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Nitrate Free Bacon- what's the difference?

Is there any noticeable difference between regular bacon and nitrate free bacon? I see nitrate free bacon at Trader Joe's all the time and have been tempted to try it. What brand should I try? Thanks, Richie

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  1. America's Test Kitchen had the results of their bacon testing and they disliked the nitrite free sample because it was too pale and didn't taste like bacon.

    The winner with nitrites was Farmland.

    5 Replies
    1. re: sharonanne

      Niman Ranch Dry Cured Center Cut Bacon won the taste test for Premium Brands ($5/12 oz. at TJ's); Farmland ($4/lb) won the taste test for Supermarket Brands.

      Niman Ranch was the "hands-down winner over Farmland."


      1. re: maria lorraine

        Yeah, I wasn't impressed by the other Niman Ranch bacons, but I recently tried the Dry Cured, Applewood Smoked at TJ's and it was excellent.

      2. re: sharonanne

        Of course they did. Most people like fake foods that taste good, but I like real food that taste even better and that goes for bacon too! I wish the FDA would stop chemically making so called food. I am so sick of them adding extra stuff to the foods we eat. Let's start eating the foods that GOD put on this earth for us without the added nitrites. FDA stop playing with are food!

        1. re: nongmos

          What form of bacon has "GOD put on this earth for us without the added nitrites"?

          Or, nitrates?

          Cured bacon has nitrates and nitrites. Uncured bacon has nitrates and nitrites from celery juice. Either way you're getting them.

          1. re: nongmos

            Using nitrates to preserve food long predates the existence of the FDA, even before the existence of the USA. Saltpeter (potasium nitrate) has been used as a preservative for hundreds of years. Remember that widespread refrigeration only became available in the last century. Without preserving by some process (e.g. curing, smoking, drying) there would have been no way to keep the meat from a slaughtered animal safe and edible for very long after the kill.

            Welcome to Chowhound but I think you should research traditional methods of food preservation a bit more before declaring nitrates some sort of evil government conspiracy.

        2. In my experience it is the difference between tasty bacon and fake. Nitrite, whatever the health issues, make a superior tasting bacon. I wish it weren't the case but...

          3 Replies
          1. re: JudiAU

            fair enough. i suppose the question is where you draw the line between eating something based PRIMARILY upon the taste and eating it thinking something about how it affects your body.

            1. re: ben61820

              Yep. Go figure. We don't eat processed foods generally and we eat organic foods almost exclusively but I make an exception for those lovely nitrites. We also cure a lot of our own meats and use them at home.

            2. re: JudiAU

              I love Trader Joe's Nitrite-free (except for the celery juice) pre cooked bacon. Just good rich bacony flavor. And it keeps so well. Longer than regular bacon. So handy, too.

            3. Nitrite-free bacon usually has much more sodium, because they add more salt to compensate. I always find it too salty. And the worst thing out there is nitite-free turkey bacon -- it is so awful that I wonder who in the world buys that stuff.

              1 Reply
              1. re: pitterpatter

                I was going to mention the same thing. I remember looking it over in TJ's and thinking I am just substituting one no-no for another. I ended up sticking with the Niman Ranch product.

              2. NOBODY better mess with my bacon. It's one of my last vices and I'll guard it until my heart stops beating. Purveyors of fakon, be forewarned!!!

                5 Replies
                1. re: bkhuna

                  Actually, they are linking more disseases to smaller amounts of nitrites every day. It is a dangerous gamble. If you are eating them in lunch meat, bacon, ham etc., it tends to add up. A huge study was published this month about increased heart attack rates with only a few servings a week...keep in mind, nitrites are almost always the last ingredient. That makes it barely present in a serving of food.

                    1. re: hsirrapyesdnil

                      I've just combed through the medical studies from the National Library of Medicine on nitrites in foods, and my sense is that the danger of nitrites in food is overstated. Nitrites are in all plants, especially celery, in our drinking water; nitrities are commonly used in beneficial medicines. My take on things is that a little delicious bacon every now and then is not overconsumption of nitrites, and that perhaps any alarm about nitrities should first be addressed to their presence in our tap water. A search of naturally occurring nitrites in plants is also interesting.

