Taco bell rebrands its 'meat' as 'protein,' but questions remain about the mystery meat

Jay Petrillo's picture

Taco Bell has decided to broaden its taco filling designation. No longer does fast food Tex-Mex chain offer a “taco meat filling.” It is now called “protein,” but that doesn’t make it any healthier.

Taco Bell has endured its share of controversy over its meat-filled tacos. In 2011, the company faced a lawsuit over the so called “mystery meat” filling, which turned out to not be so mysterious after all. Now, the California-based Tex Mex restaurant is renaming the meat altogether.

Taco Bell is moving away from their current designation of “taco meat fillings” and replacing the menu ingredient with an even more indistinct name: “protein.”

Starting July 25, Taco Bells in Dayton, Ohio will serve as piloting locations for the chain’s new “Power Protein” menu, which will feature updated steak and chicken options.

According to Taco Bell’s June 18 press release, the “Power Protein Menu contains items offering more than 20 grams of protein and less than 450 calories.” According to the release, “new nutritional guardrails” are now in place.

However, critics are questioning the timing of Taco Bell’s efforts to rebrand the long-held “meat filling” description.

In March of this year, the testing of the meat ingredient in UK Taco Bell locations found that a significant number of the fast-food outlets were serving up ground horsemeat in their ground beef. Taco Bell insisted that no U.S. locations were involved in the horsemeat scare.

So what exactly is in the “meat” of a Taco Bell menu item?

In response to the 2011 lawsuit, Yum Brands Inc., the parent company of Taco Bell, went on record as stating the beef recipe is 88 percent beef and 12 percent seasonings, spices, water and “other ingredients.”

It’s those ingredients that are categorized as “other” that worry the typical consumer. While frequenters to fast-food fare understand that their meal choices are not going to be the healthiest of options, the mysterious additives give cause for some concern.

In its rebuttal to the lawsuit, Taco Bell said its seasoned beef includes “ingredients you'd find in your home or in the supermarket aisle.”

Taco Bell has a beef FAQ site on their web page, and under the question, “What are these ‘other’ 12% ingredients?” the following is offered up as their answer:

“What are these other ingredients? They have some pretty weird names! They do have weird names – perfect for tongue twisters! But these ingredients are completely safe and approved by the FDA. Each ingredient helps make our Seasoned Beef taste great. Many of them are items you might use at home such as salt, peppers, and spices. Ingredients like oats and sodium phosphates help make sure the texture is right.”

While the following additives may be common to processed foods, you would have a tough go of it before finding any of these ingredients in your local grocer’s aisle.

1. Soy Lecithin – Used as an emulsifier to keep water and fats from separating in the beef, soybean lecithin is actually a waste product. Derived from the sludge left over after crude soil oil is “degummed,” the additive contains solvents and pesticides that are harmful to your health.

2. Autolyzed yeast extract – A less expensive substitute for the maligned preservative monosodium glutamate (MSG), autolyzed yeast is the substance that results when yeast cells are broken down. Taco Bell uses it as flavor enhancer, but opponents say it’s no better than consuming the headache-triggering unhealthy preservative MSG itself.

3. Maltodextrin – A synthetic sweetener. Although no scientific studies have been conducted to confirm, a search for potential side-effects of maltodextrin include the following laundry list of troubles: Abdominal bloating, flatulence, constipation or diarrhea, tooth decay, headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, upset stomach and fatigue.

4. Silicon Dioxide – Known to you and I as sand, silicon dioxide is one of the 18 most sickening food ingredients, says Health.com. Taco Bell uses it as an absorbing ingredient to keep their beef from becoming too moist and sogging up our crispy shells.

5. Sodium Phosphate – This one’s pretty generic and the exact compound used by Taco Bell is a anonymity. Sodium phosphate is essentially a salt, and it can be used as a texturizer, an emulsifier, a leavening agent or a neutralizing agent. It’s exact use is unknown, which in my book makes the ingredient a little creepy.

6. Caramel color – While this additive may be the most easy to define, it is also the most insidious. Artificial caramel coloring is made from combining sugars with ammonia and sulfites under high pressure and temperatures. Chemicals used in the process to create the coloring are known carcinogens.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons