What exactly is deli meat?

The fact that “real turkey breast” is a selling point that needs to be advertised gave me pause: what is turkey breast usually made from, if it’s not real turkey? What about other deli meats?

According to an MSNBC article on deli meats, there are three types: whole animal sections that are cooked and then sliced (examples: roast beef, corned beef, turkey breast), sectioned and formed products (example: ham), and processed products (example: bologna).

The first category of meat, whole cuts, is just meat–often with added salt or sugar, and preservatives, as the large surface area needs more protection from bacteria. This type of cold cut is presumably what the cafe above is advertising.

From here the water gets murkier. The second category of deli meats, sectioned and formed, is made from chunks of meat bonded together with proteins, meat emulsions, or non-meat additives, then molded and cooked to shaped it into its new form.

But most cold cuts fall into the third category: processed meats. The technique is similar to that for section and formed meats, but more extreme: the meat is essentially turned into a mush, mixed with additives (sometimes including possible carcinogens, such as nitrates; non-meat animal parts, such as lips, tripe, stomachs and hearts; or MSG), squeezed into a casing ala sausage, and cooked into shape.

The MSNBC article lists and defines many cold cut additives. Yum.

This article lists 15 things you should know about lunch meat.

So, to summarize, and perhaps you’ve heard me say this before: know where (and what!) your food comes from! Read labels and eat real food.

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