                      1. re: maria lorraine

                        Intersting you mentioned celery...

                        It reminded me that a few months ago I read an article that claimed some nitrate-free bacon makers cheated by using celery powder (which as you stated contains high levels of nitrates) instead of sodium nitrate. Since the producer didn't use sodium nitrate, they can claim it to be nitrate-free, even though they added nitrates via the celery powder. Also, you won't necessarily see celery powder on the ingredients list it can be listed as a "natural flavoring".

                        Kind of weasely in my book if that is the case.

                        1. re: maria lorraine

                          Just because it's found in water and the plants doesn't mean it's innocuous:

                          "Primary sources of organic nitrates include human sewage and livestock manure, especially from feedlots. The primary inorganic nitrates which may contaminate drinking water are potassium nitrate and ammonium nitrate both of which are widely used as fertilizers."

                          They are present in such amounts as a result of industrial agricultural practices, not because it's normal and healthy.

                          Link: http://www.freedrinkingwater.com/wate...

                    2. My feelings on nitrate free bacon is- WHY??? Since bacon with or without nitrates is not good for you anyhow, why not eat the more flavorful Nitrate ladened variety??? The amounts of bacon with Nitrates you would have to consume per sitting/lifetime for the Nitrates to actually have an ill effect on your health is so massive it makes no sense to remove the Nitrates. After all, if you are going to consume those massive amounts of bacon the FAT will kill you before the Nitrates can....why not enjoy the tasty Nitrate flavorful variety??

                      1. i dont think uncured bacon from a properly raised pig would be bad for you at all. decent protein, good bit of healthy fat (again, so long as little piggy was raised proper). no probs as far as i can tell.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: ben61820

                          In what way would pork fat be considered healthy?

                          1. re: danna

                            Danna - Don't believe everything the diet police tell you:


                        2. So sorry to be disagreeing with entities whom I respect, such as Trader Joe's and Niman Ranch, but in my world bacon is by definition CURED PORK, PERIOD. If it's not cured it's not bacon. It may be a somewhat bacony substance, cut from wherever you normally get the meat to make bacon (which varies from country to country anyway), but until it's cured it's just pork. Salt pork, smoked pork, dried pork...but pork. Could be good. Could be utterly, divinely delicious...but it ain't bacon!

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: Will Owen

                            Will, isn't the function of the nitrates just to preserve the pink color? I make my own corned beef, and it sure tastes like corned beef to me, even better--it's just not PINK.

                            1. re: toodie jane

                              Mostly to retard bacterial growth during the long curing stage and yes it gives the nice pink color. All the nitrate free sausage and bacon at TJ and WF has natural nitrates from celery juice. Still nitrates but they are allowed to say uncured and nitrate free. Silly rules and marketing preying on peoples food fears and pulling the wool over their eyes

                              1. re: scubadoo97

                                Actually they are allowed to say "uncured and nitrate free*" with an asterisk.

                                And then in small print.
                                "*Except for those naturally occurring in celery juice."

                                1. re: kmcarr

                                  I've seen packages that didn't have an asterisk. Or maybe it's written so small I didn't see it

                          2. My favourite bacon happens to be nitrate free -- Woodstown Farms. It tastes a little less salty and much more piggy like. Love love love the stuff. I'm not against nitrates as a rule in Bacon, but I suspect the lack of nitrates in this particular one helps make it taste better.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: orangewasabi

                              I bought the Woodstown Farms in a supermarket, but now I don't know which one. It was either Giant, Harris Teeter, Kroger or Food Lion. Does anyone know who carries it? Thanks in advance for your help.

                              1. re: William Gray

                                I gave up on the computer and just called them up. It's at Harris Teeter.Sorry to bother you all.

                            2. Well, the nitrate-free Welshire Farms center cut thick cut bacon tastes better than good nitrate-rich bacon, which I say loving the latter....

                              Btw, curing does not need to involve nitrates. Salt alone was a traditional curing agent for millennia. Some of the greatest cured meats are not cured with nitrates.

                              9 Replies
                              1. re: Karl S

                                technically you are totally correct, karl S. BUT, nowadays 'curing' in the common lexicon refers to nitrate-curing, as opposed to salt-curing.

                                1. re: ben61820

                                  Well, I hope people who don't like un"cured" ham avoid...Parma ham and most of the greatest hams in the world, among many other things.

                                  Which shows the common lexicon is debauched.

                                  1. re: ben61820

                                    I don't know why you would think that. I would never consider it normal to automatically assume that curing involves sodium nitrate a.k.a pink powder. While it is true that nearly all cured meats one purchases commercially have been treated with pink powder, in the restaurant/home side of curing it's rarely used. Bacon is actually quite easy to make, and if a good pork belly is used (heritage farms for example) it's a really superior product to any commercially available stuff. Likewise, homemade smoked or cured salmon can be (I find it usually is) far superior to commercially available stuff (depending on the chef ;p). Unfortunately these days, it's not in many cook's repertoire to smoke or cure at home (not that it's the most convenient process)

                                    It should be noted that the major health issue is *cooked* foods that have nitrates in them, which produces nitrosamines, a highly carcinogenic substance. "Raw" meats such as salumi and prosciutto that have been treated with sodium nitrate are less unhealthy because they are typically not cooked.

                                    As noted in his cookbook, Thomas Keller uses pink powder for his foie terrine as a color preservative. (If you make your own torchon you'll see that it quickly discolors)

                                    1. re: fooddude37

                                      Nitrates and nitrites use in curing processes started in the early 1900's (~1915-20) since it was discovered that in relatively small amount these compounds will inhibit germination of C. bot spores and hence formation of botulinum toxin. Most of the problems at that time were due to improper (i.e. not sufficient heat tratement) canning of hams and other pork products. At that time it was v. common for a packer to say process (can and thermally process) 10,000 hams and after 2-3 months to find out that 3,000 of these cans were swallen. At that point it was the norm to sort and release the non-swallen contianers and if you had any scientific inclanation then the next time you where producing you would try to learn from your mistakes and see if the process could be improved to limit or eliminate the swallen continer (your basic trial and error advancement of science). However, the sorting process was not always "efficent" and number of "spoiled" containers would get out to the market and cause sickness and fatalities. Even more interesting where some "enterprising" folks who would take the swallen cans, open them, remove the product (hams) and "re-juvenate" (wash) them so that these could be sold to unsuspecting consumers. Again, sickness and deaths were common if such practices were used on products in which C. bot has porduced the toxin. This all stems from the fact that when you have a situation where C.bot containing product is packaged in a hermetically sealed (canned) containers then over time anaerobic conditions develop and since C. bot grows v. well under anaerobic conditions (and competing micoorganisms do not) C. bot can/will produce toxin which if ingested will cause muscular paralysis and can lead to death (diaphram stops working - can not inhale - you die). This will only happen if not enough "heat" is applied to "deactivate" C. bot spores. Addition of ~150-200 ppm of nitrate compounds in combination with sufficient level of salt (~3.5%) and pasteurization process (i.e. NOT sterilization) will render canned meat (pork) based products "commercially sterile/shelf stable" which means that they will not "spoil" under "normal" conditions or distribution and sale. It is interesting to note that only pasteurization treatement is required and not full blown sterilization "cook" (1/5-1/6 of the "thermal" step is required hence the product texture is better). Another side "benefit" of adding nitrates is color retention by the meat (i.e. nice pink color). It is also worth mentioning that C. bot has been shown to grow and produce toxin in improperly produced sausages even though these products are not packaged under anaerobic conditions. Having said that the current growing trend of producing "nitrate free" products is quite interesting since it is only time when an "incident" will occur where soemone will get sick from a C.bot toxin. I do not wan to sound alarmist but this is simply "Murphy's Law" - if it can it will.

                                      1. re: Pollo

                                        "Nitrates and nitrites use in curing processes started in the early 1900's (~1915-20)"

                                        Not according to McGee. They've been used for preserving meat since the 16th or 17th century. Saltpeter was discovered in the middle ages. What happened in the 1900's was that German scientists came to the understanding of the natural transformation of some of the nitrates into nitrites by salt-tolerant bacteria, and that the nitrites (not the nitrates) were responsible for being the active ingredient in the improved safety and storage. Since then, small amounts of pure nitrite have been used instead of the larger amounts of saltpeter in most meat preservation processes. McGee does point out that the traditional dry-cured hams and bacons still use nitrates because the prolonged ripening benefits from the bacterial production of nitrite.

