If you see “composite meat product” on the label, it might be fish slurry slapped together with an enzyme from cow’s blood.
Almost every country in the EU last week approved the use of Meat Glue in food. Technically called thrombian, or transglutaminase (TG), it is an enzyme that food processors use to hold different kinds of meat together.
Imitation crab meat is one of the more common applications: it’s made from surimi, a “fish-based food product” made by pulverizing white fish like pollock or hake into a paste, which is then mixed with meat glue so that the shreds stick together and hold the shape wanted for it by its creator…
Chicken nuggets are also often bound with meat glue, as are meat mixtures meant to mold like sausage but without the casing. Meat glue is also used by high-end chefs like New York restaurant WD-50’s Wylie Dufresne, who is famous for his shrimp pasta dish—instead of shrimp with pasta, he just makes the pasta out of shrimp.
How it works
TG is an enzyme that catalyzes covalent bonds between free amine groups in a protein, like lysine, and gamma-caroxminid groups, like glutamine. These bonds are pretty durable and resist degradation once the food has been formed.
Thrombin is made from pig or cow blood, though you’ll see it on labels, if at all, as “composite meat product.” Many Europeans are outraged at their governments’ recent approval of the product: Food Safety News reports that a member of the Swedish Consumers’ Association, for example, has stated, “We do not want this at all–it is meat make-up.”
Know your food?
While meat glue is not necessarily a new creation, nor is it the weirdest of the weird or gross aspects of modern food production, it is certainly something that puts greater distance between us and our food—when the search for sustainability depends on doing just the opposite. Knowing where and how our food is produced, and eating more locally, are key to making food healthier for people and the planet.
If the idea of fish slurry or chicken puree glued together with an enzyme isn’t appealing to you, use it as motivation to learn more about where your food comes from. Try shopping from farmer’s markets more, so that you know who has grown your vegetables, or raised your meat if you eat it. Although between the chemicals, pollutants, cruelty and carbon emissions from its production, maybe reconsider (again) what it means to eat meat at all. ?