The Ingredients That Bind
By Lisa White

Suppliers of meat binders address the need for cleaner labels, enhanced water retention and varied product applications.
Among the thousands and thousands of possible food additives, meat binders may be one of the least considered by consumers.
Unlike seasonings or marinades, these ingredients don’t typically add flavor. Also, they have no effect on meat color or other visual properties.
Yet binders play an important role when it comes to the texture of meat and poultry.
Processors require binders for stabilizing the water, protein and fat phases that make up meat emulsions. Binders also help a meat emulsion get a better yield, improve sliceability and texture, increase moisture retention and reduce syneresis in the end product, says
Marcy Epstein, M.P.H., C.N.S., C.D.-N., director of research and development for First Spice Mixing Co. in Long Island City, N.Y.
Gelation of food proteins is crucial to the formation of desired textural quality in many food systems, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Restructured muscle products, like red meat, are typical foods in which protein gelation induces numerous levels of hardness, cohesiveness, springiness, gumminess, chewiness, etc., which influences the quality of the end product.
There are a number of products and ingredients that can be used as binders. For example, carrageenan is a natural extract from red seaweed, which is harvested from the ocean. It provides improved texture and is a good moisture manager. It also has been touted to improve cook yields up to 10 percent, depending on how much is utilized.
Gelatin is a thickener made from collagen that is derived from the skin, tendons, ligaments or bones of livestock. It is typically used in canned hams or jellied meat products.
Sodium caseinate is a binder most often used in hot dogs and prepared meat dishes like stews. Also used as a binder in these products is dried whey, a component of milk that remains after the cheese-making process.
The USDA says vital wheat gluten also has widespread applications in processed meat products because of its binding property. This additive brings viscosity, reduced processing time, structure, texture and bite due to high water-binding capacity and fibrous structure.
According to Dr. Tony Payne, manager, global meat applications at ADM, an ingredients supplier in Decatur, Ill., meat processors are looking for binders that can maintain or increase product yield while still providing a quality meat eating experience.
They also are looking for lower cost ingredients in this segment, says Jim Lamkey, global technical manager, meat applications, at Philadelphia-based FMC BioPolymer, a domestic producer of carrageenan.
New developments
To accommodate the needs of meat processors and consumers, there have been a number of developments in the meat binder segment.
Because meat processors are looking for simple solutions, Ajinomoto Food Ingredients, based in Paramus, N.J., has recently introduced an allergen-free binder called Activa GS. The company’s Activa brand has potential application in most food systems that contain protein.
This ingredient can be customized for use in many different foods and for various applications, according to Bill Fields, assistant manager of applications development. “A research scientist came across this enzyme, isolated it and found that it worked for meat binding,” he says. “Our Activa transglutaminase, or TG, products are a simple cross between glutamine and lycine. This is an enzyme that cross-links proteins.”
This ingredient is produced by a microbial fermentation of a naturally occurring organism. Various forms of transglutaminase are found in animal, plant and microbial sources. Activa is a calcium-independent form of the enzyme.
Fields says binders have always been used in fresh meat, bonded tenderloins and beef, but some of the newer meat cuts are benefiting from these ingredients. “Because muscles have an odd shape, we are taking new tender muscle out of the shoulder and bonding them in shapes or forms that are more user-friendly,” he explains.
Now it is possible to bind two tenderloins head to tail, in addition to product that goes into flanks and hams to help increase texture.
ADM’s newest entry into the binder category is Pro-Fam® 895, a protein ingredient used for roast beef, pastrami and other whole-muscle injection. Payne says, visually, this product lends itself to blending into meat products where it is much less evident than other protein products. “It has a higher solubility. In some cases, protein binders can get into areas where proteins settle and are visible in cut surfaces around muscle bundles. Pro-Fam® 895 minimizes this in comparison to other protein ingredients,” he says.
According to Jay Hall, president of Excalibur Seasoning Co., an ingredient supplier based in Pekin, Ill., the No. 1 binder used in the meat industry is hydrolyzed protein from milk and gelatin. “This has great binding capabilities. It locks up a lot of meat moisture and replicates fat more than anything we have,” he says. Another benefit to hydrolyzed protein is that it can be labeled as a flavoring.
When finished and cooked, non-fat, dry milk is a popular binding additive in smoked sausage. Hall emphasizes that this is a high-heat non-fat dry milk, not the low-heat type sold at the consumer level.
A more obvious binder comes from the meat itself. “Most people forget that muscle is a binder,” Hall says. “Protein is extracted right out of the muscle.”
