Away From the Bench

The world outside of the lab

Archive for the tag “Food”

You Can’t Do That…to Beef

I wasn’t planning on commenting on the pink slime issue because it’s all over the news, but my husband asked me last night, “What is this ‘pink slime’ they are talking about?”  So I guess that means not everyone knows what’s going on with this stuff.  The word ‘slime’ always reminds me of You Can’t Do That on Television, which I thoroughly enjoyed watching as a kid.  Who wouldn’t want to get slimed every time they said, “I don’t know?”  Double Dare also had some great slime activities.  And Ghostbusters – they actually had PINK SLIME in the second movie!  I guess the 1980’s was the decade of slime (pun intended?).

Ok, let’s get back on track.  ‘Pink slime’ in reference to foodstuffs came into the public consciousness last year when Chef Jamie Oliver made it his mission for Americans to eat healthier on Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.  Yet, it was back in 2002 when USDA microbiologist Gerald Zirnstein toured a beef production facility and saw the meat filler being produced, which looked like pink slime to him.  So he called it ‘pink slime’, even though the USDA refers to it as ‘Lean Finely Textured Beef’.  Pink slime is used as a lower-cost filler for processed meat products, usually ground beef.  The official USDA term sounds more appetizing, although it’s production may not be so palatable.  The outermost part of the cow is mostly fat, but when it is heated and spun really fast in a centrifuge, any protein left in the tissue separates from the fat.  This protein is mostly connective tissue, which is composed of different amino acids (the building blocks of protein) than those found in muscle tissue (the meat you usually eat).  Essential amino acids are those you must get from your diet because your body cannot produce them.  Connective tissue contains very little of these essential amino acids, which decreases the quality and nutritive value of the meat.

Not only is pink slime lesser of a protein product, but it is removed near the cow’s hide and the likelihood of contamination, especially from E. coli and Salmonella bacteria, is significantly increased.  Every problem has a solution, of course, and the beef industry’s solution is to treat this protein product with ammonia hydroxide gas to attempt to kill the bacteria that can kill you.  The problem is, this doesn’t always work well – these pathogens have been found in 51 batches of meat slated for the federal school lunch program since 2005.  Even though the USDA considers this gassing process safe, it still turns my stomach.  Furthermore, the USDA does not require foods that contain pink slime to be labeled, and it’s possible that last package of ground beef you bought at the grocery store contained this filler, as the USDA still considers this 100% beef.  I’m almost certain that frozen beef burrito you bought at 7-11 had some pink slime in it.

Luckily, there is a movement toward reducing pink slime in the food that we eat.  McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell have already discontinued using pink slime-containing products.  The public outcry over pink slime in school lunches recently persuaded the USDA to offer school districts the option to purchase pink slime-free products.  This story continues to develop, as a major pink slime producer, Beef Products Inc. just suspended operations at 3 of its 4 plants on Monday.

So if we continue to use the pink slime to keep our food costs down, would you rather be eating E. coli or ammonia hydroxide?  If you answered, “I don’t know,” you would have a bucket of slime on your head (if it were 1986).  I think any movement by the food industry towards more natural, whole foods is a good idea.  Let’s look on the bright side of all this:  at least we aren’t making sausage out of children.


I Prefer My Candy Pre-Digested

You may not put much thought into the science behind the food you eat.  Does it matter how the Hungry Man freezes my mac and cheese so it’s creamy when I take it out of the microwave?  Not really, to most consumers.  I think the movement towards more local and natural foods is the best way to go, but I find the science behind how certain foods are modernized to fit today’s society intriguing.

Almost everyone enjoys some chocolate every now and then.  In my opinion, there is no competition for caramel-filled chocolates; however, the chocolates with the most interesting filling may be cherry cordials.  How do they get the runny syrup around a cherry and into the chocolate shell?  Although ‘cordials’ used to be medicinal elixirs thought to improve circulation or aid digestion, Americans thought it was best to remove the alcohol and cover that in chocolate, as they seem to do for most things.  There is a technique that can be used to mold the chocolate shell, fill it with syrup, and then cap it with more chocolate, but that isn’t the easiest process.

The secret behind this candy is that the syrupy center starts as a solid.  The filling is basically boiled sugar water, which can be poured around the maraschino cherry in a mold and cooled into a ball or cooled first to form fondant and then wrapped around the cherry like a ball.  How does this solid ball transform into the chin-dripping liquid?  Science and time.

Copyright dpstevenson2

Invertase, a digestive enzyme produced in your saliva and small intestine, is added to the fondant.  Don’t worry, the invertase that candy companies use is purified from yeast, not from spit.  (That just reminds me of the time Dogfish Head had its employees chew corn to partially digest it into fermentable sugars to brew authentic chicha beer.)  The invertase enzyme breaks up sucrose (table sugar) into glucose and fructose which causes the hardened fondant to become a syrup.  So after manufacturing, the candies need a few weeks to ‘mature’ in their chocolate shell and let the invertase eat the sugar to create the gooey center.  Who knew chocolate-covered cherries needed age on them like a fine wine?

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