The white powder sold by the kilo, above, is the meat industry’s dirty little secret. It’s “meat glue.” It makes pieces of beef, lamb, chicken or fish that would normally be thrown out stick together so closely that it looks like a solid piece of meat. See also our posts on Israel’s frozen fish scandal and how garlic from China is scary stuff.
Restaurants and butchers can now sell their scraps as premium meat. Good way to use them up – and charge premium prices for them too. Best of all, you don’t have to tell the customer. Once the glued meat is cooked, even professional butchers can’t tell the difference.
What is transglutaminase?
“Meat glue” is transglutaminase, an enzyme in powder form, derived from beef and pork blood plasma. See the Wikipedia description of it here. Chefs most commonly use the Activa RM brand, which is transglutaminase mixed with maltodextrine and sodium caseinate, a milk protein. Using enzymes in food isn’t a new technique. Papaya seed is the main ingredient in meat tenderizers, for example. Rennet and yeasts produce enzymes that make cheese and alcohol, too. Natural enzymes. Meat glue is a darker product altogether.
Yet according to Cooking Issues, the French Culinary Institute’s blog (USA), meat glue is safe. That is, the major study carried out to gain acceptance by the FDA says so. And why shouldn’t we believe? It was funded by Ajinomoto, the product’s manufacturer, after all.
A scientist we interviewed about meat glue could only speak *on anonymity* about the hazards.
This video from Australia’s TodayTonight TV show demonstrates how easily you can create Frankenstein meat. Just sprinkle a teaspoon of powdered transglutaminase on various meat scraps, knead them together and roll them up in plastic wrap. Put in the fridge and 6 hours later, you have an easily-sliced piece of meat that looks like real fillet.
Only make sure to wear your face mask while performing the simple operation: you don’t want to be inhaling powder that makes your blood clot abnormally.
Do you want to be eating it either?
Banned by the European Parliament in May 2010, meat glue is freely available through sources like Amazon.com. The information from the French Culinary Institute states that 1 kg. will hold over 100 kg. of meat parts together. This is the product description of meat glue exactly as it appears on Amazon.com:
- Food Enzyme used to provide ways to improve texture, yield, sliceability.
- Used to “glue” protiens (sic) together; mix Swordfish with Salmon to create a Seafood Filet
- Used to “glue” protiens together; mix Elk, Llama and Yak to create a Exotic Mixed Grill Filet
- Product of France
- 18 month Shelf Life, Keep in Freezer to ensure product strength
In the TodayTonight video, microbiologist Glenn Pener voices concern over meat glue and food poisoning.
“The amount of bacteria on a steak that’s been put together with meat glue is hundreds of time higher,” he says.
The bacterial count in patched-up meat is extremely high because scraps that were outside pieces but are now glued together inside are hard to cook thoroughly.
Another reason to eat less meat, buy organic or from a trusted source, and take nothing for granted in terms of food safety. Makes you think twice about what’s really in popular food-chain hamburgers, too. Even kosher and halal meat must be questioned – there is a kosher version of meat glue, Activa TIU.
Europeans – hopefully – aren’t eating Frankenstein meat now. There are no regulations against meat glue outside of Europe, however. The main objection to it is that it’s misleading; diners pay for quality meat that’s really scraps glued together. But I ask: what are the health consequences? Is it known what long-term consumption of transglutaminase – a blood-clotting substance – has on human beings? Especially if you like your meat rare.
Just gimme my meat with the bone in, please. Hold the side of thrombosis.
More on on food and the consumer:
Miriam Kresh also writes a food blog.