MEAT GLUE (Transglutaminase): Is That Really A $55 Filet or Glued Together Meat?
You go out to eat with your family and order a filet, medium-rare. You expect a premium cut of meat with the premium price tag that came with your meal. However, many restaurants are choosing to serve their patrons poor quality pieces of meats instead. How is this possible? They do this with the help of a powdered enzyme most commonly known as "Meat Glue" or Transglutaminase.
What Exactly Is "Meat Glue"?
"Meat Glue" is a naturally occurring enzyme found in animal blood called Transglutaminase or Thrombin. It is a coagulant that causes blood to clot and has the ability to crosslink proteins together creating an intramolecular bond that is highly resistant to protein degradation. Transglutaminase is sold as a white powder in air tight packaging. The bonds produced by this enzyme are so strong that they appear nearly seamless and also will not tear where pieces are molded together. This makes it extremely difficult to differentiate from a solid piece of premium cut meat, even by expert butchers.
The American Meat Institute estimates that "Meat Glue" Transglutaminase is used in over 8 million pounds of meat every year.
How Is It Made?
Tranglutaminase is traditionally produced from the blood plasma of animals. However, it is now more commonly made through the fermentation of a non-toxigenic and non-pathogenic strain of the organism Streptoverticillium Mobaraense bacteria.
Why Is It Used?
The use of "Meat Glue" Transglutaminase enables restaurants and other players in the meat industry to essentially glue together undesired scrap pieces of meat that might otherwise be thrown out and manipulate them to look like larger, solid, premium cuts to be sold at a higher price than their actual value.
According the the American Meat Institution, "TG helps add value to smaller cuts of meat that on their own might have less value. When smaller cuts can be formed into a larger cut, value is added."
In addition, the use of "Meat Glue" makes it possible for industry professionals to justify adding objectionable tissues and parts to meat that can be sold. Reconstructed meat can have upwards of 5% added tendon and most consumers cannot even tell the difference.
How Is It Used?
"Meat Glue" Transglutaminase powder can either be mixed with a liquid to form a slurry that can be brushed onto meats or can be sprinkled directly onto raw meat and thoroughly mixed to activate the enzymes.
The mixture is then tightly wrapped in plastic wrap to for the desired shape with as much air squeezed out as possible. From this point, it is transported to the refrigerator to set for hours (did not specify on the packaging).
After setting in the refrigerator, the pieces of meat are enzymatically bonded together to create one solid piece of meat (See Video).
This meat log can then be cut into the desired thickness and then cooked just like a regular solid piece of meat.
Is It Safe?
While the USDA approves the use of Meat Glue Transglutaminase and it "was determined to be generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)", the European Union banned the use of Meat Glue in 2010.
The issue with Meat Glue isn't necessarily the powdered enzyme itself. Other than causing irritation if inhaled or makes contact with eyes or skin, Transglutaminase is pretty harmless for most people since it is naturally derived from animals like a lot of things we already consume.
The concern lies with the increased microbial presence that meat glue enables with its use. Solid cuts of beef can be undercooked in the center because most of the bacterial presence is on the outside of the meat where it is most vulnerable to contamination. Since steaks are seared on the outside regardless of how someone wants their steaks cooked, the bacteria threat is killed off. It is this reason why we can order our steaks medium, medium-rare, or even rare.
However, when "Meat Glue" is used to bind several smaller pieces of beef with questionable microbial quality together, possible contaminants are then translocated into the center of these reconstituted steaks. If these steaks are then prepared like a traditional solid piece of steak and left undercooked in the center, the cooking process fails to kill any bacteria in the center of the meat which increases the risk of food-borne illness.
While the FDA mandates that any meat that has been reconstituted using Transglutaminase be labels as "formed" or "reformed" meat, restaurants are not required to state this on their menus. This enables any restaurant that chooses to serve reconstructed meats using Meat Glue to deceive their customers without their customers even knowing.
Even if the "Meat Glue" reconstructed meats are thoroughly cooked and safe from bacteria, this practice of misleading customers is unethical. There are 8 million pounds of meats that are reconstituted each year using "Meat Glue" Transglutaminase. Do you know what is in your meat?