Recently, I have been living in Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico. Initially, I was curious to spot the differences between the quality of European, Mexican, and US meats. In Mexico there are some US chains that sell meat from the US, and I am already very familiar with Italian meat. However, the quality of these meats might not be entirely comparable as they may have undergone more shipping, yet the manufacturing processes and chemicals used are likely to be similar, especially for categorized products, for example “USDA Choice” meats, et similia.
So I just bought some meats from a famous US chain and started cooking it in a pan. I was taken aback by the amount of water those meats contained. It’s really clear when you cook them, as the pan becomes pretty flooded with water, and the steak starts almost floating in it. These meats are marketed as very “juicy”, and certainly look the part, but what’s behind this? Is this normal? Are the drier meats the abnormality?
While exploring these questions, I started reading about “grades” which the USDA uses to rate the quality of animal products. According to the USDA, the juiciness was a feature of a high quality product. In fact, the USDA’s lowest quality rating results in part from a lack of juiciness.
While I think the fresh juices from inside the meat can have antiinflammatory effects and are protective of its cooking, especially grilling, the juices of those meats clearly weren’t natural and the meat likely underwent some industrial processing.
For me, the metabolic response I get from a food tells me a lot, as I consider myself an astute observer of how I am affected by most foods. The excess water in US meat gave me slight nuisances that I don’t ordinarily experience from meat in Mexico.
Years ago, I read this article by Ray Peat regarding the physiology of meat; it contains some comments about US and Mexican meat, along with general comments about meat and associations with human physiology (estrogen leading to water retention, swelling, etc.).
Here are some quotes that go well with my experience, and are helpful in general; I consider those notions and facts to be central.
“Before the government’s intervention, it was common practice to soak all kinds of meat in water or chemical solutions to increase their weight. At present, the US Department of Agriculture, through the mass media and funding the training of food technologists and “meat scientists,” now takes the position that it is natural for meat to leak water after it is packaged, and says it is perfectly legal for meat producers to soak the meat in water with chemicals until it has increased its weight by 8%. The chemicals, such as trisodium phosphate (in a solution strength as high as 12%), are chosen because they powerfully stimulate swelling and water retention. Considerable amounts of some chemicals, such as sodium citrate, are allowed to add to the weight of the meat. The use of ozone and hydrogen peroxide to deodorize meat causes instantaneous oxidative changes, including lipid peroxidation and protein carbonyl formation, as well as increasing water retention.
Most supermarket meat is now packaged with thick diapers so the buyer won’t notice that he is paying for a sizable amount of pink water. The USDA has an internet site, and consumer hotlines, to inform angry consumers that they are mistaken if they believe that meat shouldn’t leak. They explain that meat is now “bred” to contain less fat, and so it contains more water, and that it is simply the leanness of the meat that accounts for its poor flavor.
The water content of meat shouldn’t be increased by any of those methods, not only because it is a form of stealing from the consumer, but because it makes the product toxic and unappetizing, and makes the production process a degrading experience.
The deliberate “aging” of meat is something that the meat scientists often write about, but it has a peculiar history, and is practiced mainly in the English speaking cultures. When a supermarket in Mexico City began selling U.S.-style meat for the American colony, I got some T-bone steaks and cooked them for some of my Mexican friends. The meat wasn’t water-logged (it was 1962, and the beef had been grown in Mexico), but it had been aged for the American customers, and though my friends ate the steaks for the sake of politeness, I could see that they found it difficult.
In Mexico, even in the present century, butcher shops often don’t have refrigeration, and they don’t need it because they sell the meat immediately. The fresh meat tastes fresh. Traditionally, liver is sold only on the day of slaughter, because its high enzyme content causes it to degrade much faster than the muscle meats. When it is fresh, it lacks the characteristic bad taste of liver in the US.
Both the liver and the muscles contain a significant amount of glycogen when they are fresh…
Nowadays, in Mexico most people get their food from supermarkets and convenience stores, but in small towns it’s still produced and sold locally.
It is still common practice in various small towns in Mexico to sell the meat of animals slaughtered that very day, and the meat doesn’t undergo any industrial process. Beware that I exclusively refer to small, fairly rural towns, even large towns now mostly rely on the industrialized supply.
I decided to go to a small town a hour away from the capital of the State, seeking for some good meats, and liver. Liver that isn’t sold on the day of slaughter has a terrible taste, and undergoes many chemical changes, increasing its inflammatory potential and carcinogenicity.
I arrived there in the early afternoon. This place, as are many other small towns in Mexico and Michoacan, is quite magical, and almost surreal for someone who has never lived in such places. There was one main square, with just a few stores. I didn’t see a lot of young people, as I imagine they mostly migrate to the cities for school, but the middle-aged people I noticed were clearly old-timely individuals, wearing sombreros.
