Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill famously said it was absurd to grow an entire chicken only to eat the breast. At the University of Alberta, food scientist Mirko Betti agrees.
Betti, an assistant professor at the university’s department of agricultural, food and nutritional science, researches ways for the poultry industry to reduce the amount of meat that goes to waste every year in North America. He says he first noticed the problem when he was a PhD student visiting the University of Georgia in the U.S. The North American preference for light meat meant that the dark meat from slaughtered chickens was, for the most part, going to waste.
“Only big processors had the ability to export dark meat that North Americans won’t eat to countries like Russia and the Middle East, where dark meat is preferred,” he says. Smaller chicken processors simply don’t have the infrastructure to export, and so face an oversupply of dark chicken meat. “For these companies,” Betti says, “the problem is, ‘What are we going to do with all this dark meat?’”
Betti is working on an answer to this problem. In his research, he isolates and extracts proteins from dark meats. Through the extraction process, the proteins lighten in colour and can be used to make items like chicken nuggets, which appear white. “It’s a way to exploit all the possible resources that we have from the meat industry,” he says.
Betti studied food science at the University of Bologna in Italy, but came to Alberta in 2006 because “Alberta is playing a major role in the food science world and in agriculture in general.”