Professor of Food Science
School of Science
From paddock to plate – how your meat gets there, how it’s treated and what it tastes like – is Professor Owen Young’s turf. Having worked in the Australasian meat industry for 26 years, there’s not a lot Professor Young doesn’t know about meat.
While much of his research was applied to solving meat industry problems, he also was able to contribute to research on why meats have different eating qualities. He understands the science behind the proteins responsible for tenderising meat, on storage, and the chemistry involved in giving New Zealand lamb its unique antipodean flavour. He also invented a method, which is in commercial use in New Zealand, to predict ultimate meat quality within 20 minutes of slaughter.
The theory that New Zealand exports all its best meat has been blown out of the paddock too. Professor Young says the fact exported meat spends longer getting to the supermarket shelves overseas means it’s aged more and it’s the ageing process that improves the eating quality.
After completing his PhD at La Trobe University in Melbourne in 1973, Professor Young undertook postdoctoral study in California and New Zealand before working in the meat industry. He has now been at AUT for 10 years and has expanded his food interests beyond meat.
Nowadays his research and students are involved in two main areas: One is problem-solving in the food industry, for example, allergen control in food processing lines; the second area is the development of food products that have New Zealand ‘provenance’ or ‘geographical exclusivity’ (products that only come from New Zealand).
Food products that have geographical exclusivity can command premiums in the domestic and international marketplace e.g. Scotch whisky and Champagne.
Most recently Professor Young has been working on products fermented from native New Zealand seafoods and plants, and in one case a unique spirit. These products are all intended for commercial development.
He spent a year in France in 1992 at Institute National de la Recherche Agronomique, the state research arm of French agriculture. He also featured in all four seasons of TV3’s What’s Really in Our Food as the resident food scientist.
As for the current food fad of adding as few things as possible to food, Professor Young suggests that this will ultimately wane as they all do. He says there’s no science that backs up the claim that any of the additives are harmful because of the way regulations dictate how they are used.