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Nitrates, celery nitrate, or no nitrates in cured meats?

 
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I was wondering whether the safety of not using nitrates changes, depending on what you are making?

I'm comfortable with not using any nitrate for my cured pork saucisson and chorizo sausages, which I make with 32mm chorizo-size casings. I use more salt in my sausages than what nitrate-containing sausages do, and I also use red wine in them, which would increase the acidity. I also cure them in an area that gets good airflow, with our natural late autumn/early winter temperature of around 10°c. I wonder if any one of these factors over another makes these small sausages less risky?

Many recipes for cured sausages made in thick casings call for nitrate. I've also noticed that cured sausages containing beef usually have nitrates too.

Prosciutto is traditionally made without any nitrates - I wonder if the increased amount of salt is what makes it safe?

I make my bacon without nitrates too, I've made both wet-cured and buried-in-salt bacon. Most bacon recipes do call for nitrates though, I wonder if that is more due to the look and texture (and reduced saltiness maybe) rather than safety?

I prefer to avoid added nitrates (including celery powder) all together and stick to recipes that I know are safe for this, but I'm also interested to learn what exactly it is that makes some recipes safer than others.
 
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The nitrate is specifically for botulin toxin...

Botulin will not form in an environment with nitrates, no oxygen or high acidity.  If you can guarantee one or all three of those you should be safe from botulism.  Salt has no effect upon botulin, Sodium Chloride is a very different creature from Sodium Nitrate or Potassium Nitrate.

Celery seed can be used as a nitrate as it is naturally fairly high in nitrates, but in the end is not really different than using the powdered nitrate that you would buy, either way nitrate is nitrate and toxic to us.  When compared to the dangers of botulism I would say it is better to use toxic nitrates rather than take the risk of one of the most lethal neurotoxins known.  Botulism kills in even very tiny amounts and does long term permanent damage in even smaller quantities.

One of the tricks to nitrates is the fact that you apply them to the external surfaces, they do impregnate the meat but not to a great depth.  When you use cured meat you can wash the outside removing a great deal of the nitrate.  With modern industry they actually inject the nitrates into the bacon, hot dogs, sausages etc which leads to a much higher amount actually being ingested.  I can eat an entire platter of "my" cured bacon and be begging for more, whereas store bought bacon makes me sick to my stomach after literally two pieces. Modern industry injects the salt and the nitrate "into" the bacon where on my bacon the salt and nitrate is applied to the surface and then later washed off before I slice and cook it.

I would say as long as you are using plenty of acidity in your sausages you should be safe from botulism, or in making prosciutto making certain that no oxygen can get into the tissue for the botulin to grow with.  One doesn't "have" to have nitrate, it is just a sure fire way to be safe from botulin though.  

I am assuming that your basic thinking here is health, but I suppose it could also be about availability of nitrate.  As for availability of nitrate, one can actually create nitrate quite easily by boiling down urea , the left over powder is primarily Potassium nitrate.  This was commonly used in England long ago in the production of gun powder, they would collect and boil down urea into potassium nitrate to add to charcoal and sulfur in the production of gunpowder.  This same nitrate may also be used as a food additive to protect from botulin.  This means that anyone who pees has the means of easily producing nitrates to cure meat in a survival scenario.
 
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Roy Long wrote:The nitrate is specifically for botulin toxin...

Botulin will not form in an environment with nitrates, no oxygen or high acidity.



Botulism bacteria can only grow in areas with no or low oxygen (such as preserved meats), C. botulinum can survive low amounts of oxygen but it cannot produce the toxin under those conditions. But you are correct that nitrate is used to stop it.
 
Roy Long
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Sorry, stated that backwards....  Thinking of two ideas at the same time, sealing the meat from the entry of the botulin and the ability to reproduce "in" oxygenated environments...   Came out exactly backwards in statements after that...  
 
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What might be the pros / cons of using celery powder vs regular old sodium nitrate?  Anyone know the process involved in getting sodium nitrate?  What do they extract it from / isolate it?
 
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I make nitrate free bacon then freeze for storage and fry, no worries.  It does take on a darker color, though.  And after a year in the freezer(which it rarely lasts) I think the flavor degrades a bit.  I've never made salami, but if I did, I would use nitrates.  I actully bought some pink salt before the pandemic hit in case I needed to preserve the hundreds of lbs of meat in my freezers.
 
Roy Long
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Simon Johnson wrote:What might be the pros / cons of using celery powder vs regular old sodium nitrate?  Anyone know the process involved in getting sodium nitrate?  What do they extract it from / isolate it?



