Boar taint is a penetrating unpleasant odour (and accompanying taste) in pork. If strong, it is associated with manure, urine and sweat. A person can only smell the odour when the meat is heated, i.e. in the pan. There is no problem with cold meat products. The majority of a pig, however, is destined for the fresh meat market, i.e. for ‘the pan’.
Boar taint is a gradual phenomenon and is dependent on the concentration and combination of certain substances in the fat. With castrated and female pigs, the likelihood of boar taint is very low. With older/heavier non castrated male pigs this likelihood is considerably higher.
Three compounds are regarded as responsible for boar taint: androstenone, skatole and indole. Androstenone is a testicular steroid with a strong urine odour. This substance is important for creating semen of the boar that begins approximately at the 18th week and at a weight of 60 kilos. Skatole is a non-sex-specific substances which arises from the breakdown of certain amino-aids in the body. This substance is three times more concentrated in the fat of male pigs than in that of females. Castration reduces the concentration by a factor of one-and-a-half to two. The three substances explain only two thirds of the variation in boar taint. Most probably more substances play a role.
Boar taint is literally a matter of taste. The problem concerns not purely the concentration of the substances but also how consumers experience the odour and flavour associated with these substances.
For example, a considerable proportion of consumers (30%) were found to be not at all sensitive to androstenone in particular. Moreover, consumers in one country appear to have fewer problems with what we call boar taint, than consumers in other countries. That could be related to habituation, but also to the way pork is prepared. There is very little experience of non–acceptance by consumers because currently fresh pork is produced from castrated adult boars. The pork chain simply will not run the risk. The percentage of adult boars that actually have boar taint is not known. Estimates vary widely.
Several research projects have been conducted to discover the extent to which consumers accept meat from entire mail pigs. The overall conclusion was that there was no clear preference among these consumers form meat from barrows compared to boars that did pass the boar taint detection test at the slaughter line. Although consumers are not very consistent in their sensory evaluation of meat during successive tests with the same product, meat from boars with high androstenone, skatole and indole contents is on the average less preferred.