Investigation of the relationship of mass of gelatin in fish ball to the rebound height of fish ball when dropped on smooth surface parallel to ground and how this can be used with synesthesia for the betterment of foods
Tan Chuan Jie and Yeo Jia Hao Calvin
School of Science and Technology, Singapore
It is a well known fact that chefs from around the world can agree -- the bouncier the fishball, the better it is enjoyed. We want to find out how the mass of gelatin added affects the rebound height of a fishball when dropped. It is essential to know that flavour is sensed with all five human sense and synesthesia plays a part in this. To get ideal fishballs for this experiment, besides gelatin, we had to make our own using a fish paste containing only grounded fish. The results indicated that the more gelatin we added to the fish paste, the higher the rebound height of the fishball will be until a certain point where the more gelatin we added to the fish paste, the fishball will decrease in rebound height. This shows that there is a limit to the rebound height of a fishball. A table of proportion of gelatin to fish paste for each fish ball for the experiment has been provided for other researchers to conduct the same experiment as us and compare results. A bar graph with a general trend of the relationship between the mass of gelatin in fish ball to the rebound height of fish ball has been provided too. Our findings can help everyone in the culinary arts to collaborate and determine the best proportions of ingredients to make fish balls or any other bouncy foods. We included possible improvements for our experiment and future directions our findings can take.
1.1 Background Research
What is transglutaminase?
How does transglutaminase work?
Where does it come from?
Why is transglutaminase used for cooking?
How can it combat meat wastage?
Are there any negative side effects from using transglutaminase?
Is there any better alternative such as gelatin?
Transglutaminase, or meat glue, is widely used in modern cooking, usually in the form of powder. The powder is not pure transglutaminase though, as commercial products blend other ingredients such as gelatin, phosphates, caseinate, potassium chloride, fiber or maltodextrin to make it adequate for specific applications (Danny, 2013), (Kamozawa, Talbot, & Talbot, 2011). Activa® RM is the proprietary name for the protein adhesive. Transglutaminase is an enzyme that speeds up an irreversible reaction whereby a covalent bond forms between two functional groups, i.e., a free amine and an acyl, from the ends of the side chains of glutamine and lysine, both are amino acids. The covalent bonds formed are very stable. Hence, insoluble long chains of amino acids form more bonds, and pieces of meat stick together and look like an entire chunk of uncut meat.
Transglutaminase is a naturally occurring enzyme that can be found in various animals, plants and in the human body. It plays a major role in the human body as it is a coagulant, clotting blood when needed and keeping skin firm. In mass-scale, it is produced through either the fermentation of a bacterium called Streptomyces mobaraensis or extraction of pig, cow or chicken blood that has transglutaminase-containing plasma (Kamozawa, Talbot, & Talbot, 2011) (Tseng, Liu, & Chen, 2002).
Transglutaminase is used only in 0.3 percent of all meat consumed in the United States of America (“Questions and answers about Transglutaminase (TG),” n.d.). However, this percentage may increase as people discover how to fully harness the ingenuity of transglutaminase. It allows us to gently manipulate the textures of meat, makes the dish unique, and allows butchers to stick meat together without strings or toothpicks. It can improve yields and presentations and creates new possibilities when working with dairy (Kamozawa, Talbot, & Talbot, 2011). Innovative individuals such as Wylie Dufresne has utilised transglutaminase to invent a pasta but the noodles are not made from wheat flour, instead it is 95 percent shrimp (Bonné, 2005).
Within optimal pH levels between 6 and 7 and temperature range between 50 degrees celsius and 55 degrees celsius, transglutaminase works best and the reaction of meat sticking together will be quickened. Once exposed to air, oxidation of transglutaminase comes immediately into effect as there is moisture in the air. Therefore, any remainder should be vacuum sealed and kept in a refrigerator or freezer to increase shelf life (Kamozawa, Talbot, & Talbot, 2011). Getting the right ratio of meat to transglutaminase in charcuterie is also essential. If the weight of transglutaminase is below 0.05 percent of the weight of all meat used, the meat might not stick at all. If the weight of transglutaminase is above 2 percent of the weight of all meat used, the meat will be dry and have a tough texture, unsuitable for cooking (Danny, 2013).
