MeatGlue

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If you’re a fitness and nutrition nerd, you’re long past the grade school days of willingly eating glue, paste, and other pseudo-edible adhesives, but there’s a decent chance you’re still eating an entirely different kind of glue unknowingly. Maybe even on a regular basis. I’m talking about meat glue, also known as transglutaminase, which restaurants and food producers use to create “steaks” out of “glued-together” stew meat, add body to dairy products, make imitation crab, improve processed meat mouth feel, to name a few. A video exposing the “secret” of meat glue has been making the rounds of the various health circles, and more than a few readers have asked me about it. Here’s the video in question, taken from a recent Australian expose:

With that out of the way, what exactly is transglutaminase, and should you be worried about it?

Transglutaminase is an enzyme, produced either by bacterial cultivation (via fermentation of plant extracts) or from the coagulation factor in porcine and bovine blood, that bonds proteins together. Once it’s been cultivated or extracted, transglutaminase is dried into a powder that can be easily applied to a number of products, including

Reconstituted steaks, fillets, roasts, or cutlets – Meat glue is added to disparate chunks of meat (like cheap stew meat, chunks of chicken — any meat, really) and rubbed in. The chunks are compressed together and left to cool; after several hours, the meat pieces have formed insoluble bonds made of protein polymers. You can usually pull apart the “steak” to reveal the composite pieces, but take a quick glance and you’d never know it was cheap stew meat glued together. To most consumers, the resultant reconstituted “steak” is indistinguishable from a real slab of meat once it’s cooked, but a skilled meat glue artist can create “steaks” that fool experts — even when they’re raw.

Sausages, hot dogs, and other processed meats — Transglutaminase is added to provide uniform texture to processed meats. The “bits” become smooth and seamless. Imagine Oscar Mayer balogna and you’ll get the picture.

Imitation crab – Similar to hot dogs and sausages, only made with fish, usually pollock.

Fish balls, chicken nuggets, and other examples of deliciousness – Makes all that chicken viscera go down smooth.

Novel culinary creations – Some chefs are getting pretty creative with meat glue. One guy in NYC, for example, uses meat glue to make flourless noodles out of shrimp! I’d eat that.

On its face, meat glue sounds awful. I don’t think I have to explain why. It’s just repulsive on a visceral level. Furthermore, it’s generally used to make some pretty awful foods. We can’t really blame the transglutaminase for that, though. It’s not the meat glue that makes chicken nuggets a bad idea; it’s the hydrogenated vegetable oil in which they’re fried and the refined wheat breading in which the “chicken” is encased. I suppose you could call meat glue an enabler, but it’s not the offending party. But is it itself bad for you?

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