Nitrites and nitrates are preservatives commonly added to cured/dried meat to prevent botulism while the meat cures. They are used in very small amounts and must be measured carefully before adding to the recipe. Previous studies on rats in the 1960s linked nitrates with cancer; however those studies have since been refuted - that it is more about the cooking of the food, than the food itself. Nitrites and nitrates are more common than you might think!
Nitrates and nitrites are in processed meat you buy from the supermarket. Nitrates are also found in our bodies (i.e. saliva) and in the food we eat – we consume more nitrates from vegetables such as celery, beetroot, carrots and leafy greens than we eat as bacon. They are not accumulated in the body, either, passing through the body within five hours.
The concern with nitrates and food is that when they are heated too high (i.e. overcooking or burning), nitrates may form compounds called nitrosamines, which are known carcinogens. Studies have shown there is a link between the consumption of processed meat, cancer and heart disease, but there was no risk from the consumption of regular meat. However, these studies also showed that people who ate processed meat were more likely to smoke, exercise less and live an unhealthier lifestyle.
Therefore, processed meat and plants both contain nitrates; however plants naturally contain vitamin C, which reduces the production of nitrosamine. Even “nitrate-free” processed meat products may contain a plant ingredient (i.e. celery powder) – which contains natural nitrate. A nitrate is still a nitrate. To reduce the chance of nitrosamines forming in cooked meat products, you can add vitamin c after mixing in the cure salt and ensure meat is cooked properly.
CURE SALTS are commercial pre-mixes recommended for ALL homemade cured and dried meat products to prevent spoilage. Varying amongst suppliers, they may be pink, yellow, orange or white in appearance, but please ensure they are labelled clearly to avoid confusion because THEY ARE NOT INTERCHANGEABLE. Store cure salts out of reach of children.
Quality and quantity are important considerations: choose good quality meat sources, ethically raised animals and local ingredients. Minimal artificial ingredients and homemade may mean some preserved meat products cost more than their supermarket equivalent, but the long-term benefit definitely outweighs the cost. Limit your consumption of good quality processed meat - store bought and homemade – and enjoy as part of a balanced diet.
Also known as: sodium chloride, table salt, cheese salt, non-iodised salt, kosher salt or pickling salt. Used to add flavour to food and used in high volumes to prevent botulism. Measure by weight and avoid using salt that contains iodine.
Also known as: Prague Powder, Sodium Nitrite, Insta-Cure #1, Pink Curing Salt #1, Pink Salt, Cure Salt #1, Modern Cure, Quick Cure or Nitrite. Prague Powder #1 is the most common curing salt, used for meat that requires a short cure (days) before cooking or smoking before being eaten. The nitrite gives the meat the pink colour and cured flavour. It is toxic in large quantities, so it is coloured pink to avoid confusion with table salt. Store away from children and animals. Seasoned sausage can be smoked or cooked immediately. When adding Prague Powder #1 to brines or marinades, refrigerate for 8-12 hours before continuing with the recipe. Contains: 6.25% sodium nitrite, 92% sodium chloride, anti-caking agent and colouring agent. Dosage: 2.5g Prague Powder #1 per 1kg meat (1 teaspoon per 2.25kg) Examples: bacon, corned beef, cured fish, fresh sausages, jerky, wet-cured hams, pastrami and salami.
Check the packaging label for confirmation of the dosage rate.
Also known as: Pink Curing Salt #2, Sodium Nitrate, Cure Salt #2, Insta-Cure #2 or Nitrate. Prague Powder #2 is used for meat that is cured for a longer period (weeks to months) and does not require cooking or smoking before being eaten. The sodium nitrate converts to nitrite over the longer curing period. It is toxic in large quantities, so it is coloured pink to avoid confusion with table salt. Store away from children and animals.  Contains: 4% sodium nitrate, 6.25% sodium nitrite and 89.75% sodium chloride.   Dosage: 2.5g Prague Powder #2 per 1kg meat (1 teaspoon per 2.25kg) Examples: cured/dried sausages (like chorizo), cured ham, pepperoni, prosciutto and salami.
Check the packaging label for confirmation of the dosage rate.
Also known as: Potassium Nitrate Saltpeter was the traditional curing salt, however is no longer used due to the development of prague powder #1 and #2 (which gave more consistent results) and since has been linked to causing cancer. Some European countries have banned the use of saltpetre however it is still being used commercially: saltpetre is known as the food additive E252 in Europe and known as INS Number 252 in America, Australia and New Zealand.
No longer recommended.
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