Obviously, cows, fish, chickens and pigs are not square-shaped animals that we can cut perfectly into cuboids and cubes; if that would be the case, a lot of meat will be saved. Unfortunately, 570 thousand tonnes of fresh meat are wasted in households each year, excluding industrial premises. This happens as meat come in shapes that are hard to cut to serve in equal proportions to customers. Thus, little to medium-sized pieces of meat are wasted and all these add up to 12 billion animal lives wasted (Hird, 2014). Fortunately, the growing use of transglutaminase will help to reduce the amount of animals’ lives that go to waste. As mentioned repeatedly, transglutaminase binds meat together, so meat that was destined to go to waste can now be stuck together to form entire large chunks of meat that can be shaped to cut evenly. This also saves the amount of crops grown to feed livestock, water used for livestock and vegetation, and money. Indirectly, our environment will also be less damaged because less coal and fossil fuels are burnt. The rate of the degradation of the earth’s ozone layer will gradually decrease, hopefully slowing down more than the repair of the earth’s ozone layer. Climate change will be less drastic too.
The FDA classifies transglutaminase as “generally regarded as safe” or GRAS for short and it is not an allergen as well (“Myth: ‘Glue’ is used to hold some meat together,” 2017). However, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding this catalyst. According to Schneider (2012), marketing consultants and food scientists estimate — because no company will discuss sales figures– that anywhere from 11 to 35 percent of all packaged and sliced ham, beef, chicken, fish, pizza toppings and other deli products are enhanced, restructured or molded using transglutaminase. Despite the fact that federal laws require labeling, Scripps Howard News Service spot-checked meat purveyors and restaurant suppliers and found that almost no companies listed the substances among their products’ ingredients (Schneider, 2012). This shows no consideration for people with religious and dietary beliefs and special needs. Selling cheap unwanted put-together meat as a high-end-appearing cut at a high price is also unethical. The above problems are irresponsibilities of companies and sellers. “Questions and answers about Transglutaminase (TG)” (n.d.) states that The US Department of Agriculture, i.e., USDA has approved the use of transglutaminase for use in meat and poultry products. Furthermore, the Food Safety and Inspection Service, i.e., FSIS has assured that it is safe for meat and poultry products developed to reduce total sodium and fat amounts in the ingredient list of the latter (“Questions and answers about Transglutaminase (TG),” n.d.). To date, transglutaminase has proven to be a safe way of combining meat products to meet the demands of our rising population (“Questions and answers about Transglutaminase (TG),” n.d.). Transglutaminase does not affect the allergenicity of proteins; it does not promote the contamination of meats, and it is thermally decomposed when the meat is thoroughly cooked reaching a safe internal temperature, which kills unwanted bacteria such as E.coli or Salmonella (“Questions and answers about Transglutaminase (TG),” n.d.). Transglutaminase is entirely denatured and ineffective at 75 degrees celsius (Kamozawa, Talbot, & Talbot, 2011). Hence one should not be worried of consuming any transglutaminase when eating the meat. On the other hand, “39” says that the dangers of transglutaminase is that the bacteria is hard to track because different meats from different animals are glued together. This makes it harder to diagnose where the disease comes from in case an outbreak of bacteria happens. Furthermore, the bacteria that is originally outside of separate meats are glued together so the bacteria will be hidden inside the meat between the glued meat pieces. This is extremely dangerous because for the heat to reach the insides of the meat to kill the bacteria, the meat will be burnt and people will not like it. Therefore the meat is sometimes not cooked properly and the bacteria inside would not be killed and that would cause food poisoning, dire illness or death in serious cases. Moreover if transglutaminase is not cooked properly, the extra transglutaminase in the body would be associated with plagues in the brain of the Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s Disease, Cataracts in the eyes, the hardening of the artillery and various skin disorders. Lastly if the meat glue is ingested, the body’s immune system will classify its own transglutaminase as foreign as well and will lead to gluten allergy and Celiac Disease. (39, 2016)
However since transglutaminase is not readily available in Singapore, we searched for a suitable replacement for transglutaminase and we found gelatin.
