Myth: ‘Glue’ Is Used To Hold Some Meat Together
Transglutaminase is a protein that is used to bind ingredients together in many foods. In meat products, for example, it can help hold bacon around a filet mignon to create a bacon wrapped filet or it can help hold several smaller cuts together to make a larger cut that can be sliced.
Unfortunately, the clever nickname “meat glue” has made transglutaminase sound much more exciting that it is.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognized transglutaminase as safe and it has been safely used for many years. Canada, Australia and many European countries also recognize this as a safe food processing aid. Transglutaminase is not classified as an allergen. Still, when it is used, it will appear on the ingredient label.
Think of a whole beef tenderloin. It has a pointed end and a thicker end – much like a cone. The disadvantage of this is that when slicing and serving tenderloin, it’s difficult to serve the same size portion. This is particularly important in food service and restaurants where consistent portion sizes are critical.
A meat processor could lay two tenderloins over one another, point to point, and add transglutaminase, which makes the cuts bind together. The product can then be portioned to a standard serving size and cooked for a more consistent and enjoyable eating experience.
Because transglutaminase binds several smaller pieces together, products that use it will be labeled as “chopped” or “formed.” These products need to be cooked like a ground product to 160 degrees F.
Myth: ‘Glue’ Is Used To Hold Some Meat Together Transglutaminase is a protein that is used to bind ingredients together in many foods. In meat products, for example, it can help hold bacon around
Names You Need To Know: Meat Glue. Yum Or Yuck?
Image by jlastras via Flickr
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There’s a mass market way of thinking about meat glue: chicken nuggets. Or surimi, that imitation crab food product found in the freezer section of your local supermarket and in California rolls. More recently, and to hot insider debate, meat glue has made an appearance on fine dining menus and high-end butchers, by way of steak tartar, shrimp pasta and sole meunière.
Either way you look at it, meat glue, otherwise known as transglutaminase (TG) or Thrombian, a meat blood enzyme used to bond food together, is increasingly becoming a part of our diet.
File meat glue under “molecular gastronomy,” so-called futurist food where kitchens become laboratories, chefs chemists and the ingredients hydrocolloid gums and liquid nitrogen. And now TG.
“The idea is to use products like TG to enhance dishes,” notes Inside Scoop SF, citing New York’s WD50 Chef Wylie Dufresne’s use of meat glue for his “out of this world” hangar steak tartar and scrumptious shrimp pasta made of rather than with the crustacean. Chicago Chef Dirk Flanigan of Henri also prepares his signature sole meunière with the “chem class treatment.”
Most is made from the blood plasma of cows and pigs but TG can also be made from cultivating bacteria from vegetable and plant extracts. Most producers will not identify the chemical makeup of TG simply because they are not required to do so.
It boils down to how it is used. Reputable restaurants and chefs use TG in the preparation of some menu items when they are cooking or reassembling a meat preparation that has been deconstructed in order to cook it properly. They then reassemble the product for that particular dish. In these cases it is the same meat product from the same source, so there isn’t a question of quality.
The Ajinomoto Company of Japan was the first to develop and market transglutaminase for food applications under the trade name Activa.
Now you might point out, as many have (this is a terrific blog by Lois Rain on healthfreedoms.org), that meat glue is also a way to create foods that appear more than the sum of their parts; a way to dress up scraps and lower cuts for higher prices, all the while lowering quality.
“The problem is that Thrombian-enhanced products look like real meat,” said Jan Bertoft of the Swedish Consumers’ Association. “It is the dishonesty in it that makes us think that it is not OK.” For example, you order pork tenderloin. What you may be served looks like a fillet but is actually numerous bits from more than one pig all globbed up.
If that’s not enough, consider this: bacteria. Multiple raw meat sources is a bacterial feeding ground. And, “If there is a bacteria outbreak, it’s much harder to figure out the source when chunks of meat from multiple cows were combined,” said Keith Warriner who teaches food science at University of Guelph in Canada.
There’s a philosophical and religious component too, notes Digital Journal. “Vegetarians, vegans, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, Buddhists and Jews have taboos against the eating of meat, especially products made from animal blood.” Muslims, similarly, are forbidden to eat animal blood or swine meat.
There is no clear consensus within foodie, scientific or political circles about meat glue. Last year it was banned in the European Union, and later approved this spring, joining Australia, Canada and the U.S. The FDA classifies meat glues as GRAS (generally recognized as safe).
There are several questions still unanswered, including: Why are meat retailers (butcher shops, markets) required to label glued items but no menu guidelines? Should chefs alert their customers that their meat has been glued and under what, if any, circumstances? What are your thoughts?
There’s a mass market way of characterizing meat glue: chicken nuggets and surimi. More recently it has made an appearance to some debate on fine dining menus, by way of steak tartar, shrimp pasta and sole meunière. Either way you look at it, meat glue, better known as transglutaminase (TG), is increasing becoming a part of our diet.