- The Washington Times - Friday, August 26, 2005

ATLANTA (AP) — Daniel Fletcher has found a way to transform dark meat chicken into white, a scientific advance some purists say has gone too far.

“Leave chicken alone,” said Mary Raczka, who is in charge of hospitality at Mary Mac’s Tea Room, a prominent Southern-style restaurant in Atlanta that serves more than 500 pounds of fried chicken a week — dark and white meat.

But Mr. Fletcher, a University of Georgia professor of poultry science, said his other white meat isn’t designed to compete with the real thing on restaurant menus or grocery shelves. Instead, it’s a filler that can be used to add protein and amino acids to something else, such as chicken nuggets.

The recipe involves adding excess water to ground-up dark meat to create a kind of meat soup, then spinning the mixture around in a tub at high speed. The centrifugal force makes the mixture settle into layers of fat, water and extracted meat, which can be molded into breastlike patties of all-white meat.

When food specialist Marion Nestle heard about Mr. Fletcher’s work, she immediately compared the product with imitation crab meat made from minced fish.

“Surimi. This is chicken surimi. For the purpose of creating chickenlike objects … yuck,” said Mrs. Nestle, a food studies professor at New York University.

Mr. Fletcher said Mrs. Nestle’s reaction is typical, but he has a ready response: “There’s a lot of good eating experiences you may have had in your life that you wouldn’t think were as good if you read the label.”

Hot dogs, made of minced chicken, pork, beef and other meat byproducts, are a primary example. But millions of people devour these pressed, squeezed and processed food products each year.

“It tastes like something you would use with Hamburger Helper,” Mr. Fletcher acknowledged after nibbling a sample of his faux white meat. “It’s a very neutral flavor. In some ways, it’s like tofu. Tofu is something with so little character that if you eat it by itself, it’d put you to sleep.”

According to Bill Roenigk, senior vice president of the National Chicken Council, Americans have expressed a strong preference for white meat over the last 20 years. Dark meat’s color and fat are what make it less attractive, he said, and it’s also more difficult to mold dark meat into shapes.

Right now, most dark meat produced in the United States is exported to Russia and the Middle East. Mr. Fletcher says his faux white meat is a way of applying solid technology to expand the use of dark meat in the U.S.

“Back when I was in school, one of our goals in food science was expanding the food supply by taking foods that are less valued, and expanding their value,” he said. He compared chicken whitening to making sausage out of otherwise unused meat, or making cheese from milk.

Dark meat gets its color from myoglobin, a protein that transports oxygen. It shows up in the muscles animals use most often. Chickens walk more than they fly, so the dark meat is in their legs and thighs.

In the past, researchers have found ways to lighten dark meat, but reducing the fat content has been the challenge.

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