Meat Glue: What It Is, and What You Should Know About It
You might have seen the viral videos going around about "meat glue." It's deceptive, it's nasty, and it's potentially deadly. Read on to learn more about why it's used, what it is, and the dangers that it poses.
Well, first to get to why this stuff is used. Corporations and businesses don't want to lose money, and I think we can all relate to that on some level. I know, for one, that all my odd-shaped scraps of wrapping-paper end up being used as gift tags or amalgamated wrappings, for example. Money is money, and everyone has their odd ways of saving it and not wasting things that can be made use of.
Manufacturers, food processors, caterers, and butchers are exactly the same way; the issue is that instead of wrapping-paper scraps, they have meat scraps after trimming and shaping their cuts. They've devised some ways to skirt around the issue of unused cuts of meat by using meat glue to bind the disparate snippets back together again (the end result of which is popularly termed "frankenmeat.")
"Meat glue" is industry standard, and chances are if you eat meat, or even tofu, you're consuming this binding agent on a monthly, if not weekly, basis. And for all you vegetarians and vegans out there, please note: this stuff is not friendly to you and might be in your cheese, dairy, or tofu.
What is Meat Glue?
"Meat glue" is scientifically known as transglutaminase, and its brand name is Activa.
Activa is manufactured by the Ajinomoto company, the same lovely folks who have brought us aspartame and MSG (monosodium glutamate.) There is a raging debate within scientific circles as to the potential neurotoxic effects of these synthetically-manufactured food additives. The jury's still out about transglutaminase, but "caveat emptor!" An increasing number of studies show a link between synthetic TG and deleterious effects on the brain and body.
Transglutaminase (TG) is an enzyme that helps proteins bind permanently together through the formation of covalent bonds. The TG forms cross-linked, insoluble, and irreversible protein polymers.
Natural examples of these stable polymers are found in blood clots, our skin, and hair.
What's happening chemically: protein-bound lysine + protein-bound glutamine (free amine + carboxamide.)
How is Meat Glue Made?
Most TG is made from the cultivation of bacteria using the blood plasma (clotting factors) from cows and pigs. Some TG is made from cultivating bacteria using vegetable and plant extracts. Most TGs are mixed with other ingredients including gelatin and caseinate (milk derivative.)
The issue? Manufacturers don't have to tell you which method they're using, what type of animal plasma was used (cow, pig), or anything else that most of us would like to know more about. As with most things, the only way you can really know what you're consuming is if you make it yourself.
Depending on how stringent a vegetarian you are, this may or may not ring some bells for you. TG is often used to increase yields in tofu production. Vegans, avoid this stuff like the plague.
In addition to vegetarians and vegans, Judaism and pork products don't go together, so make sure you're buying kosher cuts. There is a special "kosher" meat glue made just for you.
Video: Meat Glue
Types of Transglutaminase
- Activa TG-FP: used for beef and pork restructuring. Designed for use with foods high in protein and low in fat. Can be used dry or mixed with water. Useful in products that must include an ingredients list. Contains: transglutaminase, maltodextrin, and skim milk powder.
- Activa TG-GB: "greatest bond" used for making stronger bonds than the other TGs make, though it can't be mixed with water and has to be added directly. Contains: transglutaminase, maltodextrin, gelatin, and anti-caking agents.
- Activa TG-GS: used for bonding meats, the difference here is that GS can sit out on the counter all day without going bad (deactivating.) Contains: sodium chloride, gelatin, trisodium phosphate, maltodextrin, transglutaminase, and safflower oil.
- Activa TG-RM: this is the most commonly used TG. Used for red meat, poultry, seafood, and other muscle foods. Also for use with foods containing low amounts of protein. Can be used dry or mixed with water. Contains: transglutaminase, maltodextrin, and sodium caseinate (milk derivative.)
- Activa TG-TI: used for textural improvements to foods that naturally contain protein. Can be used dry or mixed with water. Contains: maltodextrin, and double the transglutaminase found in RM or GB.
- Activa TG-TIU: this is the same as TI, but is the kosher version, and is the only kosher meat glue (transglutaminase) commercially available. Contains: maltodextrin, and double the transglutaminase found in RM or GB.
- Activa TG-YG: used for thickening and improving texture in dairy products (yogurt and cheese.) Can be added directly into dairy mixtures. Contains: lactose, yeast extract, maltodextrin, vegetable oil, and transglutaminase.
What It's Used For
- Makes "steaks" out of glued together meat chunks.
- Makes imitation crab meat, chicken nuggets, and fish balls.
- Creates reconstituted steaks, fillets, roasts, and cutlets.
- Makes uniform meat portions that cook evenly and reduce waste.
- Binds meat mixtures (sausages, hot dogs) without using casings.
