Beef Rainbow

Photo: Tim Dustrude/Dustrude Photography

I would've answered "fleshy deliciousness" (sorry, vegetarians!). That, or magic. But the folks at the USDA spoiled the fun by explaining it with science.

From Taylor Orci's post over at The Atlantic:

According to the USDA, "When light hits a slice of meat, it splits into colors like a rainbow." This is something called a "diffraction grating," essentially what happens when light waves bend or spread around a surface and create a pattern. It's the same thing that happens to make rainbows on the surface of a DVD. It's understandable that folks mistake diffracted light as a sign of spoilage, especially since the main color created by meat diffraction gratings is green. There is a reason why in Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham, the central conflict of the protagonist is his strong apprehension against eating green meat.


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Muscle fibers are about 100 micrometers in width. The wavelength of visible light is about 500 nanometers across. Muscle fibers are 200 times larger. The spacing of CD pits is 1.6 micrometers, only 3 times larger than light.
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No, it is more like a CD. The muscle fibers are spaced close to the wavelength of visible light- similar to the track or pit spacing on a CD. Oil sheens are due to the thickness of the oil layer being close to the wavelength (or a multiple thereof).
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It is due to the spacing of the muscle fibers being close to (or possibly multiples of) the wavelength of the color observed. The meat has to be cut across the grain. over 30 years ago I had a friend who studied this by doing surgery on cats and shining a laser through a thin section of their muscles.
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