Boar taint is an unpleasant smell that can arise during the heating of pork. Boar taint can occurparticularly in meat of adult male pigs due to changes in the hormonal system when the animal is growing older. This may lead to a concentration and combination of endogenous substances in the body fat that can cause the different smell. Boar taint rarely occurs in female pigs or castrated male pigs. Meat products that are not heated will also not show boar taint.
Causes of boar taint
Research has shown that there are three endogenous substances that can cause boar taint: androstenone, skatole and indole. Androstenone is a substance that is important in the development of the sperm cells in male animals. Skatole is produced during the degradation of certain amino acids in the body. Skatole affects both male and female animals. In male pigs incidentally three times more than in female pigs. Castration of male piglets lowers the concentration of Skatole significantly. Ultimately, it is the combination and concentration of androstenone, skatole and indole which cause -the extent of- boar taint.
The detection and prevention of boar taint is particularly complex. It’s not just about finding the concentration of substances but also how consumers perceive the smell and taste of these substances. These are not uniform. Research has shown that 30% of consumers is not sensitive to androstenone. Differences are also found between consumers in different countries.
That in turn can have various causes, such as a cooking method or getting used to a product.In recent years, much research has been conducted to gain insights into consumer preferences. That the level of androstenone, skatole and indole are influencing the smell is for sure. Other conclusions are not possible. Given the complexity of boar taint it must also be added that consumer taste can differ as well.
Preventing boar taint
In the world and also in Europe, the castration of male piglets is regarded as the most common method to prevent boar taint. After castration androstenone and skatole are virtually disappeared.
In recent years much research has been carried out to identify the causes of boar taint and the ways to prevent it.
• Slaughtering at a younger age. In Great Britain and Ireland piglets are not castrated but slaughtered at a lower weight (up to 85 kilos).
• Breeding management: the amount of androstenone and skatole is genetically determined. This means that breeding management and genetic selection provide longer-term perspective.
• Immuno castration. By vaccinating male pigs, the growth of the testicles and hence the production of androstenone can be restrained. Opponents of this method point out that immuno castratation also interferes with the integrity of the animal.
• Management measures on the pig farm. Research has shown that a lower level of skatole can be achieved with measures at farm level. Good examples are hygiene, housing and sufficient water and feed.
• Sexing of sperm cells. Theoretically, it is possible to select only (female) oocytes for insemination. Research shows that this is still a very long way to go.
• Detection in the slaughter line. During the slaughtering process controls are carried out by heating the fat and to check for an abnormal odor. This prevents the meat with boar taint to reach the consumer. The meat is not destroyed but used for products that are not heated like sausages, salami, and ham.
In Europe, the opinions on possible alternatives and different approaches still vary widely.