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Nitrates vs Nitrites

BacchusBacchus Posts: 6,019
edited 1:19PM in EggHead Forum
I have heard that "Nitates" are bad, and that "Nitrites" are relatively ok to consume. Some web research sheds little light, mostly claiming that nitrates, when consumed are converted to nitrites, and that is what has been linked to cancer in cases of excessive consumption. It has been suggested to use "pink salt" for curing, but a search of pink salt results in info stating that it is really "Prague Powder #1". Searching Prague Powder #1 results in info that it is table salt mixed with sodium nitrate OR sodium nitrite. It has been pointed out to me that commercially prepared cured meats such as bacon, hotdogs, sausage, etc now all contain nitrite and no nitrate, which seems to be accurate after viewing some ingredient labels.
I have some "Morton Tenderquick" which seems to be a common curing product on other forums. It contains .5% nitrate and .5% nitrite, whereas the Buckboard Bacon cure from High Mountian has .7%nitrite.

Any one have any insight?


  • stikestike Posts: 15,597
    What's the question?

    Read ruhlman's take on it

    You've got it a little mixed up, but even so it all comes down to moderation

    leaving out nitrites and nitrates from the discussion, none of the food products they are commonly used in would be considered healthy in any amount anyway

    I personally have no worries
    ed egli avea del cul fatto trombetta -Dante
  • If doctors and nutritionists can't agree on whether (or how much) nitrates and nitrites are harmful, I don't really think you're going to get a definitive answer here, just arguement, probably.

    Everything in'll be fine.
  • BacchusBacchus Posts: 6,019
    I guess my quesiton is..."is the TQ safe to use?"
  • KenHawkKenHawk Posts: 58 sells InstaCure #1 and #2:

    Insta Cure™ No.1, a basic cure used to cure all meats that require cooking, smoking, or canning. This includes poultry, fish, ham, bacon, luncheon meats, corned beef, pates and other products too numerous to mention. Formerly Prague Powder #1. Insta Cure™ #1 contains salt and sodium nitrite (6.25%).

    InstaCure #2, A cure specifically formulated to be used for making dry cured products such as pepperoni, hard salami, genoa salami, proscuitti hams, dried farmers sausage, capicola and more. These are products that do not require cooking, smoking, or refrigeration. Insta Cure™ No. 2 can be compared to the time release capsules used for colds--the sodium nitrate breaks down to sodium nitrite and then to nitric oxide to cure the meat over an extended period of time. Some meats require curing for up to 6 months. InstaCure #2 contains salt, sodium nitrite (6.25%) and sodium nitrate (1%).

    If I remember correctly, the explanation you're looking for is Charcuterie, by Ruhlman and Polcyn. (Book not with at the time.)

    Ruhlamn covers it several places on his site as well:
  • BacchusBacchus Posts: 6,019
    Thanks for the link.
  • fishlessmanfishlessman Posts: 21,551
    from reading about it way back. nitrites prevent botulism, nitrates are in everything from drinking water to lettuce ;)
  • DavekatzDavekatz Posts: 763
    I found this interesting page from Applegate Farms:

    My nutritionist says they are both bad. Applegate (who makes their money selling uncured meat) says that basically that sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite probably aren't good for you, but they still use naturally occurring nitrites on their products.

    Sounds like it's mostly a matter of using as little as you can to get the effect you want. we eat uncured bacon, but I still use Morton's to make my Canadian and buckboard bacon.
    Food & Fire - The carnivorous ramblings of a gluten-free grill geek.
  • stikestike Posts: 15,597
    why wouldn't it be?

    nitrites and nitrates have been used in curing for hundred, if not thousands, of years.
    ed egli avea del cul fatto trombetta -Dante
  • stikestike Posts: 15,597
    their bacon isn't "uncured", it's salt cured. though it sounds healthier to sell it as nitrite/nitrate free, you should understand that it is essentially covered in salt and sugar over every square inch, and allowed to sit that way until as much salt as possible is absorbed. kind of make the superiority of "nitrite free" seem a bit more like salesmanship than anythng else.

    we are equivocating when we say that nitrites/nitrates are "bad", but that salt cured is "good".

    truth is, you cannot get the same flavors, piquancy, and texture from salt curing. but that doesn't mean salt curing is inferior, it is merely 'different'. no one would cure prosciutto with nitrites because the texture would be different than what you want. conversely, the texture of bacon isn't quite the same when salt-cured. it's just a style. you can't make chocolate milk with carob, but you can make carob flavored milk.

    salt-curing isn't exactly "healthy" either... it's all in how much you eat.
    ed egli avea del cul fatto trombetta -Dante
  • Nitrates and nitrites may be bad for you, but botulism is definitely bad for you. It certainly inhibits presidential campaigns, just ask John Kerry.
  • KenHawkKenHawk Posts: 58
    More to your last question, I prefer to use InstaCure #1 because it is only nitrites. When I finally graduate to making Salumi, I will use InstaCure #2 with nitrates.

