‘Artificially Marbled Meat’ Versus ‘Restructured Meat’


Some videos of meat processing circulated on the Internet, a mixture of fat and seasonings is injected into pieces of meat with machines to create a visible marble pattern on them. After watching such videos, consumers may have doubts about whether both ‘artificially marbled meat’ and ‘restructured meat’ derived through processing are safe for consumption.


What is ‘Artificially Marbled Meat’?

Artificially marbled meat, the majority of which being artificially marbled beef, refers to meat injected with fat (beef tallow) during food processing to improve its quality and palatability.


Japanese media once reported about artificial marbling of meat (beef), depicting that pieces of meat are repeatedly injected with white beef tallow and seasonings at an environment temperature ranging between 40°C and 50°C. Upon completion of injection, those are placed under refrigeration immediately. Emulsifiers, flavour enhancers, modified starch and thickeners are also added during the process of ‘marbling meat (beef)’.


What is ‘Restructured Meat’?

Besides artificially marbled meat, restructured meat is another type of commercially available processed meat. It refers to processed meat made from mincing shredded or sliced pieces of meat, then binding the smaller pieces of meat together and moulding it to the desired shapes for cooking purpose, organoleptic properties, convenient consumption, higher economic value and product consistency. Meat patty, meatball and sausage are the common products of ‘restructured meat’.


News media often use the word “Meat Glue” in describing the binding agent applied in the manufacturing of restructured meat. However, it is not the kind of “Adhesive Paste” in our mind. In the production of restructured meat, the salt-soluble proteins of meat is dissolved by adding appropriate amounts of phosphates and other food additives. When many pieces of these meat are pressed or kneaded in a massive processing, chemical bonding form among the proteins to fuse adjacent meat surfaces together.


Starch is also added to certain kinds of restructured meat to enhance their palatability and viscosity. For producing pre-seasoned one, flavour enhancer (monosodium glutamate) or flavour intensifiers (disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate) are added.


Are ‘Artificially Marbled Meat’ and ‘Restructured Meat’ hazardous to health?

The commonality between ‘Artificially Marbled Meat’ and ‘Restructured Meat’ is that food manufacturers add an appropriate amount of food additives to the meat in the processing. Generally, the producers are licensed to produce the food under legitimated processing techniques and environments. For instance, food additives are employed within the scope of its application and below the level of its prescribed limit. In additional, the processing environment and equipment meet the hygiene standards. Hence, the meat products are deemed to be safe for consumption. An example of phosphates, which are added in restructured meat, are the permitted food additives in the processing of meat products according to the standards enacted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission (CODEX). Phosphates are not harmful to the human body while used in compliance with established standards.


Nevertheless, both ‘Artificially Marbled Meat’ and ‘Restructured Meat’ go through a sequence of processing steps, including filling, cutting and binding. It is inevitable that there are more opportunities for the processed meat to be exposed to pollutants or other risks, such as increasing the possibility of microbial contamination. As for consumers, eating too much of these products may take in excessive amounts of calories and sodium through the additional of animal tallows and salt.


Advice for the Consumers:

  • Both ‘Artificially Marbled Meat’ and ‘Restructured Meat’ must be thoroughly cooked before consumption, even in the case of restructured steak. The centre of meat must be no longer red and the cooked-out gravy should run clear.
  • Producers, retailers and consumers must pay attention to the storage temperatures for preserving meat products, which are keep in a refrigeration equipment with appropriate temperature setting or in a freezer.
  • Restructured meat and artificially marbled meat are added with adequate amounts of food additives or seasonings. Over consumption of artificially marbled meat, which is injected with animal tallow, can result in overweight or obesity due to excessive fat intake. It is therefore advisable to maintain a balanced diet to avoid undue exposure to a single food ingredient.
  • Consumers should buy food products from reputable shops instead of buying meat and meat products from unknown sources. They should also read the food label and nutrition facts carefully upon purchase.