Why the fuss around bacon and nitrites?
We've been bringing home the bacon for a millennia - some even say it was made in heaven itself.
However, science has uncovered some real evidence to show that the preservation of meat by salting was first practiced in China, Africa and South America, likely around a similar period. Though it would be some time before a key type of salt was seen in Europe - in Germany cured pork became known as baco, and similarly in France it was referred to as bako. Both variations having a similar meaning; buttock, ham or side of pork.
Before refrigeration heavy salting and air drying was to became the favoured method of preserving meat beyond a day or so, sometimes for many months. Consequently, todays bacon comes in many different forms and dozens of cure recipes, many of them a closely guarded secret or regional favourite.
Side or Streaky Bacon The most popular bacon of all in America is cut from the belly. With parallel layers of fat it can be smoked or unsmoked and served with or without the rind. Pancetta is a dried Italian version of streaky bacon which can either be smoked or unsmoked.
Back Bacon, Irish, Canadian (Loin) Mist popular in the UK, back bacon is taken from the loin or middle section of the back.
Collar Bacon (Neck).
Middle Bacon - A flavourful mix of both Back and Streaky
Cottage, Shoulder Bacon - Marbled similar to middle bacon and often rolled and tied after the cure to give larger slices like ham, though with more fat.
Cheek bacon - Face, neck (jowl) bacon - but not guanciale, which is a ready to eat deli meat used to flavour dishes such as Carbonara.
Smoked or au naturel, bacon is one of those foods most can't resist - everything tastes better with bacon! What better than a few rashers of crispy bacon and egg or bacon sandwich with brown sauce.
Although pork bacon is by far the most popular, mutton, turkey, and beef can also be made into great bacon. Even plant-based (vegan) versions are now readily available - what next?
Salt is the primary and only ingredient actually needed to make bacon. Though without the artificial preservatives, modern processing and added sugar, it would look and taste very different from what we see in the shops today.
Originally, bacon and all meats were preserved with just salt. Though the quality was hit and miss and varied according to the location from where the salt was extracted. Naturally, this meant the chenical make up of salt differed according to lacation and geological history. The earliest known records indicate salting was used as a method of curing meat in the Tarim Basin, in the Xinjiang province, China 5000 - 7000 years ago. Though, access to potassium nitrate salts didn't get going in Britain until the mid 18th century, when large reserves were found in southern India.
Saltpeter (Potassium Nitrate), a naturally occurring and generally beneficial element found in rock salts. Early butchers noticed particular batches of salts resulted in bacon that lasted longer, achieved a desirable crimson colour sooner and had a different flavour. The first records of the reddening effects of Saltpeter on meat was reported in Europe by the Romans, though .
Interestingly, Saltpeter is also an ingredient in the production of fertilisers and fireworks and more worryingly - explosives.
Buyer Beware! as the friend of a friend of ours recently found out, whilst attempting to purchase Potassium Nitrate without good reason. It may well land you in the attention of MI5 and a very early alarm call! - a true story.
Standard curing of commercial bacon takes just a few days. It involves as much as 25% water injected as a brine solution along with phosphates to hold the injected brine solution - much of this is still within the meat when we come to cook it.
The colouration and flavour of most modern bacon is also artificially enhanced due to the widespread use of the additives such as; potassium nitrate & sodium nitrite. Though permitted by EU and UK law, there are strict rules on the safe levels of nitrate and nitrite that may be used in food.
Based of the data, an increased cancer risk linked to Sodium Nitrate/Nitrite in conventional bacon is real. Though objectively, it may not be that simple!
Can we say for sure that a diagnosis of colon cancer is directly linked to the levels of processed meat in an individual's diet? Is there something we're missing?
Clearly not everyone who has ever eaten bacon is going to get the 'Big-C'. The current evidence shows that the threat of cancer increases due to high levels of Nitrosamines, not nitrate or nitrite itself. Nitrosamines are formed at safe levels naturally in the body, but can also be at high levels as a function of exposure to high heat, as in some methods for cooking bacon.
Therefore, heat is a major factor in increasing risks. Heat + nitrites + amino acids equals an increased risk in the formation of carcinogenic compounds. So less frazzle is the way to go. Sadly, that may mean the end of crispy bacon forever.
Nitrite free bacon - what is it?
Curing bacon without nitrites and injection of artificial preservatives, brines and sugar takes time!
Our delicious pork bacon is lovingly cared for, for up to 5 weeks. In creating our cures provenance and organic are key factors in selection of cure ingredients:
Organic Himalayan salt (The purest source on earth - no potassium nitrate)
Traditional and fresh herbs
Natural and Fresh fruits - without added sulphites
Spices - sourced as locally as possible.
The result is an all-natural nitrate free, or uncured bacon with a subtle fragrance and intense flavours, we call it the taste of provenance.
Even better! there’s no added water, sodium / potassium nitrite or phosphates and so no grey frothy discharge (from the release of phosphates and water) or shrinkage while cooking.
Primal Cut free-from naked bacon contains only fresh organic fruit sugars and nitrates present in the natural raw organic seasonings. As with our gluten-free sausages, both flavour and preservation are achieved by the careful selection of naturally organic ingredients. The best foods and most nutritious foods have always been made using natural ingredients.
Let's be entirely transparent and appreciate that nitrates are a naturally occurring compound fundamental to all life on earth (The Nitrogen Cycle). In terms of Primal bacon, both nitrate & nitrite are present in our Himalayan salts, herbs, spices, fresh fruits, etc. The important part for us is we avoid injecting strong synthetic solutions containing sugar, phosphate,nitrate or nitrite, this means that in the UK you'll see it labelled as Nitrite Free Bacon or Nitrate Free Bacon. Slightly different rules apply in Australia and the U.S.
Anything heat treated, or created artificially carries added risks, our bodies rely on natural nutrient-dense sources of real food, hence why all Primal Cut products fit this criteria.
To be clear, in terms of UK food labelling requirements; natural bacon, nitrate-free bacon, preservative-free bacon, unprocessed bacon, naked bacon and uncured bacon are all effectively the same thing. They all describe a type of bacon that's cured without the inorganic form of Potassium Nitrate/Sodium Nitrates.
Technically, no - though the devil is in the detail. Of course, this is important if you have an allergy to gluten or are aware of its damaging effects and choose to avoid it. Bacon is one of those foods that could be described as naturally gluten free as it not knowingly present or added to the cures used, that said! The risk of cross contamination should never be overlooked, particularly if you have coeliac disease.
Take the typical setting, where pastries, sausages, pies and possibly sandwiches are produced. The risk of cross-contamination in these scenarios would be real & not carry a 100% guarantee. The risk is the same for any individual or organisation producing or handling food. Though we see various foods being labelled as gluten-free, this is very much an internal statement - if not verified. Any foods, including naked bacon and regular bacon needing formal gluten free status need to be produced within a controlled environment. Audit & Certification to the AOECS Gluten Free Standard is the required route to achieving gluten free certification in the UK & EU.
Thankfully, our artisanal bacon (Primal Bacon) is gluten free (AOECS & Certified by Coeliac UK), a tasty, sugar free bacon, 100% allergen-free and totally delicious, nutrient-dense, and comes with the peace of mind you're eating real food with real provenance. Ethical, sustainable, nitrate free bacon!
Bringing home the bacon:
- discover the benefits & natural taste of Real-Bacon for yourself!
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