                                        1. re: applehome

                                          Who is "McGee"?....can you send the link?

                                          1. re: Pollo

                                            Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking - The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. One of the foremost writers on food science. This book is a reference used by one and all and I'm surprised, given your previous posts, that you wouldn't know his work. Here's the link to his site, but he only has a limited number of writings there - his book is a tome (nearly 900 pages) of indexed material on food history and science.


                                            Here's the book on Amazon:


                                            Also - Chow did a interview with him a while back- they refered to him as the King of Kitchen Science. Here's that link:


                                            1. re: applehome

                                              Thank you...just had a look and now I know why I have not heard of him...he is not a scientist. Anyway, I will try to het my hands on his book and read some more.

                                              As far as nitrites and curing is concerned "saltpeter" or as it was once known "Prague salt" is a naturally occuring compound (salt with nitirite "imputities") that, yes you are correct, has been used since midle ages (if not before that) in the curing proces but no one knew how it worked...all that was know that the spolage was lower if used. The brakthrough came in the early 1900's via work of German and American scientists ("old" NFPA) who determined the levels of nitrites needes to prevent outgrowth of C. bot spore. This is the "critical" nature of adding nitrites to foods specifically in situations where anaerobic conditions can develop. Hams and other products can be perfectly cured with salt only....i.e. Jamon from Spain....salt and air + 12 or more months......

                                    2. re: ben61820

                                      I don't believe that's true. In cooking classes, and seminars on smoking meats, the word "cure" is often used -- and it usually nevers refers to nitrite cures. There are wet cures and dry cures. Salmon is commonly cured, and most items are cured before smoking.

                                  2. sorry to be an idiot but what exactly is "nitrate" bacon?

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: winebarb

                                      Bacon the cure of which includes nitrates like sodium nitrate.

                                    2. Let it be known, I am a bacon lover. My daughter brought nitrate free bacon from Michigan, which she bought at Costco. It was delicious, with a rich bacony flavor. While here (PA), she bought nitrate free bacon at Wegeman's. Again, the bacon was delicious with a rich bacony flavor. I have eaten and even made from scratch bacon using nitrates and it was good. My point is, bacon is bacon.

                                      1. I think the flavor depends a lot on what you are used to. Most of us were raised on Nitrate cured meats (ham, bacon, cold cuts, whatever), and we "expect" that taste to be part of the flavor. Of course the first time I had some real "Virginia Ham" home cured by an aunt of a family friend (no nitrates), I realized that store bought ham was not the real thing.

                                        9 Replies
                                        1. re: KaimukiMan

                                          Nitrates do not add anything to the flavor....

                                          1. re: Pollo

                                            I guess I just don't get it. Eat healthy, die anyways.

                                            We spend so much focus on this and not what is actually killing us, I think the stress involved in Nitrate or No Nitrate has probably more harm then just buying what we like. Maybe we need to pull out the Stress Studies now.

                                            1. re: Pollo

                                              If nitrates add nothing to the flavor, then why do so many people in here prefer nitrate cured meat? Be it flavor, texture, or whatever there must be some reason.

                                              1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                The addition of nitrites to a cure often precedes smoking.

                                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                                  Not often but always...so what's your point?

                                                  1. re: Pollo

                                                    The point is flavor. Usually smoking and nitrates go hand in hand.
                                                    Both provide flavor.

                                                    In commercial preparations, when a meat or fish is not nitrite-cured generally it isn’t smoked either. So there’s a fall-off in flavor on both counts. (I could have been clearer above.)

                                                    But as for your statement that a nitrites-cure always precedes smoking,
                                                    I will politely disagree:

                                                    Certainly a nitrite-cure is not required before smoking, even by the FDA.
                                                    Nitrate-free bacon is an example of that.

