Did you ever wonder what the substance is that holds all of those chicken nuggets together? Have you ever purchased any of that imitation crab meat that is actually made from ground up pollack and wonder how the hell it is that it looks so uniform that you can’t tell one piece from another?. Finally, have you ever wondered what the secret ingredient is that most processed foods like bologna and hot dogs have in common?
The colloquial term used in the food industry for this magic elixir is “meat glue”. For any of you that are more scientifically inclined, the proper term is “transglutaminase”.
Basically, meat glue (it’s easier to type) acts as a binding agent and when used properly will cause disparate pieces of meat to “stick together” to form a single slab or chunk.
What is it?
Meat glue is an enzyme that is either derived through the fermentation of various plant extracts or from the clotting factor in either pig or cow blood. Once it is dried into a powder like substance it causes the proteins in the disparate chunks of meat/fish to bond together and form a single slab.
Picture this, let’s say that you’re a large food processing operation or even a small time butcher and you’re looking for a way to both maximize your production and standardize portion servings as well as packaging and shipping. What are you supposed to do with all of those little leftover chunks of meat/poultry/fish that are either too small to serve individually and lack the eye appeal of a nice fresh cut of the same? That’s just wasted profit sitting on the cutting (killing?) room floor.
Well, through the miracle of science you can (and have been for quite some time) now glue those fuckers together and ship them out the door to the food eating public as a single unit. It’s really quite a simple process.
First, gather the stray pieces and rub in some meat glue. Then compress the mixture and refrigerate it for a couple of hours. Once the time period has elapsed the proteins in the stray parts of the mixture will have bonded together to form the single unit. Most consumers won’t even be able to tell the difference between meat that has been glued together versus that of a single cut.
Here are just few of the products out there on the market that take advantage of the meat glue phenomena.
In the beef family almost any steak, fillet, roast or cutlet can be made using meat glue. The same goes for sausage and other processed meats. Anything like prepackaged fish balls and anything in the “nugget” family most assuredly contains some sort of meat glue.
Is it bad for you?
In the United States, the venerable Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed that the use of meat glue is considered “generally safe” for the average consumer. I don’t know what that registers on your own personal confidence meter but as for me, I don’t exactly consider it a ringing endorsement.
Given the creative nature of chef’s, they are finding new and novel ways to make use of meat glue. Ever thought about having a nice pasta made entirely of meat or shrimp? Some culinary pioneers are actually making flourless forms of noodles made entirely out of eggs and shredded meat/poultry/fish treated with meat glue.
I honestly don’t know where I stand on the subject of meat glue. I don’t eat that many processed or fast foods so I’m guessing (hoping?) that my intake is rather minimal. Being a lifelong and dedicated carnivore I’m hoping that the chicken cutlet or steak that I’ve selected from the butcher case is what it seems to be and not just ground up reconstituted pieces of leftovers.
Either way though, it’ll never be enough to make me go vegan.
As a public service, a buddy of mine sent me a link to something on YouTube regarding the use of meat glue. View at your own discretion.