    Would I throw away the TQ? Not at all. Do I REALLY think it matters? No, the research seems way to murky.
  • gdenbygdenby Posts: 5,565
    As fishlessman noted, lots of stuff, including lettuce, have nitrates. In fact, lots of things have nitrites. The immediate concern is that nitrites in small but sufficient quantities can be lethal. I've read that the "pink" in pink powder is added to insure no one will mistake it for regular salt, and so poison themselves by accident. So any use must be done carefully.

    The issue that causes debate is what the long term effects of ingesting nitrites is, because they become part of nitrosamines, known carcinogens, inside the body. The concern is that because so many processed meats have nitrites, and that it is so easy to consume large quantities, over a period of time is increases the incidence of cancer.

    So, when I look at that great big, luscious Hungarian paprika salami I have in the fridge, I must remind myself that it should be used as a condiment, not a meal.
  • KenHawkKenHawk Posts: 58
    Applegate does exactly what Ruhlman mentions in the link I pasted above.

    The do a salt cure WITH celery juice which is high in nitrates. Nitrates in contact with the bacteria in the meat turn into nitrites. These nitrites keep the meat pink, prevent spoilage, and make it taste like bacon.

    The way they make bacon is the same way it's been done for centuries. Someone in marketing thought they would sell more if they kept the words sodium nitrite off the ingredient list - allowing them to use USDA terms like “Uncured" and "No Nitrites" or "No Nitrites Added".

    It's all explaied on the Applegate link that was posted.
  • DavekatzDavekatz Posts: 763
    It's "uncured" as far as the USDA is concerned because they don't use sodium nitrite or sodium nitrate. But you are right that they are curing it using other agents (nitrite-rich salt and celery juice in this case). Might just be a matter of semantics, but I still wonder if there's a benefit in using naturally occurring nitrites.

    None of this stuff is health food. Damn tasty, yes, but not something you want to eat a ton of. And that alone probably makes a lot of the discussion moot - by the time you ate enough cured meat for the nitrites to kill you with cancer, the sodium-induced high blood pressure would have probably already done you in ;).

    I just don't care for a whole lot of additives in my food, period. The shorter a products ingredient list is, the happier I am.
    Food & Fire - The carnivorous ramblings of a gluten-free grill geek.
  • stikestike Posts: 15,597
    in curing whole chunks of meat, it's less about botulism than it is about firming the meat, giving it texture, and killing the microbes...

    nitrates are used additionally (with nitrites) in dry curing (in air) sausages, where the meat has been ground and bacteria has thereby been allowed to reach the INTERIOR of the meat. when it's hanging, at pretty much room temp, the interior of the meat would be a perfect place for botulism (no oxygen, wet, plenty of sugars, warm). the nitrates break down over time, into nitrite, providing a continual anti-microbial environment.

    bonus question, then. why don't i need to use nitrates in the ham which is hanging right next to the salami, at room temp?

    i frankly think that is what makes this stuff beutiful. to understand WHY a sausage tastes the way it does. or WHY prosciutto and country ham are almost the same thing, but entirely different.

    otherwise, a person's just eating stuff and saying "mmm. tastes good". might be ok to do that, but you'd be missing the whole show, i think.
    ed egli avea del cul fatto trombetta -Dante
  • stikestike Posts: 15,597
    hahaha. i didn't get that far. so they still sure with nitrates (nitrites), just introduce it in a different form?

    ed egli avea del cul fatto trombetta -Dante
  • EggsakleyEggsakley Posts: 1,016
    Just as a side note here, as an environmental scientist and analtst, here in Okla nitrates (No3) are limited in drinking water at a level of 10 ppm (Parts per million) which is relatively low when com[ared to the level in the cooking additives which are being discussed here. This regulation is primarily in place for the very young and immuno-compromised population. The main adverse effect of nitrates in infants is the "Blue Baby" syndrome, but older individuals should not have any adverse reactions to it at this level. Use common sense with these products and all will be well as far as current thinking goes. I often wonder how our ancestors survived using these products and we cannot. Seems a bit odd. :blink:
  • Well, we are all going to die. Just some of us are going to eat tasty wonderful food and others aren't. When I eat bacon I want it to be cured and the back bacon I got in the fridge curing as we speak is better then anything I have ever purchased.

    I am going to eat it on pizza or on biscuits with an egg and yellow cheese. When I meet St. Peter he is going to ask me for my recipes and at what dome temp! :)
  • KenHawkKenHawk Posts: 58
    "I frankly think that is what makes this stuff beautiful. to understand WHY a sausage tastes the way
    it does. or WHY prosciutto and country ham are almost the same thing, but entirely different."

    Best explanation yet!
  • BobSBobS Posts: 2,485
    I like my cured meats!

    In an industrial environment, nitrogen is a very serious hazard!!!, yet it makes up almost 80% of the air we breath. On the other side, even oxygen will kill you if the concentration is too high.
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