If You've Ever Eaten A Slim Jim, You'll Probably Want To See This

Slim Jims are a convenience store staple: four-inch (or more) sticks of processed meat manufactured and sold by major food conglomerate ConAgra. Since they were first invented by a man named Adolph Levis in 1928, they've undergone a lot of formula changes. The current formula was devised by Lon Adams, who worked for then-parent company Goodmark, in 1982. These things are a wonder of science, but they're also about as processed as it gets. So how exactly are they made?

A 2014 Wired video puts the ingredient listing into layman's terms. It starts with beef (most likely the lower grades from the oldest cows, called utility, cutter, and canner). It's ground and mixed with mechanically separated chicken, which is the chicken equivalent of "pink slime" (even though the production process is different), essentially puréed chicken bones, nerves, blood vessels, skin, and a small amount of meat. 

Sugar, spices, additional flavorings, and a whole lot of salt are then added, along with corn and wheat protein (for texture), and hydrolyzed gluten (which gives it an MSG-like savoriness). Traditional sausage-making ingredients lactic acid starter culture (which keeps the pH balance down) and sodium nitrite are then added, and the slurry is piped into a casing and fermented until it's ready to eat. Much of this process isn't so different from how any cured sausage is made.

The red-brown color is artificial

Despite consisting of mostly beef and the chicken processing byproduct known as "pink slime," Slim Jim doesn't take its coloring from meat, per Wired. In fact, these meat sticks would be gray if it weren't for one ingredient: sodium nitrate. It's included in Slim Jims to fight the spread of botulism in the smoked meat sticks, but it pulls double duty by adding a more pleasing hue as well.

According to Healthline, sodium nitrate is a type of salt that occurs naturally in many plants and vegetables. It's considered a regular part of human diets, though there are some risks associated with eating too much of it. (Citing a 2012 review published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, The Honest Company claims that research has shown these risks to be minimal.)

So, why does this salt turn meat from gray to red? Moment of Science says that processed meat typically turns gray because its color comes from oxygen reacting with myoglobin cells in the blood. Through processing, those cells are separated, but nitrates are able to bond with the myoglobin and take oxygen's place to create the red color more often associated with well prepared meat. Inverse says this is the same chemical swap that helps hot dogs keep their color as well. It's worth noting that sodium nitrate also makes up less than 2% of Slim Jim's ingredients (per the Environmental Working Group).

Is a Slim Jim considered a healthy snack?

Slim Jims had their start as bar food, but they've become a ubiquitous snack in convenience stores across the United States. But are they good for you?

As with any other dietary choice, the potential nutritional benefits of Slim Jims will depend on what your needs are. New Health Advisor notes that while the meat sticks contain fat, protein, calories, and iron, there are little other vitamins or nutrients present in significant numbers in a single stick. However, these nutrients do make Slim Jims a solid snack for anyone following a keto diet. (Per The National Institute of Health, a keto diet includes high levels of fat, moderate levels of protein, and low levels of carbohydrates.) According to the Environmental Working Group, one Slim Jim stick contains 130 calories, 10 grams of fat, 6 grams of protein, and 5 grams of carbohydrates.

It should be noted that Slim Jims are high in sodium, though. As Wired notes, they contain about one-sixth of the daily recommended amount of sodium for most adults.