Culinary trend has customers wondering what's in their meat

Culinary trend has customers wondering what's in their meat »Play Video
SEATTLE -- A growing trend among restaurants, food producers and butchers has some consumers scratching their heads and wondering "what's in the beef?"

It's not what you'd expect to be on the menu, but chances are you have eaten meat that's been bonded together with a product called "meat glue."

The product, also known as transglutaminase, is a naturally-occurring protein that has the ability to turn diced meat into fully-formed steaks.

With beef prices on the rise, many chefs are opting to glue their leftover chunks of meat into a meat log that can be sliced up as steak. The glue is actually a powder made up of blood from pigs, cows and chickens.

Chef and Spring Hill Restaurant owner Mark Fuller knows the power of the the powder.

"It's something I found interesting," he said of the glue. "Something I'd like to play around with."

After adding the meat glue to several different cuts of beef, chefs will wrap the mixture and put it in the fridge to rest overnight. During the night, the powdered blood coagulates and fuses the uneven slices of meat into perfectly-formed steaks.

"That would be something that we would maybe in the past have cut off, put it into ground meat or hamburger --- used it in a different way. But this way we can use the whole piece," Fuller said.

Food safety lawyer Bill Marler battles companies that cut corners to get food onto customers' plates.

"I thought it was a joke," Marler said of the meat glue.

He said there's a serious gross-out factor when he sees online videos of the tasteless, odorless powder turning stew meat into steak.

"I'm a real firm believer that consumers have a right to know what they are putting in their bodies," he said.

The Food and Drug Administration says meat glue is regarded as safe as long as fused food is cooked to at least 165 degrees.

The problem is that while a steak ordered well done will reach that temperature, anything ordered medium well and below could have bacteria growing at the glue points.

Restaurants aren't required to tell you if they're using meat glue, but some products are labeled as such, according to Jack Field with the Washington Cattleman's Association.

"So that they have the full understanding and knowledge when they purchase that --- as they should --- that this is a formed product," Field said.

Field said droughts and livestock deaths have driven up beef prices, and estimates say they could go up another five percent this year, which gives cooks even more incentive to use meat glue.

Field said he just wants the industry to be transparent.

"The consumer has and deserves a right to know where the product he or she is going to enjoy comes from," he said.

After experimenting with the product, Fuller said he will not longer use the meat glue.

"It's a natural product, but it just doesn't feel natural to me," he said.

Chefs like Fuller are doing away with the meat glue, but the powder is becoming especially popular in the creative-food community.

Instead of gluing pieces of steak together, inventive chefs are fusing it with chicken, seafood and other meats to create a sausage without a casing. Some are even using the glue to make pasta out of shrimp.