Protein Functionality: The Bind Index and the Early History of Meat Extenders in America
Eben van Tonder
10 April 2020
In the meat industry in most parts of the world, it is customary to use non-meat ingredients in meat products, especially in comminuted sausages and lunch loaves. I know that here in Southern Africa, the indigenous tribes have been using ground peanuts (and presumably other groundnuts) as meat extenders for millennia before any European settler arrived here.
I can only imagine that this must have been the case with primitive people around the world wherever there was a shortage of meat.
Who popularised this in the West is a question that intrigued me. Off the bat, as one can imagine, these non-meat ingredients were probably introduced in countries where food scarcity was common or in times when food shortages forced humans to “stretch” the little meat they could get their hands on, such as during times of war. In this article we briefly introduce the functionality of meat protein and ask if we can identify such a movement with the inclusion of meat extenders or replacers to pure meat in America during one of the major wars they were involved in. The two prime candidates must surely be the two world wars and especially the second when huge food shortages were experienced in America and around the world.
The Functionality of Meat Proteins
The first question is if meat protein on its own is not sufficient to bind comminuted meat in sausages and lunch loaves. Can a stable emulsion be formed without the use of non-meat additives such as soya isolates and concentrates and the use of different stratches either as emulsifiers or stabilisers? This includes the use of bulking agents such as rusk, which is in reality a meat extender. This is a level of detail that I was hoping to get into a bit later in a subsequent article, but it explains my point, namely that meat proteins on their own, they have the ability to bind meat extremely well, depending on the muscle and the animal species.
Generally speaking, you will see from what follows that beef meat protein in general provides the best bind and pork, less so due to the higher fat percentage which interferes in binding, especially in emulsions.
There is a major difference between the functionality of different muscle groups in pork and even between different animals. The sausage producer is interested in how these different proteins bind. We therefore present the concept of a “bind constant” (functionality coefficient) that was developed to measure this and a “least-cost formulation” (linear programming) computer program to manipulate the model and minimize cost.
The man who pioneered the large-scale use of these technologies is Robert L. Saffle, during his tenure at the University of Georgia. He did not invent any of the techniques, but was the one man responsible for propagating its use. He also standardized their use, documented their workability and educated and encouraged processors to use it.
He was very successful at this and largely due to his work, meat processors throughout the world recognize the word “bind” as having the basic meaning of the capability of meat to bind the sausage together. The value is referred to as the “bind constant,” “bind value” or “bind index.”
Proximate Analysis and Functional Indices of Various Meat Materials
What follows is a compilation of all meats tested by Saffle and his co-workers, in particular John A. Carpenter at the University of Georgia. It gives the proximate analyses and average measured bind/colour indices. I included the bind index values in the first column because I wanted to show them in descending order and I separated it for different species.
Compiled by J. Carpenter, R. Saffle, H. Ockerman, Anderson & Bell and slightly modified by myself.
When you look at pork, the highest bind value is from the shoulder muscle. The blade is from the lower shoulder.
Blade Bone source: https://www.turnerandgeorge.co.uk/pork-blade.html
History of Meat Binding
Labudde and Lanier (1955) put a date to the recognition of when differences in binding quality between different meat cuts were recognised when they say, “It was well recognized by the 1950s that certain kinds of meats bound the comminuted sausage more tightly together than other kinds of meats.” I wonder what my friends in Germany would say about this statement. I believe it was recognised probably hundreds of years before the 1950s.
They accurately report on early classification of meat binding ability. “Cuts of meat were classified into gross categories, such as good binders (bull meat, cow meat), poor binders (hearts, cheeks, fat meat) and fillers (lips, tripe, stomachs)” They are correct when they state that “sufficient lean meat of good “bind” was known to be needed to make the meat paste hold together during cooking and to develop a minimum acceptable level of firmness at the end.” (Labudde and Lanier, 1995) This is my main thesis! The question is how and when did this change?
Dr. Francois Mellett, who was trained in Germany (did his doctorate in German) and who trained German butchers in the Master program, tells me they don’t work with startches in sausage making in Germany. At least, not when he studied there. Another German Master Butcher, Gero Lutge tells me that his dad, who was also a master butcher, used no extenders and that it is not very common in Germany. It was actually these two comments that set me on this journey to unravel what is going on. The German, and I assume, Central, North and East European traditions all concur on this point in stark contrast to the rest of the world where it became the norm to use stabilizers and emulsifiers (extenders) in sausage production.
The matter becomes wonderfully complex because it addresses matters like affordability and the quality of raw material, but what a journey!
