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Tenderized Meat – What are You Really Paying For?

Americans want tender meat. Minnesota-based Hormel Foods responded to this want and produced its “Always Tender” line of products. Consumers have responded so favorably to these products that Hormel is adding more. How is meat tenderized?

The two main tenderizers are Bromelain and Papain, according to the Enzyme Development Corporation. Bromelain comes from pineapple stumps and roots. Papain comes from papaya trees. “The major application of tenderizer in today’s market is beef,” the corporation says. “A newer area is seafood. The products being treated are squid (calamari), clams, and other very tough and chewy seafood.”

Food marks tell whether the product has been tenderized. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) established mark regulations and they are detailed on its Web site. The word “fresh” may not be used to describe “any injected, basted, marinated poultry, poultry part or any edible part thereof whose whose internal temperature has ever been below 25 degrees Fahrenheit.”

During the freezing process many products are coated with ice. The question is, how much? Some frozen chicken breasts are 25% water, a high percentage. Reckon about this before you buy them. The chicken breasts will shrink as they cook and one fourth of your buy price will disappear. Check the water content of ham, too, and avoid packages with pooling water.

The USDA defines basted and self-basting products as those that are “injected or marinated with butter, edible stout, broth, stock, water, spices, and ‘other approved substances.’” Wow, that’s a lot of stuff. What are the other approved substances, you question? The processor is not required to tell you.

Fascinatingly, the term “chemical free” may not be used on any mark. Most of the labeling terms are simple to know. Not so with “Meat Derived by Advance Meat/Bone Separation and Meat Recovery Systems.” In 1994 the USDA modified its definition of meat to include products “derived from advanced meat/bone separation machinery.”

This may have been when the USDA approved the addition of bone material to hot dogs. But the USDA says the meat and bone separation machinery can’t grind, crush or pulverize bones and “edible tissue and bones must emerge essentially intact.” Say again?

When you buy tenderized meat you are paying for enzymes, flavoring, salt, and often, MSG and soy protein. Even consumers who like tenderized meat may need to be wary. If you are salt-sensitive, are allergic to soy, or have a violent reaction to MSG you must protect yourself.

1. Read every word on every mark.

2. Buy “minimally processed” foods.

3. Check the serving size. Is it a “normal” size or would you eat more?

4. How much salt is in a serving?

5. What is the percentage of added water?

Wise consumers should also buy products that do not contain artificial ingredients or added color. Call the USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline at 1-888-674-6854 for more information or email your questions to www.fsis.usda.gov.

Copyright 2007 by Harriet Hodgson

harriethodgson.com harriethodgson.com

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelance nonfiction writer for 28 years. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the Association for Death Education and Counseling. Her 24th book, “Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief,” written with Lois Krahn, MD, is available from amazon.com amazon.com . A five-star review of the book is posted on Amazon. You will find more reviews on the American Hospice Foundation Web site (“School Corner” heading) and the Health Ministries Association Web site.

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