Gelatin is a mixture of peptides and proteins produced by partial hydrolysis of collagen extracted from the skin, bones, and connective tissues of animals such as domesticated cattle, chicken, pigs, and fish. During hydrolysis, the natural molecular bonds between individual collagen strands are broken down into a form that rearranges more easily. Its chemical composition is, in many respects, closely similar to that of its parent collagen. (Schwenke, 1978) Gelatin is also readily available throughout the globe. With the production of 375,000 to 400,000 tonnes a year they are more easy to obtain compared to transglutaminase.
According to Theresa J. Marquez (2015), gelatin can be used for the making of meatballs. She said that gelatin can be used to make a denser meat ball hence chewier. This means that gelatin acts like transglutaminase on meat too, binding the fibres of muscle together. Another source also suggests that gelatin not only binds the meat together, it offsets the need to use gluten-filled starchy binders which is a healthier choice. Furthermore according to J. KENJI LÓPEZ-ALT he says that gelatin can replace veal because veal makes the meat loaf bland but yet gelatin can bind the fibres of meat together and make the meatloaf tender and moist without diluting the taste. (ALT, 2015)
Froning (1965) said that there was a significant improvement in the tear strength of chicken meat when it is soaked in 6% polyphosphate solution. Direct addition of polyphosphates (0-2%) and of dried milk solids (0-10%) and gelatin (0-6%) significantly increased the tissue binding ability as the amount of each binder increased. (Froning, 1966) Gluten flour (0-6%) also increased binding but the increase is not significant. (Acton, 1972)
Activa GT (greatest bond) is a mixture of transglutaminase, maltodextrin, gelatin and an anti caking agent. They also stated that gelatin bonds extremely well with gelatin thus Activa GT form strong bonds. Therefore this shows the connection between gelatin and transglutaminase, literally and figuratively, and we will find out if gelatin can also bond meat. (Wise, 2006)
The Prior Art One process comprises the deboning of a ham and then the cutting of it to form two integrally connected sections. Gelatin is spread on the cut surfaces which are then pressed into contact with each other where upon the ham is compressed and cooked in a mold. However this process leaves much to be desired because the meat pieces are not firmly bonded together but tend to pull apart when the molded composite is sliced; also the gelatin changes the natural flavor of the meat, and the process is expensive. The tenderizing of pieces of meat by puncturing or slitting of the surfaces of the pieces is also known, and it is known to pimpuncture stacked pieces of meat and then to mold the composite assembly to the desired shape while the assembly is being chilled. However, the pieces are not firmly bonded together even when, as in most instances, the pieces are coated with gelatin.
Since there is not much research done about gelatin bonding meat, only gelatin suspending meat. We will do this experiment to see whether gelatin can also bond meat as gelatin is a cheaper alternative compared to transglutaminase.
1.2 Research Questions
We hypothesise that the more gelatin added to the fish paste, the higher the rebound height of the fishball will be until a certain point where the more gelatin added to the fish paste, the fishball will decrease in rebound height. We believe so because there will certainly be a point at which the total weight of the fish ball is a stronger force than the force required to break the binding of gelatin. Hence, that limit prevents the fish ball from continuously increasing in rebound height while the gelatin content of the fish ball increases. Therefore, there will also be a point where the rebound height is zero because the fishball covered in gelatin splatters upon impact with the wooden surface.
2.1 Equipment List
Casio ZR-100 high speed camera
Grounded fish meat (packaged)
Unflavoured pure bovine gelatin
2.2 Diagrams and photographs of experimental setup
Table 1: The proportion for each fishball.
*Fishball A is the control set-up that proves gelatin affects the bounce of fishball.
Fish meat (g)
Photograph 1: The wooden structure we built to release fish balls at 30 cm exactly.
Photograph 2: Preparing to boil to cook fish balls (We repeated the experiment but with a water bath as fish balls did not turn out satisfactory for bouncing).
Photograph 3: Water bath (provided by the lab) to cook fish balls
Photograph 4: Fish balls are cooked and ready for bouncing. The outer side of the box is covered in plasticine because we used it to hold down the box in the water bath.
* When the fish balls were boiled, their shape was nothing close to that of a sphere as air in the cling wrap expanded when heated. Furthermore, the fish balls were not wrapped properly. Hence, we had to ensure that the fish balls were tightly wrapped and use a water bath to slowly raise the temperature of the the fishball.