- Improves mouth feel, water retention, and appearance of processed meats.
- Makes novel meat combinations like lamb and scallops or bacon and beef.
- Makes meat noodles (shrimp noodles) and other cuisine oddities.
- For use in molecular gastronomy.
- Thickens egg yolks.
- Strengthens dough mixtures.
- Thickens dairy products (yogurt, cheese.)
- Increases yield in tofu production.
Dangers and Concerns
The FDA classifies the TG enzyme as GRAS or “generally recognized as safe,” and it's also approved by the USDA. That said, the USDA approves the use of neurotoxins (aspartame, fluoride), pesticides and herbicides, and growth hormone and antibiotic-injected meats.
When multiple pieces of meat are globbed together (potentially from different animals and multiple countries), this can be a hazard. “If there is a bacteria outbreak, it’s much harder to figure out the source when chunks of meat from multiple cows were combined,” says Keith Warriner who teaches food science at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada.
The bacterial count in "restructured" meat is extremely high because pieces of meat that were outside pieces are now glued together inside, making them hard to cook thoroughly. “The amount of bacteria on a steak that’s been put together with meat glue is hundreds of times higher,” says microbiologist Glenn Pener. This can lead to food poisoning, dire illness, and even death.
Increased Risk of Disease
In addition to an enormous increase in the likelihood of bacterial infections and food poisoning, there's a potential link between consumed TG and common diseases. Though not directly linked to consumption of transglutaminase, there's an increased risk to people who do not regulate the enzyme properly.
For example, when TG is not properly regulated in the body, it's associated with plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s Disease patients; in the development of cataracts in the eyes; arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries); and various skin disorders. [Transglutaminases in Disease, Soo-Youl Kim, et al., Neurochemistry International 40 (2002), 85-103.]
Gluten Allergy and Celiac Disease
The “glut” of transglutaminase stands for “gluten.” We've recently seen an enormous increase in gluten sensitivity in the US. Might this increase, in part, be due to the continued and "forced" consumption of this enzyme?
Ingested meat glue is not a “self” transglutaminase, and will therefore be recognized by the immune system as foreign. If this leads to your own transglutaminase being determined foreign as well, it could lead to the development of gluten allergy and Celiac (Coeliac) Disease.
Had you heard of meat glue before reading this hub?
People wonder why Alzheimer's, allergic reactions, and cancer rates are up. It's time to start reading labels and learning what you're consuming, don't you think? So many people trust their health, and their kids' health, to others. Why?
It's clear that the FDA, USDA, and our governments are more interested in making a buck than in ensuring our safety. It's up to us to ensure that what we put into our bodies is wholesome, nutritious, and is free from toxins and other chemicals.
You Are What You Eat
It's true on a cellular level, even if you've never thought of it that way. Each food item we consume is broken down into its constituent parts. Our cells are fed by these basic components, and cells make everything in our bodies work. We really "are" what we eat, and therefore it's so important to buy our foods very thoughtfully.
What We Can Do
- Abstain from eating meat, or decrease consumption.
- Raise your own animals and grow your own vegetables.
- Only buy meats and vegetables from local farms and co-ops.
- Only buy organic meats, vegetables, foods, and products.
- Abstain from eating processed foods, or decrease consumption.
- Inform yourself by reading each label of each food you buy.
- Inform yourself by doing online research and reading books.
- Spread the word about health and longevity.
