2010.04.28 Fifty years of meat glue

Written by David Green.


I see that meat glue is back in the news again. I’m not being completely serious here. There really is such a thing as meat glue, but it’s news to me. I became aware of it for the first time only a few weeks ago.

Meat glue is described as one of the more clever things to come out of molecular gastronomy. It’s an enzyme, invented in Japan, that’s formally known as transglutaninease or TG. It plays the simple role of bonding proteins together.

Here’s one description of how it’s used: Take some chicken meat, reduce it into tiny shreds until it forms a slurry, mix in the meat glue and shape it into any form desired. Or, in other words, create a chicken nugget. You didn’t think that was actually a whole piece of meat, did you? Not for that price.

Sausage without a casing? Expect that meat glue makes it work. The same for artificial crab.

Over the years it’s gone beyond industrial food production to restaurant use. Chefs glue bacon around a piece of beef. They fuse prosciutto to a chicken wing. They fill a chicken breast with ham and bacon, then use a little TG to glue it shut. This way there’s no need for twine or skewers.

Glue chicken skin to fish for a new crispiness. Make crabmeat take on new shapes. Make boiled eggs into a centerpiece.

More practical uses include making yogurt creamier and noodles firmer.

Meat glue (Activa, Thrombin, Biobond) is a powder that’s sometimes labeled as “composite meat product.” That’s more appetizing than pig or cow blood, but it does have something to do with blood coagulation. It’s been around since the late 1950s so I know that I’ve consumed a lot of meat glue in my life.

The reason it’s in the news again is the  recent approval of one variety, Thrombin, by the European Union. Some Swedes are protesting the move because it can produce meat that isn’t what it appears to be. Glue some scraps of pork tenderloin together and come up with a dishonest pork fillet. People will pay a price for something they aren’t actually getting.

True, but they should consider the pork blood a bonus.

Meat glue has gone beyond the industrial food giants and the fancy restaurants. Anybody can join in now. Fork over your $88 to Amazon for a 2.2 pound bag of the stuff and you, too, can make hot dogs stick out all over your roast beef.

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