With the introduction of BoboLinks, our new naturally fermented grassfed beef snack sticks, I’ve been doing a little fun reading on fermented meat. The story starts with the rich and diverse history of meat fermentation.
The history of meat fermentation
Fermenting meat is not new. Before refrigeration was invented, all meat was either cooked and eaten immediately, or preserved in one of two ways:
- drying and salting (e.g. jerky), or
Fermented sausage goes back to at least to 1500 BC with the ancient Sumerians, and was routinely used in the times of the Roman Empire as staple food called “brig” designed for troops on the move. Many cultures have long-since adapted and retained some form of fermented meat traditions including iconic foods like including salami, pepperoni and chorizo.
However, in modern times, ubiquitous refrigeration and chemical preservation technology turned real meat fermentation into a dying art. Without knowing it, these technologies turned meat and frankly all food into systems of simplified and quickly quantifiable things like calories instead of nourishment. Synthetic preservatives make snacks easy and cheap to make. But natural fermentation makes it healthier and tastier for you. Here’s why…
The hidden problem behind the technological solution
The big idea of preserving meat without refrigeration or chemicals is to make the environment inhospitable to dangerous microbes. This mostly involves reducing water content, adding salt, and increasing the pH – the index by which we measure acidity.
Most modern shelf-stable meat sticks accomplish this latter using either “encapsulated lactic acid” (ELA) or “encapsulated citric acid” (ECA). The lactic or citric acid part of ELA or ECA is fine – that’s what does the increasing of the pH, and that part is actually most commonly made by way of fermentation. The “encapsulation” part is the dirty little secret of the food industry. As this patent so concisely describes:
“The encapsulating material or coating is typically composed of a lipid or lipid mixture such as a hydrogenated vegetable oil and/or mono and diglycerides, waxes, or water soluble hydrocolloids such as gums or maltodextrins. More recently, the development of larger molecules such as cyclodextrins, which form complexes around and thereby encapsulate particles, have been used.”
The patent proudly describes invention of using a novel form of canola oil as an alternative encapsulation, but forget it – it’s all still just junk! I do my best to avoid all of those things in their whole form when they are visible on the ingredient label, so why would I want them in my meat sticks hidden behind the fancy word “encapsulated”? Can there be any wonder why other meat sticks are greasy and leave your tummy feeling icky?
Rediscovering the old ways
If we step back, the purpose of the encapsulation is to get the lactic acid spread evenly within the input meat product before it releases its acid payload when the product is cooked.
The ancients distributed the lactic acid prior to heating with the entirely different approach of natural fermentation. Now by introducing a bit of specific sugar the right microbes like to eat (dextrose) into the meat mix, along with a starter culture of bacteria that eat that specific sugar and convert it into lactic acid, the bacteria eat and replicate wherever they find that sugar, and the lactic acid ends up being left behind wherever the sugar was.
Walla! Without any “encapsulation” of anything, the pH is now high everywhere in the mix and the environment no longer conducive to other microbes. The sausage is subsequently cooked to kill any residual bacteria, and it’s ready to stay stable without refrigeration for an extended period.
But wait, there’s more!
But there’s more. Just like the natural fermentation processes involved in making sourdough bread, yogurt or kombucha, the bacteria also amplify the natural complexity of the natural food to give it a rich and flavorful taste. Although what we primarily wanted was the safe preservation of the meat, as a direct consequence of the process, we also get more flavor.
So that’s why our naturally fermented BoboLinks are good for you – more flavor and no junk.
But in our case, there’s even more than that to both the flavor and impact. The meat that goes into our mix is the same already flavorful and nourishing 100% grassfed beef that comes ONLY from Audubon-certified bird-friendly land. So the same thing that makes our steaks and burgers so amazingly awesome, is the starting point for the flavor-enhancing fermentation.
And just like the ancient Sumerians and Romans, we use the little bits and pieces left over from the other meat cutting, so we’re actually able to put more of the parts of the animal to use thereby further improving the overall sustainability of our total production system. Not only do all of the other benefits of what we’re doing still apply, but with a more affordable product that can be used more often in more places, this product helps even more farmers bring more of those benefits back to more American land.
So there you go!
Our naturally fermented BoboLinks are a new twist on a very old art. We hope you feel good when you eat them, and now also feel good about eating them. When you chose to eat BoboLinks, you’re helping something very good happen.
Your gut will thank you, the birds will thank you, and we will thank you!