26, 2008 -- A 23-year-old Texas A&M University researcher has given brisket-eaters another reason to cheer.
Brisket — long known as the toughest chunk of meat you can cut off a cow — is good for you. Or at least it's not as bad as some nonmeat eaters would have you believe.
Aggie graduate student Stacey Turk's master's thesis shows that fat from brisket contains significant amounts of oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid that can promote good cholesterol in people.
The study was publicized by A&M officials in late April. Stephen Smith, the professor who supervised Turk's study, says it shows that oleic acid in brisket "is like olive oil, and, as far as I know, has no downside to it."
Smith, whose doctorate is in biomedical research, said the acid's "effects are either neutral or positive (in a diet). And other studies confirm that good cholesterol goes up in men who consume fat high in oleic acid."
"We did not know we could get that kind of fat from brisket," Smith said.
For those who don't know exactly what part of the cow brisket comes from, it's basically the chest. "Looking at the animal head-on, it's the broad portion separating the front legs that has a point to it," the professor said. "It's like the sternum on a human."
Smith, who has been at A&M for 25 years, said the cut's fatty ridge generally is trimmed off by butchers and tossed aside. But he thinks that meat processors should save the beneficial fat and use it when they produce ground meat.
"It could make for a healthier hamburger," Smith said.
Turk said: "To actually turn the fat into a consumer product, more tests need to be made. Brisket fat will have a lower melting point, so that will have to be considered. But I think it could lead to healthier ground beef production."
Turk began her brisket research in December, taking samples of various cuts of beef, exposing them to a chemical solution and processing the samples in a machine that separates the different acids and calculates the percentages present in each sample.
She found that fat from brisket contained nearly 50 percent oleic acid. For beef, that percentage is significantly close to the 70 percent to 80 percent found in olive or canola oil, according to the report.
Turk, who grew up in Kilgore, said she loves beef, "but I also make sure I eat lots of vegetables with it."
Smith said Turk's analysis was supported by state dollars.
"Whatever the source of funding, we clearly publish all our results, whether good or bad" for the beef industry, he said.
The barbecue industry views the Aggie brisket fat study as a blessing, said Marlis Oliver, area director for Rudy's Country Store & Bar-B-Q, which has four locations in the Austin area.
"When we read about the study on oleic acid in brisket, we decided to hold a 'Long Live Brisket Day' at our stores," he said. On May 14, from 2 to 4 p.m., Rudy's customers could get a free quarter-pound serving of brisket.
"We had 2,600 customers total show up," he said. "We had lines stretching out the doors in all four locations."