                                                    A food may be smoked with no cure, or a cure without nitrites, or
                                                    simply soaked in a sodium chloride solution before smoking.
                                                    Smoked chicken and duck are two common examples of this.

                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                      To comment on your second statement/paragraph: there are plenty of product (both meat and fish) on the market that are salt/sugar (no nitrates) cured and then smoked....and you get all the flavor you need...

                                                      To comment on your third statement/paragraph: OK....can you give examples? Have you actually seen how curing is done?

                                                2. re: KaimukiMan

                                                  Because they don't know any better and they have been eating the same (crappy) stuff for years......hey, people drink Bud and they think that's how beer suposed to taste....talk about propaganda.....

                                                  1. re: KaimukiMan


                                                    Nitrates add plenty to flavor. You'll find bacon producers who attest to that all over Google. One of the greatest food writers of all, R.W, Apple of The New York Times, wrote this about Nueske's bacon:

                                                    "Sodium nitrate content is regulated by the Agriculture Department, and Nueske bacon contains less residual nitrorosamines than allowed by the U.S.D.A. It could be eliminated altogether, but nitrates provide some of the characteristic bacon flavor, and the only nitrite-free bacon I have sampled tasted more like roast pork."

                                              2. I love Neiman Ranch ham and bacon. As far as the "cured" vs "uncured" thing, they sell both, but here is a link to their faq where they explain the difference: http://www.nimanranch.com/control/faq...

                                                I find it interesting that in their "uncured" products they use celery juice, which has naturally occurring nitrates, so not really nitrate free.

                                                1. It's important to recognize the difference between nitrAte and nitrIte.
                                                  Over time, nitrates will convert to nitrites, and, over time, nitrites will dissipate. Only one, nitrites, will sufficiently control the botulinum bacteria from growing.
                                                  Here's what happens, in theory. If a meat is going to be cured for a short amount of time, nitrites are used. The amount of nitrites used is calculated so that, at the end of the curing/smoking period, all of the nitrites have evaporated out of the meat.
                                                  If cured for a longer period of time, both nitrites and nitrates are used. As the nitrites dissipate, the nitrates are converting to nitrites, in order to keep control of the botulinum. At the end of the curing process, all nitrates will have converted to nitrites, and then dissipated from the meat.
                                                  So, by the time it is cured, there should be NO nitrite/nitrate left in the meat.
                                                  The "health risk" associated with nitrates/nitrites is cancer. However, nitrites are considered to be relatively safe. Nitrates are considered to NOT be safe. In properly cured meat, though, since both dissipate, there is very low risk of contacting either.
                                                  Now, here's the problem with eliminating both. Nitrite is what makes bacon/ham pink. Any meat will turn pink with nitrite. Corned beef, smoked turkey. Along with the pink is a distinct flavor. So, can one have bacon without nitrite? By definition, no. Taste? Again, no. Can one have bacon without nitrAte? Yes. Just a quicker curing process.
                                                  So, nitrite free will not taste like bacon. Nitrate free is possible.

                                                  10 Replies
                                                  1. re: Thefoodgenius

                                                    Adding nitrites/nitrates to bacon has nothing to do with "bot" control! It's all about color development/retention and a bit of shelf-life extension.....or more correctly profits ($$$)...

                                                    1. re: Pollo

                                                      Adding nitrites and nitrates is for botulism control. Prague powder #1 contains nitrites and Prague powder #2 contains both nitrites and nitrates. There are three ways of curing meat. Brining, Cooking and Dry curing. Prague powder #2 is necessary for dry curing sausages where the meat is uncooked like bacon and hard salami. Cooked meats and sausages like lunch meats, kielbasa, ham, and hot dogs are usually prepaired using Prague powder #1. If they are cooked or smoked at a low temperature the powder is always used because without it the temperature of the meat would be ideal for botulism germs.


                                                      1. re: davebough

                                                        Like I said before....unless the product is heat treated, packed hermetically and stored at ambient nitrates/nitates are NOT needed for bot control.....