1. Weigh 1 gram of gelatin and 20 grams of fish meat as shown in Figure 1.1
2. Pour the gelatin onto the cling wrap first and put the fish meat onto it
3. Mix the gelatin and the fish meat by folding the cling wrap together and start squeezing the cling wrap and its contents for 1 minute as shown in Figure 1.2
4. After mixing the contents, mould the cling wrap into a sphere
5. Repeat steps 1 to 4 for the different proportions
6. Cook the fish balls in a water bath of 60 degrees for 5 minutes each
7. Put the fish balls in the refrigerator for 1 day
8. Take the fish balls out of the refrigerator
9. Setup the apparatus as shown in Figure 1.3
10. To ensure that height of the bounce of the fishball is precise in slow motion make sure to use a camera with 60 frames per second and higher
11. Record using the camera and drop the fish ball from 30 cm one by one thrice
12. Import the footages into iMovie and set the speed of the footages to 50%
13. Observe how high the fish balls bounced, average the rebound height of each fishball type (e.g. A, B, C) and record the results
2.4 Risk Assessment and Management
According to experts, there is a risk of the gelatin getting contaminated with certain animal diseases. However no such cases were reported.
Let everyone in the lab wear masks and warn everyone in the lab to not try to ingest gelatin
If gelatin is accidentally ingested, it can cause upset stomach, bloating, constipation and lack of appetite.
Let everyone in the lab wear masks and warn everyone in the lab to not try to ingest gelatin
As the experiment involves glassware, there is a risk of breakage and cutting of the hands.
Wear gloves when carrying out the experiment. In case of breakage, the cut to the hands will be minimized.
As the experiments involve raw meat, bacteria may spread and potentially cause diseases
Wash hands with antibacterial soap before and after the experiment
2.5 Data Analysis
Firstly, we will observe how high the fish ball rebounds in slow motion through the recorded footages. Next, we will record down onto a table the height each fish ball rebounds and plot a graph of the average height of the three bounces each fish ball rebounds to how much gelatin is added into each fish ball. Lastly, we can find out from the graph the relationship between the amount of gelatin added to each fish ball to the rebound height of the fish ball.
The results of our experiment are as shown below:
Table 1: Bounce height of fish ball affected by amount of gelatin added to fish paste
Table recording bounce height of fish ball affected by amount of gelatin added to fish paste
Mass of Gelatin in fishball (g)
Bounce Height 1 (cm)
Bounce Height 2 (cm)
Bounce Height 3 (cm)
Fishball A _ 0
Fishball B _ 1
Fishball C _ 2
Fishball D _ 3
Fishball E _ 4
Fishball F _ 5
Fishball G _ 6
Fishball H _ 7
Fishball I _ 8
Fishball J _ 9
Figure 2: Bar Graph with trendline showing the relationship of mass of gelatin in fish ball v.s. average rebound height of fish ball on smooth surface parallel to ground
4.1 Key findings & Analysis of results
We found out that there is a steady increase of the rebound height of the fishball from 0.667 cm for 0 grams of gelatine to 7 cm for 5 grams of gelatin. However, there is a significant increase of the rebound height to 11 cm for both 6 and 7 grams of gelatin. For 8 and 9 grams of gelatin there is a significant drop to 3.33 cm for the rebound height compared to the trend.
4.2 Explanation of key findings
From 0 to 5 grams of gelatin, the rebound height increased steadily from 0.667 cm to 3.333 cm. This is due to the increase in the binding strength of gelatin when more of it is added. Hence, when the fish balls make impact with the wooden surface, some kinetic energy can still be converted back into gravitational potential energy when rebounding.
From 6 to 7 grams of gelatin the rebound height significantly increased to 11 cm. This is the maximum point at which most of the kinetic energy of the fish ball can still convert to gravitational potential energy. The force required to breaking the binding of gelatin is still larger than the weight of the fish ball.
From 8 to 9 grams of gelatin, there is a significant drop of rebound height to 3.333 cm. By this point, the weight of the fish ball is a strong enough force to break the binding of gelatin. Hence, the fish ball decreases in rebound height.
