Recently, I delved deeper into the realm of cured and uncured meats, and to my surprise, I discovered that the distinction between the two isn’t solely about the curing process itself.
Rather, it lies in the packaging legislative aspects that govern the use of certain additives. Let’s explore this intriguing aspect further.
What is the difference between uncured and cured meat?
Packaging and additives are often the same with different sources.
Cured vs Uncured Meat
Cured meat has sea salt as the main curing agent in many commercial products – sodium nitrate or sodium nitrates is also added to give pork the pink hue and to protect the meat from botulism.
Uncured meat has sea salt as the main curing agent, it also has sodium nitrates and/or nitrites. However, these additives are from natural derivatives such as beetroot or celery powder.
The comparison in laboratories has shown no difference in the chemical composition of these additives, in terms of the effects.
Also, you will want to note, we have nitrites inside our bodies and many dark green vegetables we consume have nitrites, too.
The main issues are too much consumption and also heated nitrites may change into carcinogens in some research and literature that I’ve read.
Cured and Uncured Meat Has Nothing to Do with Nitrates/Nitrites
It’s actually a legislative packaging mistake.
Cured Meat: Traditional Preservation Techniques
When we hear the term “cured meat,” we often think of the age-old preservation techniques.
Now naturally occurring salt Petre and potassium nitrate is sometimes used.
These compounds have been utilized for centuries to enhance flavor, preserve freshness, and inhibit bacterial growth.
Uncured Meat: A Modern Twist on Preservation
Here’s where the packaging legislative aspect comes into play.
While uncured meat may sound like it hasn’t undergone any preservation process, that’s not entirely accurate. In fact, uncured meat is still cured (how cured meat is made link), but the additives used are derived naturally, such as beetroot powder or celery juice.
These natural sources contain nitrates, albeit in smaller quantities compared to traditional curing agents.
Interestingly, the packaging laws allow for such additives to be considered “uncured” due to their natural origin.
The Great Debate: Misconceptions and Clarifications
Understanding the nuances of cured and uncured meat can be confusing, especially with misleading terminology.
It’s important to debunk the misconception that uncured meat is completely devoid of any curing process.
Instead, it’s crucial to acknowledge that uncured meat utilizes naturally derived additives, thereby complying with packaging regulations.
Different Curing Agents of the Past and Present
Now just to elaborate,
Sodium nitrate, salt petre (also spelled saltpeter), and potassium nitrate are all different chemical compounds, but they are related in terms of their composition and usage.
Sodium nitrate (NaNO3) is a salt that is commonly used as a food preservative, particularly in cured meats. It helps prevent bacterial growth, enhances flavor, and gives cured meats their characteristic pink color. Sodium nitrate is soluble in water and is often used in combination with sodium nitrite (NaNO2) to achieve the desired preservation and flavor effects.
Pink Color so it doesn’t get confused with any type of sea salt or table salt. Since it does need to be measured cautiously
For longer-term dry curing, Nitrites and Nitrates have been used to breakdown Nitrites into Nitrates – this mix is called Pink Curing Salt No.2 for recipes – processes are taking longer than 30 days.
Salt petre or saltpeter, on the other hand, refers to potassium nitrate (KNO3), which is another salt compound. It has been historically used in various applications, including as a food preservative, fertilizer, and in the production of gunpowder.
However, its use in food preservation has largely been replaced by sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite due to safety and health concerns.
Potassium nitrate (KNO3) is similar to sodium nitrate in terms of its chemical composition, but they have slightly different properties and applications. Potassium nitrate is less soluble in water compared to sodium nitrate and has been traditionally used in curing processes, such as in the production of corned beef.
It can also be used in some specialty cured meats, but it is less common in modern food preservation practices.
Overall, while sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate are chemically related and have been used for food preservation purposes in the past, sodium nitrate (along with sodium nitrite) has become the more prevalent choice in the food industry today.
Empowering Consumer Choices in the topic of cured and uncured meats and understanding the packaging legislative aspects can greatly influence our decision-making process. It is recognized that uncured meats are still cured but naturally derived additives are utilised. Here we gain a clearer perspective on the choices available.
So, next time you are at the meat counter, remember to read the labels and appreciate the choices that fit your needs and values.
In New Zealand where I live many government agents have been educated about just using salt without nitrates/nitrites at all. Though, this is not the case in America as of writing this.
I’ve also written about Cured vs Process Meats, you can read about those here.
Thanks for dropping by, I’ve been passionate about meat curing for decades.
I Hunt, Fish, Forage, Buy, Butcher (Wannabe Norcini), Make, Savor (I’m not a Saviour), and love curing and smoking meat.
Learning and consuming in a circular fashion, I am always interested in what is happening around the curing and smoking world
Seeking the passionate behind the passion.