It is becoming more and more common for foods to contain chemicals, additives and preservatives that are not listed on the ingredient list. The term “industry standard” is the device that offers a hiding place and makes this possible. When manufacturers use an “industry standard” ingredient in their product, they do not have to list it on the ingredient list.
These hidden ingredients lurk in many different foods. For those of us with sensitivities, or those who care about the food they eat, this poses a real problem because there is no way of knowing what is in the food. Undisclosed ingredients likely are to blame for causing health issues in countless people.
TRANSGLUTAMINASE (AKA “MEAT GLUE”)
Transglutaminase (TG)—also known as “meat glue”—is a hidden ingredient added to meat as well as other foods. Referred to in scientific publications as a protein “cross-linking” agent, transglutaminase acts as a “catalyst” to bond any food containing protein. Transglutaminase also serves as a tenderizer.
In addition to creating “restructured” beef and poultry (think chicken nuggets), meat glue serves as an ingredient in seafood and imitation crabmeat. There is also a part per million (ppm) allowance for transglutaminase in vegetable protein dishes and other meat substitutes as well as dairy products—processed cheese, hard cheese, cream cheese, yogurt and frozen desserts—and even some bakery items.
The International Culinary Center benignly describes transglutaminase as “a naturally occurring enzyme in plants, animals, and bacteria.” Transglutaminase is manufactured “either from the blood clotting factors of animals like cows and pigs or bacteria derived from plant extracts” such as streptomyces; the latter is called “microbial transglutaminase.” Because animal-origin transglutaminase has an “extremely high” manufacturing cost, microbial transglutaminase has become the food industry’s favored biotechnological tool. The European Union (EU) banned animal-derived meat glue in 2010 due to safety concerns but still allows microbial transglutaminase.
The USDA states that it has “mandatory labeling requirements” for transglutaminase enzyme in meat, egg and poultry products, but journalists have noted that “they don’t always have to write the word out in such clear terms,” adding that for bread and dairy products, “the label may be [even] less clear.” The German law firm Gorny Law has described the EU’s legal reasoning regarding labeling, stating that because transglutaminase “is a processing aid in a legal sense,” it “is not an ingredient and under current law must not be labelled in the list of ingredients.” The German lawyers also assert, “As soon as the substrate used during production is depleted, the enzyme will be inactive and does not function in a technological manner in the finished foodstuff even though it may still be present.”
Chefs and meat processors are very familiar with transglutaminase as a common ingredient used to take lesser cuts of meats and literally glue them together for resale as a higher cut of meat or to “create a product of desirable size and form.” Using meat glue also allows them to create checkerboard meat, with dark meat and light meat literally glued next to each other (think turkey bacon). So widely accepted is meat glue that the International Culinary Center’s blog for chefs (called Cooking Issues) refers to the practice of using transglutaminase as just as acceptable as any other enzyme-catalyzed cooking process, such as using starches to brew beer or rennet to make cheese. However, European lawmakers involved in the 2010 decision to ban meat-derived transglutaminase stated that “consumers in Europe should be able to trust that they are buying a real steak or ham, not pieces of meat that have been glued together.”
The process of using meat glue is simple: Take otherwise discarded meat pieces, coat or sprinkle them with meat glue, mix well, roll the meat product in a sheet of plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. The International Culinary Center praises this use of plastic wrap, stating: “The plastic wrap technique is great because there are no rules regulating its use, and it is simple, fast and cheap; foods can be cooked in water directly in the plastic wrap.”
The result is a new cut of meat that is unrecognizable as an impostor. When you pull on the meat, it does not separate and responds as a normal piece of muscle tissue. Even when cut, the meat responds exactly like a piece of ordinary meat. In fact, the meat-glued product looks, feels, cooks and tastes like the cut of meat it is pretending to be—with the difference going unnoticed even by professional chefs. However, a “culinary physics” blog notes that, unlike gelatin, transglutaminase “doesn’t melt when heated.”
Interestingly, when meat glue is bonding, it produces molecules of ammonia. A New York State Health Department document describes ammonia under the subheading of “Chemical Terrorism”—specifying that “Ammonia is also produced naturally from decomposition of organic matter, including plants, animals and animal wastes.” In the cooking world, the ammonia resulting from the meat glue process is seen as a plus. The rule of thumb that chefs use to assess whether meat glue (some forms of which have an unrefrigerated shelf life) is still good to use is to glue a few pieces of meat together and smell the meat while it is still moist. If the meat smells like a wet wool sweater or wet dog, it is still good. This smell comes from the ammonia.
The International Culinary Center grudgingly concedes that “some studies have shown that stomach enzymes have difficulty breaking down proteins after they have been bonded by TG.” The Center goes on to say, “When TG-ases are improperly regulated in the body, they are associated with very bad things like the plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease patients as well as in the development of cataracts in the eyes, arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), various skin disorders, etc.” However, despite studies linking meat glue to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) behaviors, gluten sensitivity, celiac disease, dementia and other diseases, the Center asserts that these problems arise from inherent physiological imbalances rather than consumption of meat-glued foods.
The 2010 book Ideas in Food—part guidebook, part recipe book—provides “detailed usage guides for the pantry staples of molecular gastronomy,” including “staples” such as transglutaminase and xantham gum. The authors note how the “efficiency” of transglutaminase blends “can be improved with the addition of gelatin, caseinate, potassium chloride, and fiber,” which “are sometimes added. . . to facilitate the bonding process.” They add that “Salt and phosphates also increase the effectiveness of transglutaminase by increasing the availability of salt-soluble proteins.”
The addition of caseinate (a compound derived from casein) to transglutaminase blends is particularly concerning given the prevalence of casein intolerance, with celiac patients and autistic children the primary victims of this type of intolerance. Initially, avoiding casein may seem navigable through the elimination of milk products such as cheese, yogurt and ice cream—but when products such as medicine gel caps and “restructured” meat and fish are added to the list of casein-containing products, avoidance becomes not only more complicated, but disheartening.
KNOW YOUR FARMER AND BUY LOCAL
With the growing attempts by industry to push consumers into eating synthetic and fake foods, and growing awareness of the “industry standard” ingredients lurking in foods without appearing on food labels, this commitment to buying from high integrity, small- and medium-scale local producers is more important than ever. Buying from local farmers who keep animals on pasture, do not chemical-treat their vegetables and sell honey straight from the bees is the optimal way to feed your family.
Article adapted from Weston Price.