Sunday, October 09, 2011

PorcSalt's Nitrate-Nitrite Screed
A welcome riposte to the food police

For centuries, according to Matthew Ridgway of PorcSalt (Headhouse Square's newest vendor, selling some awesome, though necessarily pricey, charcuterie), meats were cured with salt and saltpeter, a.k.a. sodium nitrate, which when in contact with natural bacteria in meats is converted to nitrite. Today, pure nitrite, or in combination with nitrite, is used in exceedingly small quantities by commercial bacon, ham and other commercial cured meat manufacturers.

At his Headhouse stall today, amid the bacon, guanciale, and foie gras, Matthew had copies of a "white paper" on his table entitled "The Truth About the Dreaded Nitrate..." In it, Matthew recounts the misleading nitrate cancer-scare of the 1970s and exposes the sham of the "no-added nitrate" products sold by Whole Foods and other purveyors.

By using dried celery juice in the cures, these "no-added nitrate" products have considerably more nitrate-nitrite than commercial products. The fact that these nitrates are derived from vegetables rather than natural minerals is irrelevant: nitrate is nitrate, nitrite is nitrite, no matter the source -- it's the same molecule.

Now, this doesn't mean that the added dried celery juice (or mineral nitrate) is a bad thing. It's made "natural" hot dogs and hams much more palatable (the truly nitrate/nitrite-free versions are awful) and considerably safer than they would be without them.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Agriculture prohibits meats cured with pure nitrate or nitrate from being labelled "organic" or "natural", Matthew writes. So the marketers go out of their way to use the vegetable-based nitrates, even though celery has 400 times the nitrites of a slice of commercial bacon, according to the cured meat maven. You'd get considerably more nitrites from a serving of spinach than commercial bacon.

As Matthew concludes, "Numerous scientific panels have evaluated sodium nitrite safety and the conclusions have essentially been the same: sodium nitrite is not only safe, it's an essential public health tool because it has a proven track record of preventing botulism."

No wonder Dr. Brown's Cel-ray Tonic (my favorite quaff with a pastrami sandwich, cured with nitrate/nitrite) was originally marketed as a health food.

Stop by Matthew's PorcSalt stall at either Headhouse or the Saturday Rittenhouse market to pick up the white paper slong with some of his tasty charcuterie.

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