The main butcher shop had almost finished selling all of their meat by 2 p.m when I arrived. Luckily, they still had quite a bit of liver. I figured out that they actually sell out of their meats almost immediately, and it’s good to be there when they first expose it, because with the heat and lack of refrigeration the meat will go bad within a short time frame. I bought roughly a half a kilo of liver, pictured:
The texture of this liver is the first difference I noticed. It looks almost fake, and is sort of rubbery which is hard for me to explain. To be honest, I can get away with some random sources of muscle meat, but liver has to be of high quality for me to consume. Simply because liver degrades more quickly and develops a horrible taste and smell that makes it inedible to me if it isn’t fresh and high quality. Liver, compared to muscle meats, has more “self-digesting” enzymes, and that’s the cause of its quicker degradation when stored.
This other one, I think, is a pretty fair example of the liver found in stores about everywhere I’ve been:
Just by the look, you can notice it is much less “bright” and vibrant, but the changes it has been through are more profound. I forgot to mention that the first liver tasted noticeably sweet; this would suggest that it still had fair amounts of glycogen in it. Sadly, the second one has already digested itself quite a bit, leading it to taste and smell bad to the point that you have to prepare it in weird ways to make it edible (and none of those ever made it tolerable to me).
I shared this liver with a friend of mine. We agreed that it tasted very good, and required no effort to ingest it; we didn’t have to force it down, as many people who eat liver solely for its nutritional value do. We agreed it tasted very good, he said its taste reminded him of sausages.
When people say they hate liver, or can’t eat it after trying many different methods of preparation, it’s because they’re trying to eat stale liver instead of the fresh product. This is understandable, because it’s often the only choice that’s available. However, it’s good to investigate alternative options; some people told me they had their butcher shop freeze some liver for them when it was very fresh. Fresh frozen liver is fine, it will just taste like low-fat filet, but it’s still an enormous improvement compared to liver that has been sitting around. I’ve read countless recipes (especially in the Ray Peat community) that had the intention of masking liver’s taste, but those people are just coping and ignoring the main problem.
The main thing to consider when cooking liver is to cook it quickly, so that it’s still “medium rare” internally. Overcooking it will destroy part of its amazing nutritional value. Just fry it for few minutes in some butter or other fat of choice. Adding cream and a little olive oil (a small teaspoon is enough for the taste, and won’t provide too much PUFAs) to the recipe will improve taste and digestibility. If you can get it fresh from a local source, you can freeze it and you’re set for a few months if you consume it weekly or bi-weekly, which is what’s recommended to get the benefits and not overdo on iron and other things in liver that might be anti-thyroid if consumed in excess.
Most of what I’ve written here applies to all meats, not only liver, although I focused on liver because its nutrition value is pretty unique and can’t be found in other foods, and because it degrades much more quickly than muscle meats. In general, aging makes meat less healthy, digestible, and tasty. It is no more than a rotting process for meat, but we live in times of deceptions in which the public culture and opinion are shaped by corporations, so that shelf-life is more important than public health.
To recover from fatigue, and from many other ailments and health problems, adequate levels of vitamin A are required to correct the underlying hormonal problems. In the absence of vitamin A, all of the protective hormones (pregnenolone, and the others further down in the “cascade”: progesterone, DHEA, testosterone) can’t be produced in the needed amounts to counteract estrogen, cortisol, prolactin and histamine. Chronic fatigue, and generally a destabilized organism, involves higher amounts of those bad guys that will be unopposed without adequate vitamin A levels.
That’s why liver is so important. Some vitamin A supplements do work, but not as well as eating good liver regularly which has high amounts of other helpful nutrients as well. Also vitamin A is the most likely of the fat-soluble ones to give allergic reactions when used orally. I use it on my feet and feel an effect within seconds if the product is legitimate, and the only one I’ve found to be so is Interplexus Nutrisorb A. Anyway, it’s hard to balance it out; sometimes I took more than I needed and got very bad effects. It’s well known that a vitamin A excess produces deficiency symptoms, sometimes intense ones. With liver that is less likely to happen, if consumed only weekly or bi-weekly. The climate and light, especially sunlight exposure, affect vitamin A needs significantly, so it’s good to start with 5000 i.u., and go from that, if more is needed. A typical hypothyroid person, in the winter, will very likely only need 5000 i.u. to start, but someone in good health may need tens of thousands i.u. in the summer, if the thyroid is very active.
The “evil” substances vegetarians and vegans sometimes mention do exist, but are a byproduct of the degradation of the meat’s protein, like cadaverine, putrescine, spermine, and spermidine, but what’s ignored is that those substances are mostly formed depending on the way the meat is handled.
“Eating good food can alter your consciousness; so can thinking about how we’re going to get it.” Raymond Peat, PhD.
References and recommended reads:
1. “Meat physiology, stress, and degenerative physiology” by Raymond Peat, PhD (many more references in this article)