Measuring muscle color on beef carcasses using the L*a*b* color space

D. M. Wulf, J. W. Wise

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

135 Scopus citations


Because beef muscle color affects consumers' purchasing decisions, is a factor in determining USDA grades, and has been shown to be useful in sorting carcasses according to palatability, this study was conducted to determine the effects of measurement conditions on L*, a*, and b* values, to determine the relationships among USDA quality grading factors, muscle pH, electrical impedance, and colorimeter readings, and to develop a classification system that could be used to sort beef carcasses with respect to muscle color. Data were collected over 2 d from 145 beef carcasses in a commercial packing plant. The exposed longissimus muscle at the 12th/ 13th rib was used for all muscle pH, electrical impedance, and colorimeter measurements. A Minolta Chroma Meter CR-310 was used to obtain L*, a*, and b* readings. Bloom time, from 0 to 93 min, had a greater effect on a* and b* readings than on L* readings. The L* values stabilized after approximately 30 min bloom time, and a* and b* values stabilized after 78 min bloom time, but relative differences among carcasses in L*, a*, and b* values did not change after 3 to 12 min bloom time. Days postmortern, cut surface (anterior versus posterior), and within-muscle location (medial vs lateral) did not affect L*, a*, and b* readings (P > .05). Blotting the surface moisture from the longissimus muscle resulted in lower a* readings (P < .05), but did not affect L* and b* readings (P > .05). The L*, a*, and b* values were correlated with lean maturity scores ( -.67, -.30, and -.40, respectively), dark cutter discount ( -.60, -.76, and -.73, respectively), muscle pH ( -.57, -.79, and -.78, respectively), and electrical impedance (-.27, -.21, and -.25, respectively). Two muscle color classification systems, nine classes each, are proposed, one system based on L* and one system based on b*. The main advantage of the L* categorization system over the b* system is that the L* value was less sensitive to bloom time, and the main advantage of the b* categorization system over the L* system is that the b* system was slightly more precise at segregating carcasses based upon corresponding differences in muscle pH. This research provides procedural guidelines for measuring beef muscle color and shows that a colorimeter can effectively aid researchers and graders in assessing beef carcass quality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2418-2427
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of animal science
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1999
Externally publishedYes


  • Beef
  • Color
  • Muscles

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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