Friday, May 15, 2009

The Chemistry of Animal Food

Animal food has a wider range than is usually included under that head. The vegetarian who announces that no animal food is allowed upon his table offers a meal in which one finds milk, eggs, butter, and cheese,—all forms of animal food, and all strongly nourishing. A genuine vegetarian, if consistent, would be forced to reject all of these; and it has already been attempted in several large water-cures by enthusiasts who have laid aside their common-sense, and resigned with it some of the most essential forces for life and work. Meat may often be entirely renounced, or eaten only at rare intervals, with great advantage to health and working power, but the dietary for the varied nourishment which seems demanded must include butter, cheese, eggs, and milk.

Meats will be regarded as essential by the majority, and naturally they come first in considering food; and beef is taken as the standard, being identical in composition with the structures of the human body.

BEEF, if properly fed, is in perfection at seven years old. It should then be a light red on the cut surface, a darker red near the bone, and slightly marbled with fat. Beef contains, in a hundred parts, nearly twenty of nitrogen, seventy-two of water, four of fat, and the remainder in salts of various descriptions. The poorer the quality of the beef, the more it will waste in cooking; and its appearance before cooking is also very different from that of the first quality, which, though looking moist, leaves no stain upon the hand. In poor beef, the watery part seems to separate from the rest, which lies in a pool of serous bloody fluid. The gravy from such beef is pale and poor in flavor; while the fat, which in healthy beef is firm and of a delicate yellow, in the inferior quality is dark yellow and of rank smell and taste. Beef is firmer in texture and more satisfying to the stomach than any other form of meat, and is usually considered more strengthening.

MUTTON is a trifle more digestible, however. A healthy person would not notice this, the digestive power in health being more than is necessary for the ordinary meal; but the dyspeptic will soon find that mutton gives his stomach less work. Its composition is very nearly the same as that of beef; and both when cooked, either by roasting or boiling, lose about a third of their substance, and come to us with twenty-seven parts of nitrogen, fifteen of fat, fifty-four of water, and three of salty matters.

Mountain sheep and cattle have the finest-flavored meat, and are also richest in nitrogenous matter. The mountain mutton of Virginia and North Carolina is as famous as the English Southdown; but proper feeding anywhere will make a new thing of the ordinary beef and mutton. When our cattle are treated with decent humanity,—not driven days with scant food and water, and then packed into cars with no food and no water, and driven at last to slaughter feverish and gasping in anguish that we have no right to permit for one moment,—we may expect tender, wholesome, well-flavored meat. It is astonishing that under present conditions it can be as good as it is.

In well-fed animals, the fat forms about a third of the weight, the largest part being in the loin. In mutton, one-half is fat; in pork, three-quarters; while poultry and game have very little.

The amount of bone varies very greatly. The loin and upper part of the leg have least; nearly half the entire weight being in the shin, and a tenth in the carcass. In the best mutton and pork, the bones are smaller, and fat much greater in proportion to size.

VEAL and LAMB, like all young meats, are much less digestible than beef or mutton. Both should have very white, clear fat; and if that about the kidneys is red or discolored, the meat should be rejected. Veal has but sixteen parts of nitrogenous matter to sixty-three of water, and the bones contain much more gelatine than is found in older animals. But in all bones much useful carbon and nitrogen is found; three pounds of bone yielding as much carbon, and six pounds as much nitrogen, as one pound of meat. Carefully boiled, this nutriment can all be extracted, and flavored with vegetables, form the basis of an endless variety of soups.

PORK is of all meats the most difficult to digest, containing as it does so large a proportion of fat. In a hundred parts of the meat, only nine of nitrogen are found, fat being forty-eight and water thirty-nine, with but two of salty matters. Bacon properly cured is much more digestible than pork, the smoke giving it certain qualities not existing in uncured pork. No food has yet been found which can take its place for army and navy use or in pioneering. Beef when salted or smoked loses much of its virtue, and eight ounces of fat pork will give nearly three times as much carbon or heat-food as the same amount of beef; but its use is chiefly for the laborer, and it should have only occasional place in the dietary of sedentary persons.

