Surprise, America! Your Meat Is Held Together By Meat Glue and Some Hershey’s Isn’t Even Chocolate, Anymore
It’s possible your beef, pork, lamb, fish, or chicken is really a bunch of scraps held together by something known as meat glue, or transglutaminase enzyme. The next time you go to the store, you may want to check for it so you know what you are actually buying.
In theory, there is nothing inherently wrong with it as it can allow you to create dishes that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. The problem is that, when used to make bigger cuts from scrap, it can introduce bacterial risk in the meat itself and, in some cases, is made from the plasma in blood, which is religiously or culturally unacceptable to some people.
How do you know if you are eating meat glue? The Department of Agriculture, Federal Register: October 31, 2001 (Volume 66, Number 211), Rules and Regulations, Page 54912-54916 specified that meat held together by meat glue in a market must be called “reformed” or “formed” somewhere on the packaging so look for it. If you’re in a restaurant, you’re out of luck. They probably aren’t going to admit that is what they do to save money and there are no laws in the United States requiring them to tell you. There is practically no major difference in the final product in terms of taste or texture so you’d never know.
A blogger at Cooking Issues points out that, if fraud were the intent, there are plenty of ways a dishonest butcher could steal from customers, including “alginates, carrageenan, salt with tumbling, gelatin, compression”, which is certainly true. A butcher could go to jail if he or she tried to sell a formed/reformed product as a prime cut and someone caught him or her. He’s absolutely right.
The same thing is happening in Australia. Here’s a video showing how it works …
Even deli meat isn’t exempt. There are “three types of cold cut meat and poultry products: Whole cuts of meat or poultry that are cooked and then sliced (examples: roast beef, corned beef, turkey breast), sectioned and formed products and processed products)“. That article, which is worth reading, goes on to point out the following difference:
Whole cuts are exactly what they sound like — a section of meat or poultry that has been cooked, possibly flavored with salt, spices or sugars that is then sliced, typically the more expensive type of cold cuts.
Sectioned and formed meat products are restructured meat products, such as multi-part turkey breasts or cooked hams. They are prepared from chunks or pieces of meat and are bonded together to form a single piece. The substances that bind these together are non-meat additives, meat emulsions and extracted myofibrillar proteins. Typically they are produced by extracting the meat proteins (by adding salt and massaging or tumbling the meat, which brings these “sticky” proteins to the surface) or by adding non-meat proteins. Myosin is the major protein that is extracted. The meat becomes soft and pliable and is then shaped through the application of force using different molds or casings. It is then cooked to coagulate the proteins, which bind the chunks of meat together in its new shape.
Processed meats (sausages) are the majority of what we call cold cuts. About 15% of all meat produced in the U.S. is used to make these which number over 200 varieties. Sausage manufacturing includes any type of meat that is chopped, seasoned and formed into a symmetrical shape, for example, bologna. There are two methods for preparing the ingredients: emulsion, where the meat is finely chopped and the hydrophobic proteins react with fat, the opposite protein, and the hydrophilic react with water to hold fat in the solution (bologna, Vienna sausages, hot dogs) and non emulsion, which is typically for coarser grinds. The same basic technology is used as for sectioned and formed meat products, but with no tumbling and massaging required. There are several meat sources for sausages including beef, pork, mutton, veal, and poultry; meat by-products are also used sometimes, like lips, tripe, pork stomachs and heart.
I’ve written about this sort of thing in the past – check out the conversation thread in the comments of this old post – because it’s not so much the thing itself that bothers me, it’s that most people don’t even know about it. If you want to pay 75% of $X to get cuts of beef held together by meat glue, and you’re fine with that, whatever. But when practically everyone goes to the grocery store and has no clue they might not be buying the product they think they are buying, I think it’s a regulatory failure in the same way I hate fake maple syrup, which is evident in that same thread.
The short version: Practically none of the major national maple syrup brands are maple syrup anymore. They’ve slowly, stealthily, changed their packaging to read “pancake syrup” and replaced it with dyed corn syrup. No parent would go over to the candy or baking aisle, buy corn syrup, and allow their children to dump it on pancakes every morning, yet they are doing exactly that without realizing it. Virtually all of the brands have pulled the bait-and-switch, from Aunt Jemima to Hungry Jack.
