It’s no secret that we love our meat here in America.
As a matter of fact, the United States is in second place as the nation that consumes the most meat in the world, at an average just shy of 200 pounds eaten per person every year.
That’s a lot of meat!
From steaks and filets to ribs and tri-tip, meat makes up a large portion of the Western Diet --but did you know that the steak you are eating may not be as whole as it looks?
So many of us have been eating this added substance for years, and we didn't even know it.
What is meat glue?
Meat glue, other wise known to chemists as “transglutaminase”, is a binding agent that when activated, creates an incredibly strong adhesive.
Created by combining enzymes found in plants, bacterias and even some animal blood, transglutaminase is a protein-bonding agent that is often dried, ground into a powder, and then sent off to butcher shops and restaurants kitchens around the country.
It’s overall purpose in the kitchen world is to bind together proteins that otherwise would never be naturally bonded.
Have small scraps of raw meat leftover but craving a single “steak”? With a spoonful of transglutaminase, and some elbow grease, you can press those pieces of meat together and frankenstein up a brand new "steak".
Sounds like a handy new trick that can help save you (and the restaurant industry) some money, sure.
But, is meat glue safe to eat?
Where is meat glue often found?
Meat glue can potentially be used on any form of protein: fish, lamb, chicken, pork, beef, venison… virtually anything.
One of the first uses of meat glue was in the creation of imitation krab meat (spelled intentionally with a “k”). It was used originally to fuse the white fish meat together to form the pseudo-crustacean meat meant to look like crab. Just like what you find in your California Roll when you visit a sushi restaurant.
Once word got out that this bonding agent could do more than just hold small pieces of fish together --the meat glue craze was born.
According to the American Meat Institute, an organization that watches meat consumer trends and is based in Washington D.C., over 8 million pounds of meat each and ever year is affected and used with meat glue.
Is this form of glue safe …or even legal to add into food?
While it may sound like a novel idea, meat glue comes with quite a list of health risks.
As a matter of fact, this form of meat glue has been banned in several countries all around the world for a variety of reasons that include unsafe health practices all the way to a government effort to put a stop to cheating consumers with the selling of fake "steaks".
Even consuming meat that is naturally produced comes with its own set of potential dangers (possible bacteria within the meat, a sickly animal, hormone additives, unclean facilities etc…), meat glue doubles down on those already existing risks:
Not only is it probably lower quality meat, but when you combine several different pieces of meat, each from completely different animals from different parts of the country or world, the risk that any of of those pieces can be contaminated spikes upward.
Past that, once the pieces of meat are bonded together, it is almost impossible to clean the meat of any surface bacteria or germs. Once bonded, the meat becomes almost impossible to separate, meaning that any germs or bacteria that got in between the glued pieces --are there to stay.
These kinds of bacterias will be carried into our bodies and can seriously knock our gut bacteria off balance.
How can i avoid meat glue?
One of the difficulties that come from the use of transglutaminase is that once the meat is cooked, it is almost impossible to spot.
Raw meat that is bonded with meat glue can be pretty easily spotted, as the individual pieces of meat themselves will more than likely be different colors and have various fat marbling. After cooking however, when all the pieces are seasoned and cooked to a uniform look --the tell is near impossible to spot.
A stance you can take to avoid (or at the very least reduce) eating meat glue is to ask your butcher if they use transglutaminase in any way. An open dialogue with your local meat source is a great way to cut it out of you and your families diet.
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Kieliszek, Marek, and Anna Misiewicz. "Microbial Transglutaminase And Its Application In The Food Industry. A Review." Folia Microbiologica. 2013..
Olewitz, C. "Just What Is Meat Glue? The Inside Story Of An Enzyme Used In Kitchens Around The World." Techly. 2015.
Mallove, Z. "EU Bans 'Meat Glue." Food Safety News. 2010.
Clemente, G. Musu, M., et al.. “Immune reaction against the cytoskeleton in coeliac disease” BMJ. 2000.
"Transglutiminase and Beef Fibrin: Facts, Figures and Falsehoods" American Meat Institute. 2016.
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with questions regarding a medical condition. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read here. This article is for general information only.