The pig is liable to many most unpleasant diseases, measles and trichina spiralis being the most fatal to the eaters of meat thus affected; but the last—a small animalcule of deadly effect if taken alive into the human stomach, as is done in eating raw ham or sausage—becomes harmless if the same meat is long and thoroughly boiled. Never be tempted into eating raw ham or sausage; and in using pork in any form, try to have some knowledge of the pig. A clean, well-fed pig in a well-kept stye is a wonderfully different object from the hideous beast grunting its way in many a Southern or Western town, feeding on offal and sewage, and rolling in filth. Such meat is unfit for human consumption, and the eating of it insures disease.

We come now to another form of meat, that of edible ENTRAILS. This includes Tripe, Haslet, or lights, &c. More nitrogen is found here than in any other portion of the meat. The cheap and abundant supply in this country has made us, as a people, reject all but the liver. In the country, the sweetbreads or pancreas are often thrown away, and tripe also. The European peasant has learned to utilize every scrap; and while such use should not be too strongly urged, it is certain that this meat is far better than no meat. Fully one-third of the animals' weight comes under this head,—that is, feet, tail, head, and tongue, lungs, liver, spleen, omentum, pancreas, and heart, together with the intestines. The rich man is hardly likely to choose much of this food, the tongue and sweetbreads being the only dainty bits; but there are wholesome and savory dishes to be made from every part, and the knowledge of their preparation may be of greatest value to a poorer neighbor. Both ox-tails and head make excellent soup. Tripe, the inner lining of the stomach, is, if properly prepared, not only appetizing but pleasant to the eye. Calves' feet make good jelly; and pigs' feet, ears, and head are soused or made into scrapple. Blood-puddings are much eaten by Germans, but we are not likely to adopt their use. Fresh blood has, however, been found of wonderful effect for consumptive patients; and there are certain slaughter-houses in our large cities where every day pale invalids are to be found waiting for the goblet of almost living food from the veins of the still warm animal. Horrible as it seems, the taste for it is soon acquired; and certainly the good results warrant at least the effort to acquire it.

VENISON comes next in the order of meats, but is more like game than any ordinary butchers' meat. It is lean, dark in color, and savory, and if well cooked, very digestible.

POULTRY are of more importance to us than game, and the flesh, containing less nitrogen, is not so stimulating as beef or mutton. Old fowls are often tough and indigestible, and have often, also, a rank flavor like a close hen-house, produced by the absorption into the flesh of the oil intended by nature to lubricate the feathers.

GAME contains even less fat than poultry, and is considered more strengthening. The flesh of rabbits and hares is more like poultry or game than meat, but is too close in fiber to be as digestible. Pigeons and many other birds come under none of the heads given. As a rule, flesh is tender in proportion to the smallness of the animal, and many varieties are eaten for the description of which we have no room here.

FISH forms the only animal food for a large part of the world. It does not possess the satisfying or stimulating properties belonging to flesh, yet the inhabitants of fishing-towns are shown to be unusually strong and healthy. The flesh of some fish is white, and of others red; the red holding much more oil, and being therefore less digestible. In Salmon, the most nutritious of all fishes, there are, in a hundred parts, sixteen of nitrogen, six of fat, nearly two of saline matter, and seventy-seven of water. Eels contain thirteen parts of fat. Codfish, the best-known of all the white fish, vary greatly, according to the time of year in which they are taken, being much more digestible in season than out (i.e., from October to May). Mackerel and Herring both abound in oil, the latter especially, giving not only relish to the Irishman's potato, but the carbon he needs as heat-food. Shell-fish are far less digestible, the Oyster being the only exception. The nitrogenous matter in oysters is fourteen parts, of fatty matter one and a half, of saline matter two, and of water eighty. At the time of spawning—from May to September—they lose their good condition, and become unwholesome. Lobsters rank next in importance, and are more delicate and finer-flavored than Crabs. Both are, however, very difficult of digestion, and should only be used occasionally. The many forms of pickled and smoked fish are convenient, but always less wholesome than fresh.

MILK comes next, and has already been considered in a previous chapter. It is sometimes found to disagree with the stomach, but usually because looked upon as drink and not as real food, the usual supply of which is taken, forgetful of the fact that a glass or two of milk contains as much nourishment as two-thirds of the average meal. The nitrogenous matter in milk is known as caseine, and it is this which principally forms cheese.

