LITTLE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FRESH AND FROZEN LOBSTER: STUDY

BANGOR, Maine -- No room in the store for live lobster tanks? No problem. Even experienced lobster eaters have a difficult time telling the difference between cryogenically frozen Maine lobster and the freshly cooked variety, according to the results of blind taste tests.The Maine Lobster Promotion Council, Bangor, Maine, recently announced the tabulated results of a sampling the organization sponsored

BANGOR, Maine -- No room in the store for live lobster tanks? No problem. Even experienced lobster eaters have a difficult time telling the difference between cryogenically frozen Maine lobster and the freshly cooked variety, according to the results of blind taste tests.

The Maine Lobster Promotion Council, Bangor, Maine, recently announced the tabulated results of a sampling the organization sponsored in Boston in early March which indicates "the differences between fresh Maine lobster and frozen Maine lobster are minimal," said Susan Barber, executive director of the MLPC. "It demonstrated how very difficult it is to discern the difference."

Producers of value-added lobster in Maine are using a cryogenic freezing method developed and perfected by University of Maine researchers that retains flavor, color and texture for up to nine months. The university was recently assigned a U.S. patent for the process, which involves the injection of sugar-based compounds to help preserve texture and antioxidants to protect flavor.

"This process creates an opportunity for businesses that prefer not to handle live lobster," said Alfred Bushway, a researcher with the university's Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, and one of the process developers. "They will be able to use a frozen product that tastes as good and has a longer shelf life."

Bushway conducted the research with Therese Work of his department and Bob Bayer, executive director of the Maine Lobster Institute, Orono, Maine, and member of the university's Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering.

The MLPC hosted the recent taste test during the International Boston Seafood Show. All participants comparing samples of fresh or previously frozen lobster meat were experienced consumers of fresh lobster, yet in sensory evaluation categories such as Interior Color, Flavor, and Texture: dry-moist; tender-tough, and mushy-fibrous, results were nearly identical.

These results closely resemble those of sensory evaluations conducted by the MLPC last January when they served dishes prepared with frozen lobster to a group of 20 executive chefs from five-star U.S. resorts. Chefs were not told the lobster was previously frozen until after they offered feedback. All 20 chefs reported they could not tell the difference.

Tests conducted by the university in 1995 used 10 panelists trained on sensory perception techniques for 13 hours prior to the study and again in one-hour sessions prior to each of four months when evaluations took place.

This professional panel evaluated the quality of frozen hard-shell lobster and frozen soft-shell lobster when the claw or tail meat was newly frozen, and again when stored for three, six and nine months. Testers gave high marks to each of the frozen product through nine months of storage; and discovered that the retention rates of soft-shell lobsters allows them to blanch for only 60 to 90 seconds, then be frozen whole or as tails or medallions, with little or no impact on quality.

Frozen lobster products from Maine are available in several forms: whole lobster fully cooked and frozen or whole lobster blanched and frozen; blanched and frozen whole tails; fully cooked, frozen claws, and fully cooked, picked meat from claws, knuckles and tail. Fresh lobster meat is also seasonally available pasteurized and vacuum-packed with a 4-month shelf life when refrigerated.

Corky Clark, seafood instructor at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., has always used live lobster in his cooking classes, but said after the Boston taste test, "Maine lobster lends versatility to all segments of a menu. When value-added lobster is used as an ingredient in appetizers, soups, salads or pasta dishes, it provides the additional benefit of stable pricing."

Lobster is marketed as "the ultimate white meat" by the MLPC, which likes to point out that the crustacean's meat is lower in fat, calories and cholesterol than the skinless white meat of chicken or turkey. A 3.5-ounce portion contains 72 mgs. cholesterol, 98 calories and 0.1 grams of saturated fat, as well as 0.1 grams of the heart disease-preventing Omega-3 fatty acids, reports MLPC.

With the advent of the high-quality value-added products, the Maine Lobster Processors, Inc. organization, also headquartered in Bangor, was established to assure quality. Last fall the group adopted quality standards and a seal that reads "Quality Certified from Maine, USA."

Each member of the group qualified to display the quality seal must have a Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point plan acceptable to the Food and Drug Administration, a Sanitation Standard Operating Procedures (SSOP) program and meet the additional rules devised by the MLPI covering every stage of production from receiving of live product through cooking, freezing and inspection.