Meat Perspectives: Demystifying soft bellies

By Jeff Savell and Kerri Gehring

Quality is a point of discussion, and sometimes debate, in the pork industry. Like beauty, quality sometimes lies in the eyes of the beholder and may differ between the producer, processor and consumer. Quality of lean typically relates to muscle color, texture/firmness, marbling, pH, overall functionality, tenderness and flavor. Attributes that are associated with fat quality frequently include color, texture, firmness, oxidative stability, odor and flavor. Both lean and fat quality are important to the success of the pork industry. Fat quality is especially relevant for pork bellies being used to produce bacon, and with the prediction that the global bacon market will continue to grow, then understanding the factors that influence fat quality is also important for this highly coveted cut.

Raw pork meat ready to be cooked on wooden background

One of the key aspects of fat quality in pork bellies, is firmness. Undesirable or low-quality bellies are often described as soft, wet and floppy. Firmness is determined by the ratio of unsaturated fatty acids compared to saturated fatty acids, and the higher the ratio the softer the fat. Firm bellies are better than soft – right? Unfortunately, it is more complicated than that. The debate often starts by asking: What is the desired level of firmness and how soft is too soft? It is followed by: How is the best way to measure firmness?



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For more information regarding news from the Department of Animal Science, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Texas A&M University, please contact Kaitlyn Harkin at or (979) 845-1542.

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