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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Getting to the Bottom of Taco Bell's 'Taco Meat'

Posted By on Tue, Jan 25, 2011 at 3:46 PM

click to enlarge Taco Bell's Beefy 5-Layer Burrito ($1.39), a sort of paste-within-a-paste. - JOHN BIRDSALL
  • John Birdsall
  • Taco Bell's Beefy 5-Layer Burrito ($1.39), a sort of paste-within-a-paste.

Taco Bell's getting sued by a California woman pissed that the fast-food chain's beef products contain so little actual meat, they're guilty of false advertising. The L.A. Times explains:

The class-action suit, which does not ask for money, objects to Taco Bell calling its products "seasoned ground beef or seasoned beef, when in fact a substantial amount of the filling contains substances other than beef." It says Taco Bell's ground beef is made of such components as water, isolated oat product, wheat oats, soy lecithin, maltodextrin, anti-dusting agent, autolyzed yeast extract, modified corn starch and sodium phosphate, as well as some beef and seasonings.
The attorney alleges that only 15 percent of Taco Bell's ground beef-like substance is actually even protein, and just over a third if it is even a solid ― the rest is some sort of starchy slurry, apparently.

SFoodie set out to do a little journalistic investigation. First stop: Taco Bell's website, which claims that the chain's "taco meat" is "made from" USDA-inspected beef. That "made from" part is troubling, but don't worry ― at least it never sees the inside of a freezer:

It tastes great because it's simmered in 12 authentic seasonings and spices and is never frozen. Moreover, our taco meat is leaner than what you'll find in a restaurant-cooked hamburger because of the unique way that we prepare our taco meat and remove fat.
To test that taste claim, SFoodie's second stop was the Taco Bell at Duboce and Guerrero for the Beefy 5-Layer Burrito ($1.39), figuring anything that made such a confident claim for meatiness would have to deliver. Wouldn't it?

click to enlarge How the Beefy 5-Layer Burrito is supposed to look ― note the plush layer of craggy-looking "taco meat." - TACO BELL
  • Taco Bell
  • How the Beefy 5-Layer Burrito is supposed to look ― note the plush layer of craggy-looking "taco meat."

But while the website shows the B5LB like this (pictured at right) ― a fat layer of nubbly-looking ground meat with gooey cushioning, ours looked literally like brown mush seeping rubbery golden cheese, with a pale, stretchy "tortilla" exoskeleton (see above). No visible meat, "isolated oat product" or otherwise. At first we thought somebody screwed up our order, but no, the Beefy 5-Layer Burrito this was, even though you could really only grant it three layers. And the taste? Satisfying like Doritos seasoning powder, salty and oddly prickly in the throat.

Actually, Yum Brands did issue a statement to Alabama television station WSFA-TV, the Times reports. It said in part, "Taco Bell prides itself on serving high quality Mexican inspired food with great value." Value, sure. But "Mexican inspired"? Now that's false advertising. Somebody ought to sue.

Update 4:25 p.m.: Yum Foods noticed our post and asked SFoodie to update with the following statement:

"TACO BELL STATEMENT REGARDING CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT

'At Taco Bell, we buy our beef from the same trusted brands you find in the supermarket, like Tyson Foods. We start with 100 percent USDA-inspected beef. Then we simmer it in our proprietary blend of seasonings and spices to give our seasoned beef its signature Taco Bell taste and texture. We are proud of the quality of our beef and identify all the seasoning and spice ingredients on our website. Unfortunately, the lawyers in this case elected to sue first and ask questions later -- and got their "facts" absolutely wrong. We plan to take legal action for the false statements being made about our food.'

Greg Creed

President and Chief Concept Officer

Taco Bell Corp."

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Contact me at John.Birdsall@SFWeekly.com

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