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Well-known member
Feb 10, 2005
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leader minnesota
First there was “slime,” to go along with “scraps” as derogatory descriptions of beef ingredients.

Now there’s “glue,” as in “meat glue,” yet another lovely label for processors and marketers to run—not walk—away from faster than Mitt Romney on gay marriage.

In the wake of the pink slime debacle, intrepid reporters have now discovered that transglutaminase, a naturally occurring enzyme, is being used by chefs and processors alike to create structured protein products. Numerous news reports have launched breathless stories about “fake steaks” and other formulated products using so-called meat glue to bind the ingredients together.

But unlike lean finely-textured beef, the use of transglutaminase is certainly not limited to beef. The ingredient, which, by the way, FDA deems Generally Regarded as Safe and Effective, is essential to such creations as“flavored” noodles and seafood cutlets, products that rightfully occupy a place of prominence on many a foodservice menu—not to mention the ingredient’s use in the vegetarian analogs that meat haters gleefully consume in the belief that their choices are oh-so much healthier than those of carnivores.

For example: At WD-50, a super-chic bistro, Manhattan's Lower East Side, Chef-Owner Wylie Dufresne has created such avant garde delicacies as Lobster Roe with Coriander-Brown Butter, Amaro Yolk Chicken Confit and Crab Toast with Saffron, Kaffir-Yogurt and Arare (Japanese crackers).

I couldn’t explain exactly how he creates such dishes—nor would most of his patrons, I’d bet—but Dufresne is a fan of transglue -- er, transglutamine, and he admitted he uses it as a binder in some of his restaurant’s highest profile specialties.

Yet as the Philadelphia Inquirer phrased it in piling onto the story, “Gluing together pieces of meat, fish, chicken or pork sounds like the bastardization of food, but meat glue can be used both for good and for evil.”

Wow. When did creativity in the kitchen turn into a battle between good and evil?

I’ll tell you when: When it involves beef.

Dabbling on the dark side

Sure, plenty of critics rant and rave about the “mystery meat” entrees available at non-chic restaurants and decry the “garbage” that allegedly gets dumped into frankfurters during manufacturing. Yet, we’ll wolf down mountains of McRibs and consume trainloads of hot dogs without blinking an eyeball.

But let someone use even a pinch of soy “fillers” or meat glue “additives” in burgers or beefsteak and they’ve crossed over to the nutritional dark side.

Why is that? Because beef is a double-edged sword. In a very real sense, it’s sacred, with an iconic, All-American image. It’s tied to our national history and heritage, from winning the West to cattle drives, from cowboys and Indians to ranchers against rustlers. As a center-of-the-plate staple, beef has become a symbol of strength, a status that the industry—and its customers—have consciously crafted and willingly embraced.

But as such, any product that can’t be promoted as “100% beef” becomes problematic. Nobody really worries about what’s in a hot dog (at least the consumers who consume them), but surveys show that a significant majority of people harbor genuine concerns about even a fastfood burger that might be anything less than pure, unadulterated beef.

Heck, the media could start calling hot dogs “cooked slime,” and we’d collectively shrug and order another round at the ball game or throw another package on the grill.

You know—for the kids.

But despite such classic use of binders such as oatmeal in a homemade meatloaf, if any ingredient, no matter how functional, is added to a commercial beef product, the outcry echoes across virtually the entire culinary community.

Of course, the use of binders to hold together inordinate amounts of water and flavoring in any processed meat product is, strictly speaking, a bastardization of the category.

But when the substrate is beef, even added salt can be construed as an adulterant. That’s neither reasonable nor accurate, but thanks to more than a century of pushing pure, wholesome unadulterated beef, the public’s tolerance for “tampering” with what’s for dinner is non-existent.

The pink sliming and now the meat glueing of the beef industry isn’t fair.

But neither is life—or beef.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dan Murphy, a veteran food-industry journalist and commentator.

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