My friend Ian thinks I’m being too paternalistic (he may be right), saying, “the whole thing with pancake syrup upsets me because for one thing, it says pancake, not maple syrup on the bottle. Second, the ingredients are listed on the back like every other product sold in the supermarket. And third, I figured out the difference between maple syrup and generic pancake syrup when I was a child. There is a level of hand-holding I am not comfortable with, and coming up with some system that would, I don’t know, display on the pancake syrup packaging “NOT MAPLE SYRUP,” is ludicrous. That is not to mention that I see little nutritional difference between sugar derived from corn and sugar derived from a maple tree. Both syrups are equally bad for you, and I don’t think maple syrup contains significantly more nutrients (though maple syrup is far more delicious).”
The solution we settled on back then? Coming up with Ian’s Not Maple Syrup, or maybe “MapleSyrup (TM)” with bad kerning so the regulators will side with us and rule that no reasonable person could have, actually, thought it was maple syrup. I’m only half kidding when I say, if I were 22 years old again and we lived in the same town, I would spend a couple thousand dollars to randomly have ads for this fake product run on television so he’d see them without warning some day. I’d hire the same folks who made the Farmers Only ads, complete with a catchy jingle. I’d even work in the phrase he coined in that older comment thread – processed wheat cakes. Go on. Sing it to the Farmers Only jingle. “Dump it on your processed wheat cakes, don’t ask us what it is …”
The problem? If we priced it cheaply enough, people would probably want to buy it. Then my inner investor would feel obligated to actually start selling it. We can’t have that.
I mean, doesn’t it bother anyone that Hershey’s doesn’t even sell chocolate in some of its candy, anymore? Milk Duds, Mr. Goodbar, Krackel, Hershey’s Kissables, and Whatchamacallit bars replaced the cocoa butter (you know, the actual stuff that makes chocolate real chocolate) with vegetable oil five years ago. Now it’s subtly been renamed “chocolate candy” since it isn’t even legally milk chocolate! As that article points out, if your favorite snack uses the words, “chocolate candy”, “made with chocolate”, or “chocolatey”, it’s not chocolate! They kept the package the same, hoping people wouldn’t notice and almost nobody did! Seriously, go ask your friends, family, and coworkers if they realize that a bunch of Hershey’s chocolate isn’t actually chocolate, anymore. I bet they don’t. I feel like Milton Hershey would be turning in his grave. This was a man who would purposely shrink the size of a Hershey’s bar to keep the quality consistent during times of high prices, expanding it during times of low prices, never adulterating his name. Part me rejoices in watching Lindt steamroll its way into the American market. I think they deserve to take the chocolate industry, but then again, I’m a purist.
Is it too much to ask that the United States at least meets Europe on its food standards? Half the cheese you see in poor and lower middle class grocery carts couldn’t even legally be sold as cheese – it would be “cheese product”.
Maybe it’s time for bed. I sound curmudgeonly but I’m actually in a great mood, just in awe that this situation continues not only unchecked, but getting worse. I also have now made myself crave a bit of real milk chocolate, which I have tucked away in the upstairs pantry … so … I might go sneak a few grams of it as a nighttime snack.
The whole thing reminds me of vanity sizing. If I could just take over the labeling laws in this country, everything could be fixed within 24 to 36 months. There are no standards. A size 32 or 40 pant should be the exact same at every retail shop in the same way 12 ounces is 12 ounces. A long while ago, Esquire looked at how bad it had become in the United States, with a totally unacceptable range based on the demographics of the retail chain itself (e.g., Old Navy caters to poorer, fatter shoppers, so a size 36 pant is really 41 inches while the opposite is true at H&M, where a size 36 pant is 37 inches). The same for women’s dress sizes; hat sizes. Then again, I’d probably force the country to the metric system since it is inherently superior. I wouldn’t rest until the United States rivaled Switzerland in our exacting standards of measurement.