4.3 Evaluation of Hypothesis
Once again, this is our hypothesis: the more gelatin added to the fish paste, the higher the rebound height of the fishball will be until a certain point where the more gelatin added to the fish paste, the fishball will decrease in rebound height. We believe so because there will certainly be a point at which the total weight of the fish ball is a stronger force than the force required to break the binding of gelatin. Hence, that limit prevents the fish ball from continuously increasing in rebound height while the gelatin content of the fish ball increases. Therefore, there will also be a point where the rebound height is zero because the fishball covered in gelatin splatters upon impact with the wooden surface.
Our results supported the hypothesis very well but there were two experimental errors which will be elaborated in the next section.
4.4 Limitations and Areas for improvement
The first limitation we had was that we could not get transglutaminase powder in time for the submission of this project, also raw meat was not allowed because of hygiene reasons. Thus, gelatin and fish paste replaced them respectively.
The different fish balls are of different shapes and they are not a perfect sphere, hence when the fish ball bounces on the wood, most of them bounced off and was stopped by the two wooden planks of the walls of the wooden structure, this in turn will affect the rebound height of the fishball and make the experiment unfair. Therefore an area of improvement is to use a fixed sphere mould instead of cling wrap to house the fish ball when it is inside the fridge. This will make sure that the fish ball are all of a definite sphere and errors like this would be reduced significantly. Another area of improvement is the placing of the fishball above the wooden surface. This may have caused the fishball to hit the wooden walls that prevent the fishball from bouncing out or not and that makes the experiment unfair as the fish ball loses some gravitational potential energy to sound and heat energy due to friction with the walls. This could also be the reason why the rebound height of the 6 and 7 grammes of gelatine fish ball and the 8 and 9 grammes of gelatine fish ball had a sudden decrease.
We also felt that the ratio between “meat:gelatin” can be a better gauge to be investigated next time.
5.1 Practical Applications
Now that we have discovered the optimal ratio of the binding agent (in our case, gelatin) to the ingredient needed to be binded together (in our case, fish paste), we can think of how we can use this relationship to our advantage for the betterment of foods. However, we must first understand why the bouncier and rounder a fish ball is, the more flavourful it seems. This ‘mixing up’ of the stimuli of touch (on the inside of the mouth) and taste can be the effect of a neurological phenomenon known as synesthesia. People with synesthesia have their five senses overlapping with each other, this means when one sense is triggered, another involuntarily triggers too (Eagleman, 2005).
We can learn from Jinhyun Jeon, a graduate student from the Design Academy Eindhoven, Netherlands, who designed spoons created to enhance the eating experience by targeting all five senses (McDermott, 2012). Jeon used six sensory elements: form, temperature, tactility, volume, weight, and colour (Chalcraft, 2012). Colours of red and orange to invoke feelings of hunger. The hollowness of the spoon influences and takes advantage of the auditory sense of the sound scraping against glassware, which gives off a ‘feedback response’ to tell the eater that he/she is doing things right. A spoon that is 40g in weight can make the eater feel full and satisfied. However, decreasing the weight to 10g, will enable us to feel the weight of food, making us more aware of the amounts of food that we are eating.
While Jeon concentrates on the design of cutlery to stimulate the senses, we want to focus on the design of the food itself to achieve the same goal. Thus, fish balls can be rounder and bouncier to induce a springy motion of the mouth when chewing, creating a wholesome and nourishing feel even when fish balls are made with simple ingredients. More importantly, we must still remember that there are other foods that can also benefit from synesthesia through their bounciness, thus applying the knowledge of the best binding agent to ingredient ratio is very important to give consumers the perfect eating experience.
5.2 Areas for further study
As mentioned above, there are many other ways to further revamp the eating experience for round foods. Testing the best colour, temperature, density and form will give us the data to craft the perfect fish ball
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We would like to extend our utmost appreciation and thanks to Mr Tan Hoe Teck and Mr Ng Guo Hui for giving us valuable guidance that lead us to the completion of this project. Thank you Mr Tan for giving us priceless suggestions for our project ideas, topics and concepts. Thank you Mr Ng for providing us with precious insights of alternatives of transglutaminase that allowed us to get this done by switching transglutaminase and gelatin for our experiment. Once again, this project could have never been done without the above mentors.