Myoglobin: The Secret to Perfectly Cooked Meat Revealed

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  May 28, 2022

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Myoglobin is an iron- and oxygen-binding protein found in the muscle tissue of vertebrates in general and in almost all mammals. It is related to hemoglobin, which is the iron- and oxygen-binding protein in blood, specifically in the red blood cells.

It’s a protein found in muscle tissue that transports oxygen and provides energy to muscle cells. Let’s explore its functions and how to use this information to create engaging content.

What is Myoglobin

Myoglobin: The King of Muscle Proteins

Myoglobin is a protein that serves as a carrier for oxygen in muscle cells. It consists of a single chain of amino acids connected by peptide bonds. Myoglobin is predominantly found in striated muscles, which are the muscles that we can control voluntarily, such as the skeletal muscles. It is also present in cardiac muscles, which are the muscles that make up the heart. Compared to hemoglobin, myoglobin has a higher affinity for oxygen and is able to store oxygen at a greater concentration.

The Molecular Structure of Myoglobin

Myoglobin consists of a heme group, which is a ring-shaped molecule that contains iron, attached to a protein chain. The iron atom in the heme group is bonded strongly to a histidine residue in the protein chain. The heme group is responsible for the colored appearance of myoglobin, which is red. The distal histidine residue in myoglobin is important for the interaction between the heme group and oxygen. The structural arrangement of the heme group and the protein chain allows myoglobin to reversibly bind to oxygen.

The Importance of Myoglobin in Muscle Cells

Myoglobin is primarily located in the sarcoplasm of muscle cells, where it serves as an oxygen store. During times of high metabolic activity, such as exercise, myoglobin releases oxygen to the muscle cells, allowing them to produce energy aerobically. Myoglobin is also important for the transport of oxygen from the blood to the muscle cells. It has a higher affinity for oxygen than hemoglobin, which allows it to acquire oxygen directly from the blood and deliver it to the muscle cells.

The Role of Myoglobin in Medical Biochemistry Examination Board (MCQ)

Myoglobin is an integrative part of the medical biochemistry examination board (MCQ) and is often tested in exams. It is important to understand the molecular structure and function of myoglobin, as well as its role in muscle cells and oxygen transport. A cartoon representation of myoglobin is often used in MCQs to test the understanding of the protein’s weight, structure, and function.

The Synthesis and Concentration of Myoglobin

Myoglobin is synthesized inside muscle cells and its concentration is directly related to the amount of oxygen needed by the muscle. The highest concentration of myoglobin is found in slow-twitch muscle fibers, which are used for endurance activities such as long-distance running. Fast-twitch muscle fibers, which are used for explosive activities such as sprinting, have a lower concentration of myoglobin.

Why Myoglobin is the Meat of the Matter

Myoglobin is responsible for the color of meat, and its concentration in muscle fibers varies depending on the animal, muscle type, and age. The myoglobin concentration affects the color of meat in the following ways:

  • Beef: The relative size of muscle fibers in beef is larger, and the myoglobin concentration is higher, resulting in a darker color.
  • Chicken: The myoglobin concentration is lower in chicken, resulting in a lighter color.
  • Young Animals: The myoglobin concentration is lower in young animals, resulting in a lighter color.
  • Different Muscle Types: The myoglobin concentration varies in different muscle types, resulting in different colors. For example, the breast muscle of chicken is white, while the leg muscle is red.

The Factors Affecting Myoglobin Concentration in Meat

The myoglobin concentration in meat is affected by the following factors:

  • Skeletal Muscle Fibers: The myoglobin concentration is higher in slow-twitch muscle fibers than fast-twitch muscle fibers.
  • Proportions of Muscle Fibers: The myoglobin concentration is higher in muscles with a higher proportion of slow-twitch muscle fibers.
  • Physically Active Animals: Physically active animals have a higher myoglobin concentration due to their increased oxygen demand.
  • Heme Iron and Iron-Containing Proteins: The myoglobin concentration is dependent on the availability of heme iron and iron-containing proteins.
  • Hemoglobin: The myoglobin concentration is influenced by the amount of hemoglobin in the animal’s blood.

Smoking Meat: How Myoglobin Affects the Color and Flavor

Myoglobin is a protein molecule found in muscle tissue, specifically in the cells of beef, pork, and other meats. It carries oxygen from the blood to the muscles, giving them the energy they need to move. Myoglobin is responsible for the red color of fresh meat, and its level varies depending on the age and type of animal. Young animals have less myoglobin, resulting in lighter-colored meat, while older animals have more, resulting in darker-colored meat.

How Myoglobin Affects the Color of Meat When Smoked

When meat is smoked, the myoglobin in the muscle tissue changes its state and form, affecting the color and flavor of the meat. Here’s how it works:

  • Myoglobin changes from its normal red state to a pink color when it is exposed to smoke for a long time.
  • As smoking continues, the myoglobin molecule breaks down, releasing a material called heme. Heme is responsible for the pink color of smoked meat.
  • Depending on the degree of smoking, the meat can turn from pink to brown or even black.
  • The longer the smoking time, the lower the myoglobin content in the meat. This is because myoglobin breaks down over time, resulting in a lower protein level in the meat.
  • The lower the myoglobin content, the less oxygen the meat can carry, resulting in a different flavor and texture.

How to Check the Myoglobin Content in Smoked Meat

If you’re a healthcare provider or a meat processing company, you may need to check the myoglobin content in smoked meat for routine tests or specific health-related reasons. Here’s how to do it:

  • Ask your provider for a myoglobin test, which counts the amount of myoglobin in the blood.
  • If you’re a meat processing company, you can use a differential spectrophotometer to measure the myoglobin content in the meat.
  • Depending on the myoglobin content, you may need to edit the smoking time or the smoking temperature to achieve the desired color and flavor.

How Myoglobin Affects the Health of Smoked Meat Consumers

Consuming smoked meat with high myoglobin content can affect the health of consumers, especially those with kidney problems. Here’s how it works:

  • Myoglobin consists of a ring-shaped protein molecule with an iron atom attached to it.
  • When myoglobin carries oxygen, the iron atom is in the ferrous state, which is safe for the body.
  • When myoglobin is released from the muscle tissue, it takes time to find its way to the blood, during which it can change its state and become ferric.
  • Ferric myoglobin cannot carry oxygen and can cause symptoms such as kidney pain and dark urine.
  • The extra iron atom in ferric myoglobin can also affect the iron level in the body, leading to iron overload.


Myoglobin is a protein found in muscle cells that carries oxygen. Myoglobin is responsible for the color of meat, and it’s important for giving you energy. So, don’t be afraid to ask your butcher about myoglobin! You might learn something new!

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.