If your fridge happens to contain any yak, elk or Llama meat, you have a treat coming, according to an ad for transglutaminase (a.k.a. meat glue). Slap these singular meats together with meat glue and you can now “create an Exotic Mixed Grill Filet.” Or how about gluing some “Swordfish with Salmon to create a Seafood Filet?”

These unique combos of meat, fish, and even pasta (shrimp pasta anyone?) are now possible thanks to an enzyme called transglutaminase (TG).  Extracted from animal blood or soil bacteria, these enzymes are processed into white powder that’s used as an adhesive to bind proteins to proteins.

Food producers can bind together shreds of meat or fish and mix them with a glue mush that’s shaped into items like chicken nuggets, fish balls or imitation crabmeat.

In commercial kitchens, various cuts of meat that normally would be discarded or ground up can be slathered with glue, rolled up tight and refrigerated overnight to fuse the contents together. (For the visually curious, here are some products that have been shaped with a meat glue kit sold on the internet). The glued meat is then cooked to 165 degrees, the temperature the FDA considers to be safe for this product.

Some of the perceived problems of meat glue are centered on this cooking temp. Some claim the meat on steaks cooked rare or medium rare does not reach 165 degrees, opening up the possibility of bacteria forming inside glue pockets.

Breathing in TG in powder form is a definite no-no. Like all coagulants, it’s dangerous stuff to ingest.

There’s also a debate about an off-taste in meat glue, having to do with ammonia that’s discussed in The French Institute’s Tech’n Stuff Blog. In addition, the article raises a troublesome point regarding the testing of TG, which was paid for by its’ manufacturer. The test subjects were rats and they ingested the meat glue not through their mouths, but through stomach tubes. This means no tests were carried out on the effects of meat glue traveling through the delicate tissues of mouth, throat and esophagus. Also, no long-term tests (over 2 years) appear to have been carried out.

I’m also less than thrilled by the way meat glue is tested for freshness. The blog suggests rubbing a bit of the powder into raw chicken. If the glue smells like plain old chicken, it’s past its prime. If however the glue smells like wet dog, super — it’s nice and fresh. Don’t know about you, but for me, the stench of wet dog is at the very bottom of worst odors in the universe.

The French Institute post was written over 2 years ago when TG was a new product, untried by many chefs and difficult to find in other countries. The lively, enthusiastic comments suggest many chefs were champing at the bit to experiment with the stuff. And why not? Beef is ever more expensive.  Meat glue saves commercial kitchens money, cuts down on waste, is easier to mold and cut and makes a more uniform food presentation.

On the consumer’s side of the fence, rising beef prices are also a concern. But aside from that, I’ll take my meat neat, thank you, hold the glue.

Are you, on the other hand, like numerous chefs, okay with this product?

Other on Questionable Foreign Matters: