Nose-to-Tail and Root-to-Tip: Re-Thinking Emulsions

Nose-to-Tail and Root-to-Tip: Re-Thinking Emulsions

2 October 2018


Meat emulsions involve meat, emulsifiers, stabilizers and fillers which are normally plant-based in origin, included in various ratios. These are hybrid products of meat with some plant-based material added to meat. One can view this as the midpoint on a line and how much meat and how much plant materials are added determines its exact location on this line with the two extremes (endpoints of the line) being pure meat products on the one extreme and pure plant products on the other. In April 2020 during COVID lockdown, I decided to re-examine every bit of data on the subject to arrive at a place where we utilise the carcass fully on the one hand and on the other, use less refined plant products where we choose to include it.

In re-examining raw materials used in emulsions, the scope of such investigation must nesecerraly include the role of equipment.

So, the carcass must be re-examined in its entirety and all plant products used in emulsions such as soya, various starches, fibres, gums, cereals, oils, etc. Subcategories will be investigated such as TVP and the various isolates?

The subject is daunting in extent. What is a modified starch and what are the differences with native starches? What is a food gel and what characteristics are required under which conditions? What is the role of meat proteins in gelation? What is an emulsifier and what is a filler? How did these enter the meat processing world and what has been the most important advances? What is the legislative framework? What is the role of time, temperature, pH, pressure, particle size on these products in isolation and synergistically, in a complex system? What is the role of enzymes in manipulating these? What are all the possible sources of protein, starches, fillers and emulsifiers? How do we enhance the taste? Firmness? etc. By its very nature, a project of this scope begs for collaboration which is what I request in this document. I believe this can be accomplished without compromising proprietary information. Each document presented here is therefore carefully crafted not to reveal information which stakeholders require to be kept secret.

Definition of an Emulsion

We refer to the plant and meat products being part of an emulsion or various emulsions. It is important to define what we mean. Gravelle, et al. gives a definition which accords well with me. He says that “finely comminuted meat products such as frankfurter-type sausages and bologna can be described as a discrete fat phase embedded in a thermally-set protein gel network. The chopping, or comminution process is performed under saline conditions to facilitate extraction of the salt-soluble (predominantly myofibrillar) proteins. Some of these proteins associate at the surface of the fat globules, forming an interfacial protein film (IPF), thus embedding the fat droplets within the gel matrix, as well as acting to physically restrain or stabilize the droplets during the thermal gelation process. As a result, these types of products are commonly referred to as meat emulsions or meat batters.” (Gravelle, 2017) This can easily be extended to include plant-based emulsions since such emulsions will include proteins, fats, oils and water.

The Underlying Philosophy

Richard Bosman, the master curer from South Africa and I have been discussing these concepts on and off for years. He captures the ethos of the project masterfully when he writes the following after a short but powerful meeting we had at his office (12.11.20). It serves as a “creed of action” or a philosophy driving the project.

Nose to Tail – What does this really mean for a meat business?


Whilst eating nose to tail is very fashionable today amongst the hip crowd, it is really something that was just forgotten for a period during the late 20th century when food production became industrialised.

The theory is a simple concept – Eat everything from the animal and if we break this down in terms of a pig carcass we have:

– Leg meat for hams
– Loin and belly for bacons
– Fillets for fresh meat or curing
– Shoulder for sausages and salamis
– Neck for roasts or coppa
– Cheeks for guanciale or terrines
– The rest of the head for stock and terrines
– The skin for crackling
– The bones for stock

Rethinking Everything.

As a cured meat producer, what is the mix of DESIREABLE products one can make from a carcass that MAXIMISES the nutritional benefit to society? Is it better to make crackling and lard as opposed to a rind emulsion sausage bound with a local starch that would feed more people?  Skin is up to 10% of the carcass weight and processing crackling yields 10% with a very high input cost of resources and labour. The market for “exotic” items such as terrines is small in South Africa and is a hard sell. Kidney fat cannot be used in cased products due to the softness of the fat and the market for pork lard is very small.

Whilst it can be used for schmaltz, frying, soap or rillettes the amount produced by large pigs sre far more than the demand. The world we live in today is very different to the world in which people made their own stocks, and soaps and cured their own meats and utilising the entire animal. Today the average customer wants to understand the provenance of the food they are eating and is moving to more healthy/ethical/eco friendly food but still requires some convenience in their busy lives.

Our challenge is to relook at the “nose to tail” carcass utilisation and ensure that we use everything while still providing products that are in demand. With the current pressure on producer margins, this is critical to ensure the meat producers are able to remain profitable as well as maintain integrity.