CHEESE is commonly considered only a relish, but is in reality one of the most condensed forms of nitrogenous food; and a growing knowledge of its value has at last induced the Army Department to add it to the army ration list. Mattieu Williams, after giving the chemical formulas of caseine and the other elements of cheese, writes; "I have good and sufficient reasons for thus specifying the properties of this constituent of food. I regard it as the most important of all that I have to describe in connection with my subject,—The Science of Cookery. It contains, as I shall presently show, more nutritious material than any other food that is ordinarily obtainable, and its cookery is singularly neglected,—practically an unknown art, especially in this country. We commonly eat it raw, although in its raw state it is peculiarly indigestible, and in the only cooked form familiarly known among us here, that of Welsh rabbit or rare-bit, it is too often rendered still more indigestible, though this need not be the case. Cream-cheese is the richest form, but keeps less well than that of milk. Stilton, the finest English brand, is made partly of cream, partly of milk, and so with various other foreign brands, Gruyere, &c. Parmesan is delicately flavored with fine herbs, and retains this flavor almost unaltered by age. Our American cheeses now rank with the best foreign ones, and will grow more and more in favor as their value is understood, this being their strongly nitrogenous character. A cheese of twenty pounds weight contains as much food as a sheep weighing sixty pounds, as it hangs in the butcher's shop. In Dutch and factory cheeses, where the curd has been precipitated by hydrochloric acid, the food value is less than where rennet is used; but even in this case, it is far beyond meat in actual nutritive power."

BUTTER is a purely carbonaceous or heat-giving food, being the fatty part of the milk, which rises in cream. It is mentioned in the very earliest history, and the craving for it seems to be universal. Abroad it is eaten without salt; but to keep it well, salt is a necessity, and its absence soon allows the development of a rank and unpleasant odor. In other words, butter without it becomes rancid; and if any particle of whey is allowed to remain in it, the same effect takes place.

Perfect butter is golden in color, waxy in consistency, and with a sweetness of odor quite indescribable, yet unmistakable to the trained judge of butter. It possesses the property of absorption of odors in a curious degree; and if shut in a tight closet or a refrigerator with fish, meat, or vegetables of rank or even pronounced smell, exchanges its own delicate aroma for theirs, and reaches us bereft once for all of what is the real charm of perfect butter. For this reason absolute cleanliness and daintiness of vessels containing milk or cream, or used in any way in the manufacture of butter, is one of the first laws of the dairy.

Ghee, the East-Indian form of butter, is simply fresh butter clarified by melting, and is used as a dressing for the meal of rice. Butter, though counted as a pure fat, is in reality made up of at least six fatty principles, there being sixty-eight per cent of margarine and thirty per cent of oleine, the remainder being volatile compounds of fatty acids. In the best specimens of butter there is a slight amount of caseine, not over five per cent at most, though in poor there is much more. It is the only fat which may be constantly eaten without harm to the stomach, though if not perfectly good it becomes an irritant.

The Drippings of roasted meat, more especially of beef, rank next in value; and Lard comes last on the list, its excessive use being a serious evil. Eaten constantly, as in pastry or the New-England doughnut, it is not only indigestible, but becomes the source of forms of scrofulous disease. It is often a convenient substitute for butter, but if it must be used, would better be in connection with the harmless fat.

Eggs come last; and as a young animal is developed from them, it follows that they contain all that is necessary for animal life, though in the case of the chicken the shell also is used, all the earthy matter being absorbed. In a hundred parts are found fourteen of nitrogen, ten and a half of fatty matter, one and a half of saline matter, and seventy-four of water. Of this water the largest part is contained in the white, which is almost pure albumen, each particle of albumen being enclosed in very thin-walled cells; it is the breaking of these cells and the admission of air that enables one to beat the white of egg to a stiff froth. The fat is accumulated in the yolk, often amounting to thirty per cent. Raw and lightly-boiled eggs are easy of digestion, but hard-boiled ones decidedly not so. An egg loses its freshness within a day or so. The shell is porous; and the always-feeding and destroying oxygen of the air quickly gains admission, causing a gradual decomposition. To preserve them, they must be coated with lard or gum, or packed in either salt or oats, points down. In this way they keep good a long time, and while hardly desirable to eat as boiled eggs, answer for many purposes in cooking.

Taken from:

Adapted to Domestic Use or Study in Classes

Copyright 1903
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