Sources and Further Reading
1. Aaron, L., & Torsten, M. (2019, February). Microbial Transglutaminase: A New Potential Player in Celiac Disease. Journal of Clinical Immunology;199:37-43. Retrieved July 19, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30543926
2. Ajinomoto Food Ingredients: Enhancement Products. (n.d.). Retrieved July 1, 2011, from https://www.ajifoodsolutions.com/products/
3. Barua, J., & Bal, A. (1995). Emerging Facts About Aspartame. Retrieved January 1, 2011, from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/b25b/2a946150b366fa0ab408b54a0ff60c203769.pdf
4. Baugreet, S., Kerry, J. P., Allen, P., Gallagher, E., & Hamill, R. M. (2018, May 14). Physicochemical Characteristics of Protein-Enriched Restructured Beef Steaks with Phosphates, Transglutaminase, and Elasticised Package Forming. Journal of Food Quality;2018:1-11. Retrieved July 19, 2019, from https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jfq/2018/4737602
5. Baugreet, S., Kerry, J. P., Brodkorb, A., Gomez, C., Auty, M., Allen, P., & Hamill, R. M. (2018, August). Optimisation of Plant Protein and Transglutaminase Content in Novel Beef Restructured Steaks for Older Adults by Central Composite Design. Journal of Meat Science;142:65-77. Retrieved July 19, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29680710
6. Blaylock, R. L., MD. (2006, March 18). Aspartame Is An Excitoneurotoxic Carcinogenic Drug! Retrieved January 1, 2011, from http://www.redicecreations.com/specialreports/2006/03mar/aspartamedangers.html
7. Chan, S. K., & Lim, T. S. (2019, April). Bioengineering of Microbial Transglutaminase for Biomedical Applications. European Journal of Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology;103(7):2973-2984. Retrieved July 19, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30805670
8. Chen, C., Takahashi, K., Geonzon, L., Okazaki, E., & Osako, K. (2019, August 30). Texture Enhancement of Salted Alaska Pollock (Theragra Chalcogramma) Roe Using Microbial Transglutaminase. Journal of Food Chemistry;290:196-200. Retrieved July 19, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31000037
9. Choudhary, A. K., & Pretorius, E. (2017, September 01). Revisiting the Safety of Aspartame. Nutrition Reviews;75(9):718-730. Retrieved July 21, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28938797
10. De Almeida, M. A., Villanueva, N. D., Gonçalves, J. R., & Contreras-Castillo, C. J. (2015, May). Quality Attributes and Consumer Acceptance of New Ready-To-Eat Frozen Restructured Chicken. Journal of Food Science and Technology;52(5):2869-77. Retrieved July 19, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25892785
11. De Palma, G., Apostoli, P., Mistrello, G., Zenotta, S., & Bertorelli, G. (2014, June). Microbial Transglutaminase: A New and Emerging Occupational Allergen. Annals of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology;112(6):553-554. Retrieved July 21, 2019, from https://www.academia.edu/22275311/Microbial_transglutaminase_a_new_and_emerging_occupational_allergen
12. Dekking, E. H., Van Veelen, P. A., De Ru, A., Cooy-Winkelaar, E., Groneveld, T., Nieuwenhuizen, W., & Koning, F. (2007, June 05). Microbial Transglutaminases Generate T Cell Stimulatory Epitopes Involved in Celiac Disease. Journal of Cereal Science;47(2):339-346. Retrieved July 19, 2019, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0733521007000847?via=ihub
13. Gaspar, A. L., & De Goes-Favoni, S. P. (2015, March 15). Action of Microbial Transglutaminase (MTGase) in the Modification of Food Proteins: A Review. Journal of Food Chemistry;171:315-22. Retrieved July 19, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=25308675
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15. Jacobberger, T. (2011, May 13). Is There Meat Glue in Your Food? Retrieved July 1, 2011, from https://insidescoopsf.sfgate.com/blog/2011/05/13/is-there-meat-glue-in-your-food/
16. Jira, W., Sadeghi-Mehr, A., Brüggemann, D. A., & Schwägele, F. (2017, July). Production of Dry-Cured Formed Ham with Different Concentrations of Microbial Transglutaminase: Mass Spectrometric Analysis and Sensory Evaluation. Journal of Meat Science;129:81-87. Retrieved July 19, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28267644
17. Jira, W., & Schwägele, F. (2017, December 15). A Sensitive Hplc-Ms/Ms Method for the Simultaneous Detection of Microbial Transglutaminase, and Bovine and Porcine Fibrinogen/Thrombin in Restructured Meat. Journal of Food Chemistry;237:841-848. Retrieved July 19, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28764076
18. Kaufmann, A., Köppel, R., & Widmer, M. (2012). Determination of Microbial Transglutaminase in Meat and Meat Products. Journal of Food Additives & Contaminants;29(9):1364-73. Retrieved July 19, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=22747363
19. Kieliszek, M., & Misiewicz, A. (2014, May). Microbial Transglutaminase and Its Application in the Food Industry. A Review. Folia Microbiologica;59(3):241-50. Retrieved July 19, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=24198201
20. Kim, S., Jeitner, T. M., & Steinert, P. M. (2001, December 01). Transglutaminases in Disease. Neurochemistry International;40(1):85-103. Retrieved January 1, 2011, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S019701860100064X
21. Kuraishi, C., Nakagoshi, H., Tanno, H., & Tanaka, H. (2007, September 02). Hydrocolloids;2(2000):281-285. Application of Transglutaminase for Food Processing. Retrieved July 19, 2019, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780444501783500962
22. Kuraishi, C., Sakamoto, J., Yamazaki, K., & Susa, Y. (2006, July). Production of Restructured Meat Using Microbial Transglutaminase Without Salt or Cooking. Journal of Food Science;62(3):488-490. Retrieved July 19, 2019, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/229671211_Production_of_Restructured_Meat_using_Microbial_Transglutaminase_without_Salt_or_Cooking
23. Li, Q., Gui, P., Huang, Z., Feng, L., & Luo, Y. (2018, February). Effect of Transglutaminase on Quality and Gel Properties of Pork and Fish Mince Mixtures. Journal of Texture Studies;49(1):56-64. Retrieved July 19, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28581064
24. Lerner, A., & Matthias, T. (2015, June). Changes in Intestinal Tight Junction Permeability Associated with Industrial Food Additives Explain the Rising Incidence of Autoimmune Disease. Autoimmunity Reviews;14(6):479-89. Retrieved July 19, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=25676324
25. Lerner, A., & Matthias, T. (2015, August). Possible Association Between Celiac Disease and Bacterial Transglutaminase in Food Processing: A Hypothesis. Nutrition Review;73(8):544-52. Retrieved July 19, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=26084478
26. Lerner, A., Aminov, R., & Matthias, T. (2017, January 24). Transglutaminases in Dysbiosis as Potential Environmental Drivers of Autoimmunity. Frontiers in Microbiology;8:66. Retrieved July 19, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=28174571
27. Lerner, A., & Matthias, T. (2015, January 23). Food Industrial Microbial Transglutaminase in Celiac Disease: Treat or Trick. International Journal of Celiac Disease;3(1):1-6. Retrieved July 19, 2019, from http://pubs.sciepub.com/ijcd/3/1/10/index.html
28. Lerner, A., Neidhofer, S., & Matthias, T. (2015). Transglutaminase 2 and Anti Transglutaminase 2 Autoantibodies in Celiac Disease and Beyond: TG2 Double-Edged Sword: Gut and Extraintestinal Involvement. Immunome Research;11(3). Retrieved July 19, 2019, from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/289585653_Transglutaminase_2_and_Anti_Transglutaminase_2_Autoantibodies_in_Celiac_Disease_and_Beyond_TG2_Double-Edged_Sword_Gut_and_Extraintestinal_Involvement
29. Lorand, L., & Iismaa, S. E. (2019, January). Transglutaminase Diseases: From Biochemistry to the Bedside. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology;33(1):3-12. Retrieved July 19, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30593123
30. Malandain, H. (2005, December). Transglutaminases: A Meeting Point for Wheat Allergy, Celiac Disease, and Food Safety. European Annals of Allergy and Clinical Immunology;37(10):397-403. Retrieved July 19, 2019, from https://europepmc.org/abstract/med/16528904
31. Mancuso, C., & Barisani, D. (2019, April 26). Food Additives Can Act as Triggering Factors in Celiac Disease: Current Knowledge Based on a Critical Review of the Literature. World Journal of Clinical Cases;7(8):917–927. Retrieved July 21, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6509268/
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Questions & Answers
I have read several articles online that state that transglutamatine is banned in the EU and the UK, among other countries. However, I am finding it difficult to confirm this. Has anything changed since you wrote this article in 2011? I have just discovered that I have bought Gravidlax slices containing transglutaminase. I had intended to return them after reading the articles but I don't want to go in with guns blazing unless the statements are true.
On May 20, 2010, the European Parliament voted to ban bovine and porcine thrombin used as an additive to bind separate pieces of meat together into one piece. According to European Union lawmakers, the additives, which are commonly called “meat glue,” have no proven benefits” and create products that “carry an unacceptably high risk of misleading consumers” instead.
Another consideration EU lawmakers considered was the higher risk of bacterial infection in meat products created with thrombin, due to the larger surface area of meat and the cold bonding process that is used.
The decision not to authorize meat glue as an additive rejects an earlier European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) positive safety opinion on the use of ‘meat glue’ in 2005.
Meat glue is an enzyme composed of thrombin and fibrogen, obtained from blood plasma. It can be used by the meat industry as a food additive for reconstituting fresh meat to create a product of desirable size and form. The method can also be applied to poultry, fish, and seafood.
The Parliament estimated that there is “a clear risk that meat containing thrombin would find its way into meat products served in restaurants or other public establishments serving food, given the higher prices that can be obtained for pieces of meat served as a single meat product”.Helpful 2
After I eat steak I get restless legs. Could this be the culprit?
There are so many factors, who knows? But animal protein of any kind is notoriously highly inflammatory to the body, so it may be exacerbating otherwise dormant diseases.Helpful 10
Is there meat glue in the meat we buy at major chain grocery stores?
The use of meat glue is standard practice throughout the meat industry. Will you find it in grocery store meats? You bet. Will you find it in the meat from your local farmer? Probably not.Helpful 5
Can organic meat and tofu contain meat glue?
So far I haven't found any sign of "organic transglutaminase" on the market, so organics may be a safer bet as far as meat glue avoidance goes. But it's hard to find any information specific to it. It's an unknown, but organic is always the better bet when between a rock and a hard place.Helpful 2
© 2011 Kate P