Processed problems: Buying the right kind of meat

Pia Ranada

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Processed foods are shortcuts already, yet more processed food companies take other shortcuts to produce that ham or bacon you so love

ONLY IF YOU MUST. Should processed meat be on your grocery list, at least know what to check. Photo from the Frabelle Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines – Let’s admit it: No matter how healthy and attractive those veggie diets are, some of us just can’t survive without meat.

But there are healthy options for meatlovers too, and they require just as much research and commitment as maintaining a green diet.

Just like vegetables and fruits, there are bad meats and good meats. And while the word “processed” tends to elicit cries of disgust from health buffs, a majority of us do keep processed meats in our kitchen whether out of convenience or because we have become fond of them.

Hot dogs and Christmas hamon have become staples in the Filipino party table. Mothers wanting to save and maximize their once-a-month grocery shopping often have no choice but to buy processed meats.

But even in the realm of processed foods, forces of good and evil are at work. 

Meatlovers should beware of certain well-known processed meat brands that use shortcuts to cheapen their production expenses but at the cost of sacrificing the quality of their meat products.  

The advent of these new processing techniques has filled groceries with sub-par meat products that simply don’t taste as good as the processed meats we grew up with.

Kate Tan, senior product manager for Frabelle Corporation, a company that sells processed meat, shares, “When we were thinking what products to come up with, we realized na ‘yung lasa ngayon, hindi na ‘yung lasa noon (the taste of meats now is different from the taste of meats before).”

‘Old school’ techniques

Frabelle Foods claims to adhere to the “old school” processing techniques that employ no shortcuts and no quality compromise. 

During the 1st Frabelle Foodie Chef Competition held in Wine Bar in Ortigas, Kate Tan explained to Rappler the classic techniques they use, for instance, for making hamon, a well-loved holiday dish for Filipinos.

Hamon processed the classic way is carved straight from the pig’s leg with the fat on top as is natural for pigs’ legs.

Hamon processed the wrong way, or what industry insiders call “tructured” ham, is made of meat trimmings from various parts of the pig, molded together into the round shape of classic hamon.

IMPORTANT: You’ll know you’ve bought tructured hamon when the whole thing comes apart in shreds when you run a knife through it. 

Tructuring is also done for bacon so you can stop wondering why your strip of bacon keeps breaking up into tiny shreds.

Real hamon is painstakingly glazed with caramelized sugar using a blow-torch. Meat processing companies on the fast-track simply encase the hamon in a sugar jelly. 

IMPORTANT: You’ll know this is the case when the hamon surface is perfectly smooth. Real sugar-glazed hamon has bits of sugar sticking out making the hamon rough to the touch.

The deception doesn’t end there.

You know that smoky taste you love because it enhances the flavors of your hickory “smoked” bacon or “smoked” ham? Some processed meat companies don’t actually smoke them over a pit of fire like the good ol’ days.

Instead, they simply drip liquid smoke flavoring over the meat. Instead of enhancing the meat’s flavor — the original point of smoking meat in the first place — you only get a smoky taste. 

Careful what you buy

It is these forms of corner-cutting by food companies that should warn grocery shoppers to be even more vigilant and knowledgeable every time they walk down the grocery aisle with their shopping baskets. Never has the adage “think before you buy” been more apt. 

Buying top-of-the-line meat can greatly contribute to the success of your meat dishes. Meat processed the traditional way is often better-tasting and more flavorful than meat rushed through fast-forward techniques. 

So if you must buy processed, think well on it so you don’t compromise any more than you have to. –

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.