August 1, 2014
Posted in: Culinary Arts

The 411 on transglutaminase

Meat glue finds favorTransglutaminase: The word is dauntingly long and perhaps familiar to cooking school students, but it has caused many chefs and consumers alike to walk away in fear. Perhaps that is why Eater chose to interview the swearing, heavily tattooed, hard-line chef Sam Monsour about the stuff. Even this tough guy hadn’t tried to tackle the product until recently, but now that he has gotten a hang of it, he plans to use it in his cooking more often. The top producer of transglutaminase, Ajinomoto, is finding so much demand for the product that the company is considering selling small bags of it to home cooks who want to experiment.

The issues at hand
Transglutaminase, also called TG and meat glue, is banned in most of Europe and Australia. Although those countries may not be using the product in their cooking, many chefs in the United States like the freedom that it offers. Meat glue is made from a naturally occurring enzyme that is found in both animals and plants. Once extracted, this enzyme has the ability to bond protein-based products together as if they were one. Most often, chefs and companies use the product to glue two small pieces of meat together. The enzyme works so well that chefs can cut and cook the meat as if it were one complete unit. The end product is so realistic that professional chefs are not able to tell the difference between a whole cut of meat and a TG-fused product.

Critics claim that this allows chefs and meat-producing companies to sell and cook products that would not normally make it out of the scrap pile. Often, these bits are thrown out as waste, and this makes some consumers worry that the product being sold may not be completely sanitary. These large amounts of left over scrap products – that may have to sit out waiting for more scraps to be bonded with – could potentially carry foodborne illness.

“It’s dangerous to think about meat glue as a way to save money, cobbling together extra pieces to make something else,” said French Culinary Institute professor Dave Arnold.

Large meat production companies aside, chefs find the glue to be a new way of exploring their art. A special article in the magazine meatpaper interviewed the acclaimed chef from wd~50 Wylie Dufresne about the product.

“People have been manipulating food ever since they realized cooking a whole animal was difficult,” Dufresne told meatpaper. “Cows don’t come in hot dog form.”

He and other chefs, including Sam Monsour?, see meat glue as a new way to naturally manipulate food. Not only can these chefs blend together multiple parts of a chicken, making a sort of leg-breast piece, they can also fuse different meats or even fish together.

Monsour’s style is different from most chefs – he cooks his meat before adding the TG. To make boneless buffalo tenders out of duck confit, he cooks the duck, pulls the meat and adds a 2 percent per volume of TG. The result is always excitingly realistic and perfect for his pop-up, The Future of Junk Food, which tries to make healthier and more modern versions of traditional bar dishes.

Dufresne, on the other hand, uses TG on uncooked meat. One of his signature dishes is shrimp spaghetti. A mixture of salt, cayenne, shrimp and TG is blended together before being strained through a sieve to create a pasta-shaped food that is then boiled. He has also chosen to create products that require less invention, such as rabbit sausage – the TG eliminates the need for a casing around the meat.