There is a personal preference that creeps in here. I am personally not thrilled with non-meat additives to the meat I eat. Using meat replacers and additives is something I do as a meat producer, but I am not happy about it and I try, wherever possible, to rely on equipment and its proper handling together with a thorough understanding of meat to drive our innovations and not, in the first place, reach for the handbook of non-meat extenders and substitutes. This is a grave mistake.
This is another personal reason for this study. I want to be very clear in my mind on what is the best way to use equipment to allow the meat itself to do the bulk of the work.
I am a severe asthma sufferer. A specialist asked me one day if I religiously use the best medication to keep the condition under control to which I responded in the affirmative. To my surprise, he was not happy with that answer. Any chemical you put in your body, no matter how serious a condition you are trying to manage, is always a bad thing. He encouraged me to continually try and develop an alternative, more natural way of managing the condition. He even suggested that I try to reduce my reliance on medication. He suggested that I should determine when I can control the symptoms without medication and when I can no longer do that and I must rely more heavily on medication. Over the years, I have headed his advice to great benefit.
Most of the additives we are talking to in the meat are natural products themselves, which is why it is allowed, but the principle remains the same.
Before anything became “industrial”, it was first used in the home and meat and meat production is a prime example.
-> Home use of Binders
As every major industry we have today, it all started in the home. The following Q & A appeared in an American newspaper in 1950. Mrs GRH wrote in with a question about her meat loaf that is not sticking together.
The advice from the chef is that Mrs. Mrs GRH either did not use a binder or used too little of it. The binders they suggest she should have used are thick white sauce, bread crumbs with a liquid, cooked rice and/or mashed potatoes. They suggested “good old fashion kneading.” Lean meat, 2 pounds, is suggested and add 4 tablespoons of flour, 1½ cups of milk and 1 cup of soft bread crumbs or mashed potatoes. They suggest two kinds of ground meat for flavour (beef and pork). As we have learned, beef added to the pork would also enhance the binding. Dice and fry ¼ pound of mildly salted pork till it is crisp and light brown, and add it for flavour, as show-pieces and mouth feel. The celery, onions and other seasoning is cooked in the salt pork dropping to develop the flavour.
This “home-level-technology” of binders, how long has this been part of the human cultural and technological matrix? One will have to survey its prevalence in cookbooks since the time of the writing of the first one. I had a look at references in the “First American Cookbook” published in 1796 by Amelia Simmons.
Several interesting things catch your eye as you work through this historical document. For starters, there are no sausages. Second, the use of binders is used widely, especially grated bread, butter and eggs. In her stew pie she uses a shoulder of veal, slices of raw salted pork and half a pound of butter. It’s not our focus here but note the common use of veal. I find the same in German cookbooks of this time. Her turkey stuffing calls for grated wheat loaf, butter, finely chopped salted pork and eggs. For meatballs she uses veal, grated bread, salted pork.
-> Meat Binders for Industry (presumably for sausages)
The article below testifies to the use of binders in making hamburgers
I am not sure exactly what the advertisement above is saying. Is the Ground Beef Chuck the binder? In which case they are advertising the use of a cheaper meat cut (chuck) to use for hamburger patties, which is better than using other binders (non-meat). Either way, it shows the “hot topic” during World War II when severe food shortages impacted the world at large, including America. More about this later. (I assume Binders is not the surname of the well-known meat processor of this time, R. Binder Co., because as far as I can see he always spelled his name, when used in this way, with an apostrophe “s”. It could have been a typing error when the newspaper did the typesetting 🙂 )
-> List of Newspaper References with the word “meat binder”
The Second World War was from 1939 to 1945. Severe food shortages occurred during the war, but especially towards the end.
To ease the shortage of bread, they recommended housewives to substitute bread with potatoes. This includes potatoes as binder.
From 1943 (two months before the start of the War)
The term “Meat Extenders” was used synonymously with “Binder”.
Pre-1943 references to Binders
There are several pre-1943 references to meat binders, but all of them refer to butchers’ twine. The one I give above is the least clear, but it is easy to see how the reference is not to binders as we are discussing here.
By the 1970s, meat binders were being discussed as part of the American meat landscape. The article below is a good case in point.
The Crucial Year of 1943
The watershed year for the introduction of meat binders and extenders into the USA seems to have been 1943. Here is an article from that year when a group of women belonged to the Matoy Home Demonstration Club. These clubs (also known as homemaker clubs, home bureaus or home advisory groups) were a program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Cooperative Extension Service, which had the goal of teaching farm women in rural America better methods for getting their work done. This meeting, crucially during the war, was probably arranged to introduce ways to deal with wartime food shortages.