                                                        1. re: Pollo

                                                          I was just reading up on this issue in both Charcuterie by Ruhlman and Polcyn, and On Food and Cooking by McGee. The main point is that Clostridium Botulinum only produces deadly toxins in anaerobic environments. Nitrites do indeed keep C. Bot from producing toxins, but are not necessary for that purpose if air (oxygen) is present. However - in both these books, it is specifically mentioned that the insides of a sausage or chunk of meat are indeed an anaerobic environment - enough so that C. Bot can produce toxins.

                                                          So the botulism issue is not only a problem with canned or packed meats, but it's clear that's where the great majority of the problem lies. One article mentions that today's extremely rare occurrences of botulism poisoning have been with canned goods (about 25/year in the US according to the CDC).

                                                          The cancer danger is linked to nitrosamines damaging DNA, but there's no direct link between nitrites in cured meats and nitrosamines increasing the risk of developing cancer.

                                                          It's all a tempest in a teapot. If you're truly afraid of the miniscule chances of dying from botulism toxins, don't eat nitrite free bacon. If you live your life in fear of cancer from nitrosamines, eat nitrite free bacon. You get to pick your poison. And, oh by the way, don't get too smug if you're a vegan - spinach has plenty of natural nitrites.

                                                      2. re: Pollo

                                                        A little research shows this to be completely untrue! Among other things, sodium nitrate, aka "saltpeter" has been used historically for preserving meats for centuries. For that matter, the whole purpose of curing meat is to extend its shelf life!

                                                        From the National Center for Home Food Preservation:

                                                        "Nitrates and Nitrites

                                                        These curing ingredients are required to achieve the characteristic flavor, color and stability of cured meat. Nitrate and nitrite are converted to nitric oxide by microorganisms and combine with the meat pigment myoglobin to give the cured meat color. However, more importantly, nitrite provides protection against the growth of botulism-producing organisms, acts to retard rancidity and stabilizes the flavor of the cured meat."


                                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                                          After safety, aren't we all about flavor here? I get over to Italy one or two times per year and partake of their spendid variety of cured meats, none having chemical additives. Unbelievable flavor, that you can't get injecting the bacon with salt water and nitrate/nitrite stuff. It takes time, months, to get that flavor. They have the famous San Daniele hams at 1K per leg, all the way down to humble but still delicious salami.

                                                          1. re: Dr Andre

                                                            Salt, Sodium/Potassium Nitrites and Nitrates are cure ingredients not additives. You can't make a ham by just hanging a pig leg in a barn. San Daniele hams are heavily salt cured. Nitrates are not used in their cure process, I'm not sure about Nitrites. They are dry cured, which means no brine is injected. The salt is rubbed on the outside and is absorbed into the meat.

                                                            1. re: davebough

                                                              Hello all,
                                                              After reading all of the above discussion on nitrates and nitrites, I still have some questions. If anyone has the answers, I'd appreciate it. 1) Before nitrates and nitrites were used, how were salamis and bacon made? 2) I think I read abvove that in parts of Europe, they still don't use them. Does this include saltpeter? If nitrates/nitrites/saltpeter aren't used, how are salamis and bacon made there? Or how could I make these without these additives?

                                                              1. re: Joseph Steuer

                                                                In order of discovery/use:


                                                                In use since pre-history. Kills microbial activity and is good for aerobic bacteria (e.coli, salmonella, staff, etc.). But it will not touch botulism, which grows on the inside of meats, especially sausages, in warm anaerobic environments. Cures slowly.


                                                                Pottasium nitrate - used for curing since about the 14th century. Not used very much today in the US as it is considered to be not as consistent as the modern cures below. Still used somewhat in EU.

                                                                Sodium Nitrate

                                                                DQ Curing Salt/Insta Cure #2 - (usually a yellow/off-white color). Used since 17th century. Slow cures - limits microbial activity. Over time, some of it turns to sodium nitrite, which is the actual chemical that kills botulism.

                                                                Sodium Nitrite

                                                                DQ Curing Salt/Insta Cure #1 - also called pink salt (it is dyed pink to make sure that people know what it is). Actually about 93% salt and less than 7% Sodium nitrite. It wasn't until the turn of the 20th century that scientists discovered that it was actually the nitrite that was doing the work, and not the nitrate. Using sodium nitrate was actually like a time-release version of using nitrite. Since then, concentrations of sodium nitrite have been used to quick cure many meats.

