Marco Polo may have been the first European to lay his eyes on meat floss. He described Mongolian horsemen as carrying about the fluffy foodstuff for sustenance, snacking on dried ‘wool’ that lasted longer than fresh beef or mutton.
While today it is most often seen adorning Chinese pork buns or congee, meat floss is used in different forms throughout Asia as a seasoning to all sorts of dishes. The most common varieties involve pork or beef, stewed in a soy-sauce-based mixture and then dehydrated, though fish and chicken are also used as a base.
Meat floss will probably be familiar to anyone who has frequented Chinatown or a neighbourhood dim sum establishment, but for most it’s a fairly odd-sounding ingredient. The flavour itself, however, is far from alien – it is essentially dried meat, after all, albeit with a novel texture.
As a deeper exploration of Chinese cuisine in particular, and Asian cuisine more generally, begins to take root, some chefs are exploring how to use meat floss as a seasoning in everyday Western dishes.
May the floss be with you
One of the most popular experiments with meat floss appears to be in the salad category.
At Thai chain Giggling Squid, co-founder Pranee Laurillard says that the woolly texture adds depth to soft bread and rice rolls, but it’s also a perfect fit for the chain’s crunchy watermelon salad.
“We were looking at what we could add to take our watermelon salad up a notch and here comes the perfect condiment filled with contrasts: both soft and crunchy, savoury and sweet,” she tells Food Spark. "Made of candied, seasoned pork that’s stir-fried until dry, pork floss gets added to bland food to give it a porky punch, with a cotton candy like texture that will melt in your mouth!”
Laurillard adds that she plans to use the pork floss in other dishes soon too.
Over in San Francisco, Asian-inspired Breadbelly has had a similar idea, adding it to a salad of apple, kohlrabi, pistachio and dried shrimp. The city is also seeing the ingredient on updated Chinese baked goodies at the growing Fancy Wheat Field Chain, most recently as a kind of ham and pork Swiss Roll.
So will Sparkie be flossing with meat?
Pork floss is delicious. Like a few other things we have discussed recently, I think it will suffer from lack of consumer understanding. It is a fairly unique product, so it’s going to take some effort to get people to try it for the first time, but I think after that it could spread pretty quickly.
That initial period is going to take some time though and significant media investment. I don't think it’s going to be something that is a trendy product any time soon, but it’s one to keep an eye on, do a little development with and prepare for when it does get that media attention that it deserves.