flavor attributes are defined and referenced in Table 2. The rest of the attributes are listed by name as “other attributes” (Table 2). The frequency of occurrence of these 26 attributes is shown in Table 3. Beef ID (beef identity), brown/roasted, bloody/serumy, metallic, fat-like, overall sweet and sour aromatics along with the five tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami) were present in almost all the samples (>99%) that were evaluated by the panel (Table 3) and hence could be categorized as the major attributes present in beef. Some other important attributes present only in select samples depending on the group characteristics were liver-like, green-hay, green, chemical, burned, rancid, spoiled, warmed-over, animal hair, cocoa, leather, dairy, sour dairy and cooked milk. The frequency of occurrence of these aforementioned attributes varied between 5 and 40%, when all the samples were considered. As an example, around 80% of the “cow” samples were rancid, but overall “rancid” appeared in only 17% of the samples.

  • * 

    Major notes.

  • USDA, United States Department of Agriculture.

Animal hairThe aromatics perceived when raw wool is saturated with water.Caproic acid (hexanoic acid) = 12.0 (aroma)
Beef identity*Amount of beef flavor identity in the sample.Swanson's beef broth = 5.0 (aroma and flavor)
80% lean ground beef = 7.0 (aroma and flavor)
Beef brisket = 11.0 (aroma and flavor)
Bitter*The fundamental taste factor associated with a caffeine solution.0.01% caffeine solution = 2.0 (flavor)
0.02% caffeine solution = 3.5 (flavor)
Bloody/serumy*The aromatics associated with blood on cooked meat products. Closely related to metallic aromatic.USDA choice strip steak = 5.5 (aroma and flavor)
Beef brisket = 6.0 (aroma and flavor)
Brown/roasted*A round, full aromatic generally associated with beef suet that has been broiled.Beef suet = 8.0 (aroma and flavor)
80% lean ground beef = 10.0 (aroma and flavor)
BurntThe sharp/acrid flavor note associate with over-roasted beef muscle, something over-baked or excessively browned in oil.Alf's red wheat Puffs = 5.0 (aroma and flavor)
ChemicalThe aromatics associated with garden hose, hot Teflon pan, plastic packaging and petroleum based product such as charcoal liter fluid.Zip-Loc sandwich bag = 13.0 (aroma)
Clorox in water = 6.5 (flavor)
CocoaThe aromatics associated with cocoa beans and powdered cocoa and chocolate bars. Brown, sweet, dusty, often bitter aromatics.Hershey's cocoa powder in water = 3.0 (flavor)
Hershey's chocolate kiss = 7.5 (aroma), 8.5 (flavor)
Cooked milkA combination of sweet, brown flavor notes and aromatics associated with heated milk.Mini Babybel original Swiss cheese = 2.5 (flavor)
Dillon's whole milk = 4.5 (flavor)
DairyThe aromatics associated with products made from cow's milk, such as cream, milk, sour cream or butter milk.Dillon's reduced fat milk (2%) = 8.0 (flavor)
Fat-like*The aromatics associated with cooked animal fat.Hillshire farms Lit'l beef smokies = 7.0 (aroma and flavor)
Beef suet = 12.0 (aroma and flavor)
GreenSharp, slightly pungent aromatics associated with green/plant/vegetable matters such as parsley, spinach, pea pod, fresh cut grass, etc.Hexanal in propylene glycol (5,000 ppm) = 6.5 (aroma)
Fresh parsley water = 9.0 (flavor)
Green-hayBrown/green dusty aromatics associated with dry grasses, hay, dry parsley and tea leavesDry parsley in medium snifter = 5.0 (aroma)
Dry parsley in ∼30-mL cup = 6.0 (flavor)
LeatherMusty, old leather (like old book bindings)2,3,4-Trimethoxybenzaldehyde = 3.0 (aroma)
Liver-likeThe aromatics associated with cooked organ meat/liverBeef liver = 7.5 (aroma and flavor)
Braunschweiger liver sausage = 10.0 (aroma and flavor – must taste and swallow)
Metallic*The impression of slightly oxidized metal, such as iron, copper and silver spoons.0.10% potassium chloride solution = 1.5 (flavor)
USDA choice strip steak = 4.0 (aroma and flavor)
Dole canned pineapple juice = 6.0 (aroma and flavor)
Overall sweet*A combination of sweet taste and sweet aromatics. The aromatics associated with the impression of sweetPost-shredded wheat spoon size = 1.5 (flavor)
Hillshire farms Lit'l beef smokies = 3.0 (flavor)
SAFC ethyl maltol 99% = 4.5 (aroma)
RancidThe aromatics commonly associated with oxidized fat and oils. These aromatics may include cardboard, painty, varnish and fishy.Microwaved Wesson vegetable oil (3 min at high) = 7.0 (flavor)
Microwaved Wesson vegetable oil (5 min at high) = 9.0 (flavor)
Salty*The fundamental taste factor of which sodium chloride is typical.0.15% sodium chloride solution = 1.5 (flavor)
0.25% sodium chloride solution = 3.5 (flavor)
Sour aromatics*The aromatics associated with sour substances.Dillon's buttermilk = 5.0 (flavor)
Sour dairySour, fermented aromatics associated with dairy products such as buttermilk and sour cream.Laughing cow light Swiss cheese = 3.0 (aroma), 7.0 (flavor)
Dillon's buttermilk = 4.0 (aroma), 9.0 (flavor)
Sour*The fundamental taste factor associated with citric acid.0.015% citric acid solution = 1.5 (flavor)
0.050% citric acid solution = 3.5 (flavor)
SpoiledThe presence of inappropriate aromatics and flavors that is commonly associated with the products. It is a foul taste and/or smell that indicates the product is starting to decay and putrefy.Dimethyl disulfide in propylene glycol (10,000 ppm) = 12.0 (aroma)
Sweet*The fundamental taste factor associated with sucrose.2.0% sucrose solution = 2.0 (flavor)
Umami*Flat, salty, somewhat brothy. The taste of glutamate, salts of amino acids and other molecules called nucleotides.0.035% accent flavor enhancer solution = 7.5 (flavor)
Warmed-overPerception of a product that has been previously cooked and reheated.80% lean ground beef (reheated) = 6.0 (flavor)
Other attributesSmoky – charcoal, smoky – wood, buttery, refrigerator-stale, soapy, barnyard, heated oil, asparagus, cumin, floral, beet and petroleum-like
Number of samples evaluatedQualityAge/genderTreatmentOtherSpoiledTOTAL
  • * 