                                                                Some nitrites can turn into nitrosamines in certain conditions. Nitrosamines can cause cancer. However, there has never been a definitive link between nitrites used in meat and cancer. Nitrites occur naturally in Spinach and other vegetables.

                                                                Products that use only salt include specialty, air-dried hams - like Prosciutto and Serrano. Many artisanal products use nitrates and take a longer time to cure, whereas many commerical products use nitrites alone to get a quick turn-around. Using nitrates allows for flavor conversions over time that do not occur with quick-cure products. Salt takes even longer and allows for the development of even more intense flavors - but it has to be stored in very specialized areas (perfect humidity & temperature) to insure that the curing is taking place properly and there is no growth in microbial activity.

                                                                As far as bacon goes, the commercial product is most often nitrited and smoked. (Smoking and cooking are other forms of preservation beyond curing.) Artisanal products are often nitrated and smoked. Uncured, smoked bacon is also available, and salt-only smoked and unsmoked bacon (salt pork) is available, as well. It's a question of personal preference and understanding the risks. If the possibility of nitrites turning into nitrosamines and causing cancer seems to be something to be concerned about, reducing nitrites in your diet may be a good idea.

                                                                Most Salumerias use nitrate for their raw salumis. Salt alone will not kill the botulism spores. Some salumis are also cold smoked.

                                                                My sources are _Charcuterie_ by Ruhlmand and Polcyn, and _On Food and Cooking_ by McGee. I highly recommend these books for those that would like more detail.

                                                        2. re: Pollo

                                                          Correct and Incorrect.
                                                          Adding Nitrites or Nitrates is for colour retention but it does also kill botulism, which we quiet happliy stick into our faces to stop wrinkles. Go figure!

                                                      3. There is little to no taste differece, besides, the health benefits of not eating Sodium Nitrate far out weights the taste factor. Research Sodium Nitrate.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: CCjones

                                                          Wow. Lots of info here.

                                                          I'll abstain from the evil/not-evil nitrate/nitrite debate. All I know is that sodium nitrite is a for-sure, instant migraine trigger for my husband and another friend. I suspect it might be for others out there too.

                                                        2. Nitrites are naturally occurring and can be found in much greater doses in some vegetables than you find in cured meat. The following blurb is from a detailed article on nitrites linked below (ppm = parts per million)....


                                                          Nearly every vegetable tested contained measurable amounts of nitrates, with averages varying from 1 to 4,800 ppm. For example, average levels were:

                                                          arugula 4,677 ppm

                                                          basil 2,292 ppm

                                                          butterhead lettuce 2,026 ppm

                                                          beets 1,279 ppm

                                                          celery 1,103 ppm

                                                          spinach 1,066 ppm

                                                          pumpkin 874 ppm

                                                          This compares to standard hotdogs or processed meats with average nitrite levels of 10 ppm.


                                                          Just like anything else, you'll have to do a thorough review of the evidence and make a decision for yourself. Personally, I'm not gonna go out of my way to skip nitrites after researching the matter in depth (I make my own bacon). Basically it's proven that nitrites prevent botulism (which can kill you), but it's unproven that nitrites are bad for you.

                                                          Take some time to read this medical blog posting on nitrites...


                                                          3 Replies
                                                          1. re: ilbranzino

                                                            That's a good link. My only criticism is that, except for noting that it does occur, the author avoids the question of nitrosamines that are created during cooking at high temperatures, as in frying bacon. I don't puree arugula and fry it up with ground meat, so comparing nitrate contents of vegetables vs hot dogs is irrelevant, especially since the article says it's nitrosamines, not nitrates or nitrites that are the health concern. A comparison of nitrosamine levels in fried bacon vs sauteed celery or arugula would be more appropriate.

                                                            I make my own bacon and other cured meats as well, and I do often add nitrate/nitrite cures. As you say, you need to do some research and decide for yourself. Just keep in mind that many web sites cherry pick the evidence.

                                                            1. re: ilbranzino

                                                              Your first statement that nitrites are naturally occuring says it all. When you add them to a product they are no longer naturally occuring.