Some differences between "Sodium nitrite" and "celery seed"...  

Prague powder #1...   6.25%  Sodium nitrite, used for fast curing of meats that will be eaten relatively quickly and no stored for a long time.

Celery seed.............  2.75% Sodium nitrate....

Prague powder #2...   6.25% Sodium nitrite and 4% Sodium nitrate.  Used for long term storage as the Sodium nitrate is slowly broken down by bacterial action within the cured product into Sodium nitrite.

As for how the Sodium nitrite is produced as compared to how natural Sodium nitrite is produced it is all the same in the end, Sodium nitrite is Sodium nitrite and will have the same effect in meat and your body whether it be natural or a manmade chemical.

There is also Saltpetre that is also used to cure meat as well.  It is Pottasium nitrate and has been used for centuries in meat curing, though it has proven to be less reliable in modern industry than using nitrites.

Celery is a viable curing agent especially in long term storage applications, but does not protect as well immediately as Sodium Nitrite will.

That doesn't answer the question of how Sodium nitrite is produced but should answer the question on what the difference between Sodium nitrite and celery seed is.
 
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Hey Kate,

Curing meats without nitrite is totally possible through the proper synergy of lowered pH, salt concentration, and reduced water activity, so I'm thinking your small format sausages are probably working out because you are getting the appropriate log reduction in pH quickly enough, and an eventually low enough water activity to exclude botulism. Traditional prosciutto is salt buried, which is another way to exclude botulism because it cannot survive salt concentrations above 5%. I advocate for the use of nitrites (either natural, via celery juice extract, or synthetic) in curing because on the home scale I cannot guarantee that users of my books are going to achieve the proper parameters for safe curing without them. But it IS entirely possible, as your sausages have proven. The salt content you are using is likely not the factor, as the other user mentioned, but the pH and dehydration over time are such that botulism can't thrive. As for how nitrite is produced, it is either synthesized in labs or mined in the form of nitratine. You can make it from urea, as the other user mentioned. You can also make it from other chemical reactions but you might not want to be dealing with some of the chemicals involved (aluminum nitrate or lead nitrate, for example).

The only issue with celery products are that their nitrite composition is inconsistent, meaning that in a specific lot of that product you could have higher amounts of nitrite than are needed to safely cure the product, or you could have lower amounts. As such, package recommendations are for the use of a slight excess of celery product, which will definitely get you to a safe end product, but potentially (though not absolutely) with an overall higher actual amount of nitrite.

The compound nitrite is naturally occurring and we consume it regularly when we eat vegetables. Normal metabolism converts it to nitric oxide-- no problem. Same as getting a little sun on your back. Similarly, in cured meats that are NEVER cooked, such as your sausages, the nitrite is converted by microbes into nitric oxide, with trace secondary metabolites of nitrosamine. Nitrosamine is a known carcinogen, however the amounts produced in cured meats that are not cooked have not been shown harmful. The issue with nitrosamine arises when humans cure meat with nitrites and then cook it, producing nitrosamine at high levels. This is the rub with store-bought cured meats, because the FDA doesn't allow commercial sale of cooked, ready to eat meat products that are produced without nitrites. Whether the producer uses celery products or synthetic nitrite, the end result is the same: nitrosamine.

I urge my students to take control of their food by using what science they have access to to inform their decisions. In the case of bacon, for example, the product will cure relatively quickly and be cooked at temperatures well above boiling point for longer than 20 minutes-- a process which is known to kill botulism toxin. (note that botulism toxin is a secretion of the spores of the botulinum bacteria. The bacterium itself will not make you ill-- it has to be reproducing to make spores and those spores secreting toxins to produce the illness). In the case of this hot-smoked bacon, the use of nitrite is indeed optional. If you were going to COLD smoke the bacon, however with temperatures not rising above 80F/26C, then I would recommend use of a nitrite.

Always thinking whether the product will be cooked or not. If not- always use nitrite OR ensure through pH readings and water activity readings that you are safe. If you are cooking, are temperatures above boiling point and cooking times longer than 20 minutes? If so nitrite may be omitted. You will see grayer coloring in products that do not have nitrite in them.

By the way, parameters for botulinum: It generally cannot thrive in water activity below 0.97 and pH below 4.2. Safe curing of sausages require a reduction in pH below 5 within the first two days of fermentation and an eventual pH of 4.2 or less if you are trying not to use nitrites. Hope this helps!
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