ISSUE NO. 1
JAN - MARCH 2005
Featured Stories The Tastes that Bind The Big Picture Mini-Size Me Where's the Beef? Green Dining Mutants on Your Plate Movable Feast Why are Filipinos Hungry? At the Kitchen of Divine Mercy Republic of Pancit Mama Can't Eat Eating Without Fear Order your copy now!
The Tastes that Bind
The Big Picture
Where's the Beef?
Mutants on Your Plate
Why are Filipinos Hungry?
At the Kitchen of Divine Mercy
Republic of Pancit
Mama Can't Eat
Eating Without Fear
Order your copy now!
by Luz Rimban
You can also leave out the eggs and the chili peppers: just sautè the corned beef in onions, garlic, and tomatoes, garnish with potatoes and cabbage or pechay (Asian lettuce), before throwing in some water and letting the whole thing simmer for a bit. Season to taste and you have the ultimate Filipino corned beef dish, the modest local equivalent of the miracle of loaves and fish. This is the recipe that transforms corned beef in a tiny 100-gram tin (the size of two matchboxes) into a savory stew a family of six or more can spoon over rice and feast on — and for just one-tenth the price of a cup of Starbucks cappuccino or even half the price of a 1.5-liter bottle of cola. Quite easily, every mouthful of corned beef con kanin conjures visions of a nutritionally balanced world where meat, a major source of protein sorely lacking in the Filipino diet, is plentiful and cheap.
It’s no surprise then that local canned corned beef has become a P7-billion-a year industry, accounting for nearly half of the processed-meat business. But there are some not-so-secret secrets behind that success, and it doesn’t have anything to do with what corned-beef endorser Aga Muhlach really eats at home. Actually, clues are on the can itself, but too many Filipinos don’t bother reading beyond the price tag. Which means they really don’t know what they’re eating.
Printed on most local corned beef labels, for example, is something like this: “May contain cooked cattle or buffalo meat.” The labels also say other ingredients such as soy protein known as “extenders” or “extensions” went into that can. Put another way, Filipinos may be imagining cows from Argentina gave up their lives so they could one day make it to the Philippines in itty-bitty cans. In reality, however, the beef in local canned corned beef is buffalo — more precisely the curly horned kind from nearby India — and the portions of it in the can are probably much, much less than what corned-beef lovers think. The harsh truth all corned beef lovers should know is this: there’s very little beef in that can, and it’s probably carabao. But then, there’s more nuggets than chicken in chicken nuggets, and you don’t really want to know what goes into those tender, juicy hotdogs.
And so meat processors”“play around” with the formulations of meat products like corned beef and hotdog, varying the proportions of meat and extenders, says Lopez, who heads the Meat Processing Unit of the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) Animal Products Development Center. The extenders bring down the prices of these meat products and are still sources of protein, but no match for the protein coming from real pork, chicken, or beef. But that also means the Filipino version of corned beef is a double extended dish — extended in the can, and then extended in the cooking with the addition of vegetables and spices.
Meat-processing companies are coy about the percentage of pork or beef and textured vegetable protein (TVP) in their products. But Lopez says the more obscure and cheaper brands of hotdog may contain only 20 percent lean meat and about 10 percent fat, with the rest of the ingredients nonmeat, like two to three percent curing mix (common salt, nitrite salt, phosphate, and erythorbate), spices, extenders (protein sources like TVP and gluten), fillers (carbohydrate source like flours and starches), and ice. Yes, ice — crushed, Lopez specifies — because keeping things cold is important in the processing of the products. Anyway, she says, with that much starch mixed in, the water from the melting ice would be absorbed very easily.
“Nobody really declares that there are extenders,” declares Ellen Almendrala, in charge of Research and Development for corned beef at Swifts Foods Inc. Swifts’ most saleable corned-beef product is its Carne Norte, a variety popular among the C, D, and E crowd. Carne Norte, she says,’“is intended for guisado or sautè. So nilalagyan ng flavor, mas enhanced to cover up the extenders. The flavor and aroma mask the extenders.”
Both she and Lopez insist that even with extenders, canned corned beef is nutritious. But Lopez makes it a point to stress that the nutrient Filipinos need most is protein, and if meat processors overdo the fillers in their products, then these will inevitably fail to meet the Pinoys’ protein requirements, and be just another source of carbohydrates.
Different varieties of corned beef products contain varying proportions of actual beef. Almendrala says Swifts used to have its own variety of premium quality corned beef that had larger amounts of beef. But the line fell out of favor because it was not as profitable as the less beefy Juicy Corned Beef and Carne Norte products that are currently Swifts’ runaway bestsellers.
Because Filipinos prefer their corned beef a little soupy, Swifts’ Foods Inc makes it juicy, unlike the imported variety, which is dry. The local version also has a different thread size from imported corned beef that, Almendrala says, has a higher fat content and finer threads of beef. Imported corned beef is sliceable because in Western countries, it is eaten mostly as sandwich fillings and cold cuts, while the Filipino version is meant to be mashed and sautèd into viands or rice toppings.
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