Another frequently used binder for meats like roast beef and ham is isolated soy protein. Hall says this ingredient enhances the yield of meats. “Basic proteins are concentrated soy proteins,” he says. These will bind up three to one readily (three pounds of water to one pound of meat). “So if a processor wanted to produce a reduced-cost beef patty, they would add seven pounds of soy protein and 21 pounds of water to 72 pounds of beef and 40 percent of beef fat. This would produce a decent beef patty if flavoring was used,” he says.
First Spice carries a variety of meat binders, including proprietary blends such as Flavor 86 and Teitolin, both dairy-based binders; Veginate and Texite, soy-based binders; as well as phosphate blends such as Vitaphos, Vitacuraid and TumblerAid, which help emulsify water, fat and protein for better emulsion stability. According to Epstein, “These binders help improve meat yields, in addition to decreasing the cost of raw materials. They vary in application, flavor and allergen labeling.”
Keep it clean
The natural food trend has made an impact on the binder segment. Chris Kelly, technical services manager at Advanced Food Systems, based in Somerset, N.J., says more meat processors are calling for a natural or clean label. “This includes unmodified starch and other ingredients that don’t sound like chemicals,” he says, adding that the definition of natural includes no preservatives or artificial ingredients.
In response to this demand, Advanced Food Systems recently unveiled a new line of natural binder marinades for beef and poultry.
He says the company offers several other marinades that qualify as natural and serve as binders. Because they contain starch and protein, these products bind water inside the meat. These contain unmodified starches, protein or carrageenan, or a combination of these ingredients. “Blends tend to work better than one single ingredient, where binders are concerned,” Kelly says.
Although improved yield and product texture are important to have with a good binder, Kelly says there tends to be some compromises with all-natural additives. “Natural or clean labels sacrifice a little bit in the yield and when products go through the freeze/thaw cycle. They are close to regular products, but there is a little loss in function and an issue with quality,” he says. Yet, consumers and processors are willing to concede quality for a cleaner label. “Some of our marinades are equal to the modified counterparts, but it took a while to get there.”
FMC BioPolymer primarily deals with carrageenan, which is considered a natural ingredient, says Lamkey. “Meat processors are looking for natural ingredients like this, primarily due to pressure from retail stores to supply all-natural products,” he says.  
Moisture retention also is a key issue with binders. According to Lamkey, “There are many cases where companies are trying to improve moisture retention in meat products, especially when it comes to convenience products. Binders help hold in moisture during multiple cook times or extended heating times, such as when held under heat lamps or on steam tables.”
Water management is key, concurs Tom Katen, service specialist for meats, batters and breading at Cargill Texturizing Solutions. “Starches haven’t changed, but what we do with them has changed. There are a lot of prepared foods now, and the flavor profiles are different,” he says. The company offers a number of solutions, including modified food starches, carrageenan and soy isolates.
The main issue with binders, he says, is water retention. “Everyone is trying to retain natural moisture. We are trying to make sure, when meat is cooked, it can be held in a steam tray for 30 minutes and retain its quality,” Katen says, adding that cost is a key factor in development of these types of products as well.
“Customers want fully cooked meat at the same price as raw product,” he explains. To make it affordable, moisture needs to be added. “It is about making formulas people are willing to pay for. Yields are making it affordable for companies to buy these products.”
The challenge for the industry has been maintaining moisture in meats without the use of phosphates, which are not considered a natural ingredient. Lamkey says there are not many binders that work as well as phosphates, which increase the protein’s ability to hold moisture.
The effectiveness of binders can sometimes be compromised. One of the biggest mistakes Hall sees in the binder segment is the under-mixing of sausage products. “When this happens, companies supplement natural proteins with additives, when they really just need to increase the mixing time by two or three minutes for a better bind,” he says. “There is a lot of protein in muscle, and the only way to get it out is to introduce salt and mix it. This gets natural protein out of the muscle.”
To overcome this problem, he recommends placing a timer by the mixer. “If it is a dual action mixer, the timer should be set for five minutes. Single action mixers need eight minutes,” Hall says.
Hall says, to work most proficiently, binders should also be kept cold. “Processors should not use tap water, because it is typically 55 degrees and this is too warm. I recommend that they draw water from a cooler that is kept at 38 degrees. When using textured soy protein, processors should reconstitute it before adding it to the meat. Water and soy should be combined together for 20 minutes before they are added to the meat. This will replicate the muscle binder. But if the meat block is reduced too much, it will compromise the product,” he says.
As technologies improve and more ingredients hit the marketplace, meat processors will benefit from lower-cost ingredients, increased yields and cleaner labels.