    Aroma only.

  • The spoiled samples were evaluated only for aroma.

 1Beef identity63439161510695176
 6Overall sweet63439161510695176
 8Sour aromatics*62439161510695175
20Animal hair53321216
25Sour dairy*316111
26Cooked milk*11619

During the lexicon development, some terms occurred <5% of the time (i.e., smoky – charcoal, smoky – wood, buttery, refrigerator-stale, soapy, barnyard, heated oil, asparagus, cumin, floral, beet and petroleum-like) and, therefore, these terms were considered rare and are included as “other attributes” in the final lexicon because the aim of this study was to provide a guide for typical evaluation of the flavor of beef. For instance, soapy was found in two (out of 15) bull samples, and asparagus was found in one (out of 16) cow sample. Smoky – charcoal and smoky – wood were only present in samples that were cooked using the outdoor grill.

The reason for including long-frozen, warmed-over and spoiled samples was to determine the most common aromas and flavors associated with beef that has been treated or stored in poor conditions. As expected, samples with defects had a higher frequency of attributes associated with negative flavors: rancid, spoiled, warmed-over and liver-like. Cocoa and animal hair were also present in some of these defect samples. Beef packed using different methods had higher frequency of liver-like, rancid, warmed-over and spoiled flavors. Rancid flavor was very evident in the samples packed under modified atmosphere using 80% oxygen. Grobbel et al. (2008) reported a similar finding when they studied the effects of different packaging atmospheres on beef color, oxidative stability and flavor. They found that beef packed under 80% oxygen and 20% carbon dioxide had distinct oxidative and rancid notes because of fat oxidation. Burnt and chemical flavor notes were consistently present when the electric countertop charbroiler was used for cooking the steaks. All these attributes appeared several times during the lexicon development and therefore were added in the list of terms, although they were not present in all samples.

The most comprehensive lexicon (flavor and texture) for beef and beef products found in the literature to date was developed by Luchsinger et al. (1997). The flavor and texture terms were defined and each descriptor was anchored with a single quantitative reference point. Fourteen flavor descriptors reported by the authors are part of the present lexicon. Recently, Maughan et al. (2011) published a beef flavor lexicon with 18 terms including the five tastes. The definitions tend to be rudimentary and the reference intensities usually are mostly presented as a range rather than a fixed number. Three descriptors – browned, gamey and juicy – did not have any reference. The term juicy which was included in the flavor lexicon is more of a mouthfeel term rather than a flavor term. Luchsinger et al. (1997) presented 13 flavor and 10 aroma terms in their study. Two descriptors – animal hair and beef identity/beefy – were common to both flavor and aroma lists. All the 13 flavor terms (animal hair, beef identity, bitter, bloody, brown/roasted, burnt, chemical, fat-like, liver-like, metallic, rancid, sour and sweet) used by them were part of the lexicon in this study as well. The list of flavor descriptors by Luchsinger et al. (1997) did not have salty or umami in the flavor terms. The absence of umami might be because it was not very common to use umami as a basic taste even during the 1990s. Maughan et al. (2011) had umami in their lexicon, but they also used the term brothy. There is a very good chance of trained panelists being confused between the two terms because umami taste originates mainly from glutamates (and other similar amino acids) and nucleotides, which also impart protein-like or brothy taste (van den Oord and van Wassenaar 1997).

The present study offers the most comprehensive flavor lexicon to date for beef with well-defined descriptors and references. This lexicon needs to be validated with other trained panels and in studies with a variety of meat products to determine whether it can be used universally.


  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract

The developed lexicon provides a complete list of accurate definitions for beef flavor notes and references that could be used by other trained panels after proper validation. Although all samples had the same major attributes (beef identity, brown/roasted, bloody/serumy, fat-like, metallic, sour aromatics, overall sweet flavor and all five tastes), some other aroma and flavor notes had an important role in the select group of samples (liver-like, green-hay, green, chemical, burned, rancid, spoiled, warmed-over, animal hair, cocoa, leather, dairy, sour dairy and cooked milk). Studies should be conducted to validate the present lexicon using other trained panels for fine-tuning definitions and/or adjusting references to ensure the effectiveness and universality of the developed lexicon.


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This study was supported by the “Beef Checkoff (inline image)” funds.


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