Deer Antler Velvet Processing
Generally, deer velvet products available to people in Western societies is sourced from deer that are managed on farms according to strictly controlled quality assurance guidelines than ensure requirements for animal welfare and husbandry are maintained at acceptable standards.
Either veterinarians or certified experts remove velvet antler from male animals each year. The governing bodies in New Zealand and Australia ensure consumers of deer velvet and the wider community that:
- Acceptable standards of animal welfare are maintained
- Deer Industry QA Programs product traceability requirements are supported
- Occupational Health & Safety requirements for personnel involved in velvet removal are maintained
- QA, residue and animal welfare expectations of international and domestic communities and clients are maintained
- As velvet is a health food it is handled and stored in a hygienic manner
A range of factors influences the chemical composition of processed velvet antler products.
- The portion of the antler processed
- The age of the antler when harvested
- Quality assurance practices associated with harvesting, storage and transport
- Length of time product is stored before processing
- Processing techniques
Although the actual technique employed by different factories may vary considerably, factories that process deer antler have idiosyncratic specialisations to produce velvet products that meet client and marketing requirements, the principal processing techniques and objectives are similar.
Poor processing technique, particularly inappropriate use of heat, can also influence the beneficial properties of velvet antler.
Laughlin suggests that velvet antler processed in whole form appears to provide the widest selection of chemical compounds associated with the benefits claimed in the research cited.
Future Western market development for velvet antler products will require development and implementation of product standards that ensure product uniformity and encourage consumer confidence in the products. Processing Techniques The primary aim of all velvet antler drying is simply to remove water from velvet (New Zealand Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries specifications for dried velvet antler indicate that dried velvet must contain 85% total solids).
Factories that process deer antler have idiosyncratic specializations to produce products that meet client and marketing requirements, the principal processing techniques and objectives are similar, although the actual technique employed by different factories varies considerably.
Generally, vacuum drying is not considered appropriate for product intended for slicing (it crumbles as the product becomes too dry) however product produced by vacuum drying generally has lower bacterial counts than product dried in other ways.
Low bacterial counts are particularly important where the velvet is to be used in capsules as the powder is the end use product and unlike other forms of dried antler, it will not receive any further treatment that can assist bacterial control.
Broad guides to the principles of velvet antler processing are:
- Purchased frozen velvet arrives at the factory
- The velvet is graded, (mostly according to size and so the need for differential cooking time), the cut end of the velvet is sealed and velvet is placed in the freezer
- It is placed on temporary racks and allowed to thawed overnight
- The next morning and the velvet sticks are placed on racks for water bath cooking
- Each stick of velvet is dipped in the water cooker several times. After appropriate dipping sticks are ready for the dryer
- The velvet is placed back on oven racks and allowed to cool
- The racks are placed in the oven and the velvet is cooked
- The internal temperature of the velvet is tracked during cooking to ensure pasteurisation
- After cooking the velvet is allowed to cool
- After cooling racks are returned to the drying room where the velvet stays until it is dried
- Prior to slicing the hair is removed.
- Velvet is bought frozen
- Before processing it is thawed in the open air and then washed with water and detergent using a soft brush
- The cut end of the velvet is sealed (cauterised) on a hot plate.
- The whole stick of velvet is dipped in boiling water for a few minutes (if it remains in the water for too long the velvet will split)
- The velvet is cooled to room temperature
- Steps are repeated a several times (until the protein is fixed).
- The velvet is then placed in a hot oven for several hours. The time in the oven is dependent on the degree of calcification of velvet sticks
- The velvet is dried at room temperature
- Steps are repeated several times (four to five times) depending on the weather (drying) and size of each velvet stick.
- Frozen velvet is removed from the freezer
- Velvet is placed (tied) on racks with the cut end up to minimise blood loss during cooking and thawed overnight
- After thawing racks holding the velvet are placed in drying rooms where the cooling system is reversed and set to heat to thaw it
- Then the temperature is reduced and the velvet is held it in the drying room until it is semi dried
- After an appropriate time the velvet is placed in a vacuum dryer until it completely dry.
- Velvet is bought frozen
- Velvet is thawed in the open air and then washed with water and detergent using a soft brush
- The velvet is freeze dried.