When I was growing up my parents made a deal: my mom prepared meals on weeknights and my dad was in charge of weekend dinners. Of course, this meant ordering take-out or going out to eat on Saturday nights, and grilling up hamburgers or hot dogs on Sunday nights. It was a routine my father could handle and every Sunday at around 5 pm or so, he would come find me and ask me if I wanted a "hut dog" or a hamburger. Yeah, that's not a typo. For whatever reason he called them hut dogs and still does.
Have you ever thought about what a hot dog actually is? We know a hamburger is ground meat shaped into a patty, but what exactly is the strange tubular mystery we know as the hot dog? I remember hearing horror stories of them being smooshed up beaver tails, pig feet, and cow bums but I think (and hope!) that was just an urban legend.
Let's have a closer look at what these dogs really are made of. According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, hot dogs are made up of pork, beef, chicken, turkey, or a combination of meat and poultry. Muscle meat is what is used in hot dogs along with other ingredients such as water, curing agents, and spcies.
Seems pretty normal right? Well, not exactly. The following is the list of ingredients from a package of commercially popular hot dogs which claim to have an "authentic ball-park taste":
mechanically separated chicken, pork and/or beef, water, potato starch, salt, wheat flour, wheat gluten, modified milk ingredients, modified wheat flour, dextrose, sodium erythorbate, hydrolyzed soy protein, onion powder, smoke flavour, sodium nitrite, yeast extract, spice, garlic powder, smoke. Gluten, wheat, milk, corn, soy and MSG.
Where to even begin with these? We know what things like potato starch and wheat flour are. We also have some idea what modified milk ingredients are referring to, so let's focus on the stuff that are total head-scratchers.
Hot Dogs Decoded:
- Mechanically Separated Chicken, Pork, and/or Beef: Certain brands of hot dogs may state "made with mechanically separated meats (MSM)". What this MSM meat is, is a slurry of a meat product created by forcing bones with meat attached under high pressure in order to separate the bone from the meat tissue. In 2004, MSM beef was no longer permitted in processed meats due to concerns over relations to mad cow disease. However, today, hot dogs still may contain up to 20% MSM pork, as well as any amount of MSM chicken or turkey. The U.S. Food and Safety Insepction Service maintains that these meats are safe to eat.
- Sodium Nitrite: A preservative used in meats and fish. It is used to preserve a certain colour and prevent the growth of the bacterium which causes botulism. Sodium nitrite reacts with stomach acid and other chemicals in the stomach to produce nitrosamines. These have been shown to cause cancer in aminals.
- Sodium Erythorbate: This is a food additive used mainly in meats, poultry, and soft drinks. It is often used in hot dogs to facilitate curing and helps to retain that pink colour. It also helps to improve flavour stability and prevents the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines.
- Yeast Extract: A taste enhancer that actually contains MSG (monosodium glutamate). This neurotoxic chemical has been associated with various health concerns such as reproductive disorders, migraine headaches, endocrine imbalances, and obesity, as well as many others.
Whatever they're made of, people really do love them since it's been said that the U.S. population consumes 20 billion hot dogs per year. That amounts to 70 hot dogs per person per year. Judging from the above ingredients, that spells trouble with a capital T in terms of healthy eating. There is a solution though - eating whole foods! Check back here next week for a super awesometown recipe that puts these dogs to shame.
Question Of The Day: What "mysterious" food are you curious about?