Other clubs received training on meat substitutes and extenders during the same time. Interesting – the fact that meat extenders and substitutes were used in the same sentence.
They held yet another club where Miss Pearl Winterveld was doing the demonstrations during this time.
Another club where Miss Pearl was doing her magic reported on their training.
Another two clubs reported demonstrations for meat extenders and meat substitutes in the same publication. This is remarkable! The photo below, courtesy of the Cornell University Library – shows a meat canning demonstration at a meeting of the Akron Home Economics Club on December 19, 1916.
The Alexander City Outlook from Alabama reported in 1944 several demonstrations along the same line as listed above at Home Demonstration Clubs. The Dadaville Record, also from Alabama, reported similarly on demonstrations of meat extenders and meat replacers in that same year at various club meetings.
By 1946 American soldiers started to return from Europe and clubs continued to spread the “gospel of meat extenders and meat replacers”. In Alabama, the Wetumka Herald of 31 October 1846 reported along exactly the same as in 1943, 1944 and 1945 that demonstrations through the clubs were held at 6 locations.
What were these meat extenders and binders?
An article from 27 March 1943 gives us the detail of what was being demonstrated to the American housewife following that same year.
The author emphasises the fact that knowledge is required to use these meat extenders. He mentions that meat extenders were, at the time of writing, already a household name in America. Still, I suspect that it did not extend much further back then, the beginning of the war, and it could not have been generally true if one takes into account the enormous effort that it took to spread the gospel of meat extenders following 1943.
Anyone wondering if the meat extenders included some magical products such as was developed by Carl Lindegren with his wife Gertrude Lindegren and reported on by the same newspaper in August of the same year when he boldly claimed that through yeast cell technology, they were able to produce “synthetic meat” – if you are expecting this, you are mistaken. The meat extenders that was introduced to America was exactly what we still use today. The key was vegetable sources of protein which included legumes, nuts, cereals, vegetables, and wheat. Soya was identified as having the highest protein value. To the housewife this gave them the option to use dried beans and peas, cooked rice, macaroni and other cooked pastes, nuts and nut butters, fresh or canned peas, corn or lima beans, potatoes, wheat flours, bread and crackers.
If the housewife used extenders with incomplete proteins, it was widely suggested in several newspaper reports to add to the diet elements with essential amino acids. They suggest that they add eggs and milk products to their diet (which are binders in their own right).
The drive for meat extenders was directly related to the food shortages as a result of the war. Brands such as Kellog’s All Bran which is a household name to this day, were marketed as meat extenders.
The evangelists of meat extenders and replacers in the USA, from 1943 onwards, were the US Department of Agriculture through their program of Home Demonstration Clubs. It is then because of the war that meat extenders are commonplace in a large part of the world, including South Africa. I remember a story told by a South African meat master in his own right, Roy Oliver, whose memories goes back to the 1960s, that academics from meat science institutes in the USA regularly visited South Africa and encouraged industry to use meat binders, extenders and emulsifiers on an industrial scale. They would send him various starches and soya products to work with and call him weekly to check on his progress, particularly taking note of the inclusion of these various emulsifiers and stabilisers. He had to test this in meat emulsions made in the bowl cutter.
This in and of itself is an important historical clue as I suspect that South Africa was easier to access for many of these academics from the USA because of our historically close relationship with one country in the region I suspect was initially responsible for using serials, grains etc. in meat emulsions, namely Russia.
This sets up the subject of our next article!
Labudde, R. A., Lanier, T.. 1995. Protein Functionality and Development. American Meat Science Association.
Simmons, A.. 1796. The first American Cookbook. Dover Publications. New York.
Abbeville Progress, Sat, Feb 10, 1940
Battle Creek Enquirer (Battle Creek, Michigan), Fri, Jan 30, 1948
The Chillicothe Constitution Tribune, Thu, Dec 7, 1944
Chattanooga, Daily, Times, Fri, Jun 25, 1943
Council Bluffs Nonpareil, Fri Mar 16, 1945
Courier Post (Camden, New Jersey), Thu, Aug, 17, 1950
Durant Weekly News (Durant, Oklahoma), Fri, Jul 23, 1943
Fort Worth Star Telegram, Thu, Aug, 22, 1974
Marysville Journal Tribune Mon, Aug 26, 1946.
The Morning News Wed, Feb 17, 1943
The Record Thu, Jul 11, 1946
The Salt Lake Tribune Sat, Mar 27, 1943