Root-to-Tip: What is good for the Carcass is Good for Plants

The nose-to-tail philosophy that drives our approach to the carcass now becomes the foundation to our approach to the plant also. Here, the danger is over-processing. Breaking down the seed into various concentrates, selling it as individual ingredients simply to be combined again by the producer into one blend may not be the wisest thing to do. Apart from obvious cost objections, there is a constant danger of over-processing with its accompanying health risks. We ask the question, what is the most natural, unrefined form that we can use a plant or plant seed. How can we utilise EVERYTHING in its most natural state? (Note how the question is basically the same asked about the animal carcass)

Combining Nose-to-Tail and Root-to-Tip

We then ask the question if using only meat or only plant-based-ingredients or a combination of the two yields the best products for the consumer from nutritional, general health and an acceptability perspective. What does the consumer prefer and what is, at the same time good for us and in the best interest of the environment.

Using these products in an emulsified state is a logical basis as raw materials due to the inherent nature of the products, containing proteins, fats and oils. We can say that we endeavour to use nose-to-tail and root-to-tip in optimal proportions in emulsified states. This philosophy of action forms a beautiful and powerful “creed” for the project.

The Understand (Science) and to Practice with Skill (Art)

The basis of action will be two-fold. To “understanding” and to master the “art“. What follows below is my development of the broad subject of “understanding.”

Index to Articles/ Notes

Roadmap (Re-evaluation of the fundamentals – more than NPD)

A road-map emerged. It is different from NPD in that in this stage of the game, I assume that I know nothing. I seek to learn as much as possible through experimentation and carefully selected collaborations, done in such a way that confidentiality is not an issue. I assume that I don’t know enough and that the information I have been given over the years may not have been the most correct or complete information. I assume that if I understand the various chemicals and equipment pieces better than most people, I should be able to arrive at answers that others are not able to.

My first task in this journey was to set out the framework for investigations. The new investigative techniques that became clear to me this week will only be effective within the right philosophical framework.

Test, test and, when you had enough, test some more!

Develop a way to do rapid testing of various combinations or products in isolation. Test per certain pH, temperature, particle size, etc. Test and test and test some more. Remember to keep careful notes with photos.

Find Solace in the wisdom of the old people.

Often, the greatest food innovations emerge out of an understanding how things were done hundreds of years ago. This is the basis premise of The Earthworm Express.

List Protein Sources

Make a list of all protein sources, their protein content, fat, fiber and other characteristics. What is the state of the proteins? Denatured? Damaged? Get samples and test.

Develop Rapid Test’s

Develop rapid test techniques which are quick, inexpensive and accurately mimics processing conditions. Fed up and frustrated with the restrictive and expensive nature of the test kitchen set-up, it was the realization how to do this that was my biggest breakthrough this week.

Don’t Trust Ingredient Comp’s.

Seek advice, but remember that staff from spice companies will tell you whatever they have to tell you to sell their particular product which may or may not be what you are looking for.

Understand your Equipment

Take the time to understand the different pieces of equipment who purports to fulfill a certain function and compare the results by talking to different production managers who use these equipment pieces. Is smaller better? Heat generated? Damage to proteins?

List binders/ emulsifiers

List all possible binders/ emulsifiers / fillers and test. Get samples and test.

Record and photograph everything!

Record everything. Inclusion (dosage), pH, temperature, reaction time, processing steps. Keep meticulous photo records.

Build an international network of trusted friends

Seek out the advice of people you trust when you run into a dead end. I find it best to have such a network of collaborators across the world. Pick the right peoples brains!

There is ONE least cost formulation for every situation.

I have come to the conclusion that it is merely a matter of data manipulation to arrive at the one ultimate “least cost” solution for every product, in any particular set of circumstances.

Separate the steps and logically group chemical reactions.

Group chemical reactions together and separate steps to achieve optimal results, thus creating different emulsions to be blended together in the final step.

It gives me the greatest joy that this is an African project, inspired by a long tradition of respect for the environment. The pre-colonial footprint of humans in Africa on the environment is notoriously light. We had megacities and advanced civilisations who existed in harmony with nature for millennia and after these disappeared, they left almost no footprint. This deep respect for nature and natural processes is what drives us! We recognise that we are whom we are because of other people and so, we welcome collaboration as long as we do not compromise competitiveness. We believe the scope of the project is large enough to accommodate anybody who can contribute and share with us in building out this unique aproach.

Let’s build our understanding together.

Cape Town, South Africa