Is “Meat Glue” As Gross As It Sounds? | Mother Jones
Is “Meat Glue” As Gross As It Sounds?
—By Tom Philpott| Mon May. 7, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
Three strips of beef that have been bound together with “meat glue” and rolled into a log, in preparation for being sliced into steak-like pieces. The Boathouse at Sunday Park/Wikimedia Commons
Update (Friday, June 8): Tom Philpott joined Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air to discuss “meat glue”, “pink slime”, and other issues affecting the meat industry. Listen to the interview here.
Broadcast news and social-media sites have been aflame with reports about something called “meat glue.”
“If you were disturbed to hear about ’pink slime’ in your burger, you’ll want to know about ’meat glue,’ because a fat, rare-cooked filet mignon may not be what it seems,” ABC News’ Bay Area affiliate gasped last week.
First reaction: Ooh, gross. Reaction upon a bit of reflection: Meat glue, an enzyme known as transglutaminase, is indeed a trick up the meat industry’s sleeve, but a relatively minor one in the grand scheme.
But in a “steak” made up of several pieces bound by meat glue, surface meat (and any pathogens like salmonella clinging to it) ends up inside the final cut—so searing on both sides won’t do the trick. A rare real steak can be a pleasure to eat; rare meat-glued “steak” presents a potential health hazard.
And anyway, such labels only inform consumers when they’re shopping at the supermarket. But according to ABC News’ reporting, consumers are more likely to encounter transglutaminase-bound cuts when eating outside the home.
Pinning down who is using transglutaminase isn’t easy. One meat company owner told KGO-TV that gluing meat is common practice, and the most glued product by far is filet mignon destined for the food service industry. An industry trade group also said meat glue is most often used where filet mignon is served in bulk—at a restaurant, banquet, cafeteria or hotel.
God forbid, if I ever find myself at some cursed banquet where they’re serving “filet mignon,” I’ll eat around the entree—whether or not it’s cooked to the leather stage to kill pathogens. But honestly, I’ll probably be thinking more about the cow’s awful life and deplorable diet than I am about the meat glue.
Now, the other way consumers might find themselves eating glued meat is at a very different kind of meal: at a high-end restaurant run by a creative chef. The standard bearer for such chefs in the United States, Wylie Dufresne of Manhattan’s WD-50, loves the stuff. According to Meat Paper, he has “concocted all manner of playful and bizarre food products with meat glue, including shrimp spaghetti, which he made by mixing salt, cayenne, deveined shrimp, and meat glue in a blender.”
Would I eat Dufresne’s famous “shrimp spaghetti” if confronted with a plate of it?
Honestly, yes. I trust chefs on Dufresne’s level to use top-quality raw materials and cook them properly—even if I can rarely afford to eat their food. I guess, in the end, it’s not the glue itself I find particularly gross; it’s when it’s used to bind together industrial meat that that it gets me.