The “Cure” for Processed Meats

A few of the most common questions I answer daily revolve around cured and uncured meats, and how clean-label curing alternatives fit into this conversation. For that reason, I have decided to answer a few of them here. If you have any questions you do not see answered below, please feel free to reach out and ask! You can ask questions here.

Brandy Cleveland, JRW Birmingham, AL

Q: What are cured meats?

A: Curing means to add nitrite and/or nitrate with salt to a meat product to achieve preservation.

Q: What are uncured meats?

A: Code of Federal Regulations Title 9 Part 317.17 states the following:
“Any product, such as bacon and pepperoni, which is required to be labeled by a common or usual name or descriptive name in accordance with 317.2(c)(1) and to which nitrate or nitrite is permitted or required to be added may be prepared without nitrate or nitrite and labeled with such common or usual name or descriptive name when immediately preceded with the term “Uncured” as part of the product name in the same size and style of lettering as the product name, provided that the product is found by the Administrator to be similar in size, flavor, consistency, and general appearance to such product as commonly prepared with nitrate or nitrite, or both”.

PHEW. Let me summarize:

First of all, did you take out Sodium Nitrate or Sodium Nitrite?
Does the product look the same?
Does the product taste the same?

If you answered yes to the three above, chances are the product qualifies to be labeled “uncured”.

Q: How do ingredients like celery powder cure meat?

A: The same way that sodium nitrate/nitrite does. Sure, there are some details behind different kinds of celery powder and how they work, but that’s a conversation for a different blog. Also when formulating celery into your products, take note that celery is considered an allergen in Canada and the EU.

Q: What is sodium erythorbate used for?

A: A cure accelerator. Meaning, it makes sodium nitrate/nitrite develop cured properties (particularly color) quicker so we can keep up with modern day production speeds.

Q: How does cherry powder work in cured meats?

A: The same way erythorbate does. Likewise, it reacts with nitrite to reduce it to nitric oxide, which is where the cured color comes from.

Q: Can you have an uncured product without celery powder or cherry juice powder?

A: Yep. Natural extracts exist that accomplish cured meat color and flavor without any detectible residual nitrites in the finished product. Fortunately, these products are allergen free and have the added benefit of shelf life improvements because of the strong antioxidative capabilities of the extracts. Most of these extracts eliminate the requirement for a cure accelerator such as sodium erythorbate or cherry juice powder because of its high concentration of ascorbic acid already present in the product.

Of course, the conversation around uncured meats is ever-changing, and is different in every country. Questions? We love to discuss this stuff at JRW. Talk to us! Click here to contact us.


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