                                                              1. re: ilbranzino

                                                                Maybe I should "invent" nitrite-free beets, spinach, etc...

                                                              2. Here's an article that links environmental nitrates, such as those in food, to Alzheimer's, Parkinsons and diabetes. Read down to the fifth paragraph to see that it isn't just cooking nitrites that causes them to become nitrosamines (that evil cancer-causing substance), but also just plain old eating which exposes it to stomach acids that convert it to nitrosamine.

                                                                I've been buying nitrite free bacon for the past few years. Whether it's Applegate Farms, the Whole Foods brand, or Oscar Meyer, it tastes fresher to me than nitrite cured bacon. Maybe it is shipped more conscientiously? There's nothing wrong with eating a little pork and pork fat, there is very little evidence, despite popular untested hypothesises, that eating even saturated fat will raise your blood cholesterol. And there's even less evidence to suggest a direct causal effect of high blood cholesterol on heart disease. New studies indicate that the protective effects of cholesterol lowering drugs (which, according to their own literature is neglegible), is due to their reducing of arterial inflammation (which makes the inside of the arteries rough and sticky). I'd like to see a study that compares these expensive drugs to plain old over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and NSAIDs.

                                                                There was an excellent article a couple of years ago in the Sunday New York Times Magazine that outlines my case very well, and at length, but I can't seem to find it anymore. Conspiracy? haha

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: kitINstLOUIS

                                                                  This isn't the exact article I was looking for, but it's also pretty good: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/27/opi...

                                                                  1. re: kitINstLOUIS

                                                                    I'm a little confused about which issues you're discussing and which articles you're citing. Your first paragraph refers to an article on nitrates turning into nitrosamines but there is no link to it.

                                                                    You bring up three other issues in addition to the subject of nitrates and bacon. The consumption of dietary cholesterol and its impact on blood cholesterol is the first. The relationship of high blood cholesterol to heart disease is the second issue; and the efficacy of cholesterol-reducing drugs on heart disease, the third.

                                                                    Your link just above to the New York Times is in reference to your last issue -- the efficacy of drugs that are purported to lower heart disease by lowering LDL. These issues might best be addressed in a separate thread.

                                                                    Getting back to the thread topic - bacon and nitrates, please bear in mind that Applegate Farms, and Oscar Mayer "nitrate-free" bacon, and possibly Whole Foods, all use nitrates but a natural form of them, usually celery juice or powder.

                                                                    For example, here is Applegate’s ingredient list:

                                                                    Some vegetables are extraordinarily high in nitrates, so they are used instead of the powdered “chemical” form. Look at the list here. I’m not vouching for its accuracy, but I do find it curious that many people avoid nitrates in bacon but are unaware of their high level in vegetables.

                                                                    Average nitrate levels of common vegetables vs. hot dogs:

                                                                    arugula 4,677 ppm
                                                                    basil 2,292 ppm
                                                                    butterhead lettuce 2,026 ppm
                                                                    beets 1,279 ppm
                                                                    celery 1,103 ppm
                                                                    spinach 1,066 ppm
                                                                    pumpkin 874 ppm
                                                                    standard hotdogs 10 ppm
                                                                    standard processed meats 10 ppm

                                                                    Source: June, 2008 issue of EFSA Journal

                                                                    Vegetables readily absorb nitrates from compost (a "natural" form of nitrates) and from fertilizers (more “chemical” in form). Is there a difference in the molecule between those nitrates found in vegetables and the ones in bacon or processed meats? I don't know.

                                                                    Read more here:

                                                                  2. Not sure about NF bacon but I do know about NF OM hotdogs. I bought 5 packages because first, they were on crazy sale [now I know why] second, I was so excited to know I didn't have to ingest that stuff, well one bite and I know the difference. The little ones wouldn't even eat them, rats.........

                                                                    6 Replies
                                                                    1. re: iL Divo

                                                                      My husband and I hate Niman ranch bacon, it's insipid and has a texture we don't like. For my money, Garrett County/Wellshire Farms has all the best uncured products, from bacon to keilbasa, hot dogs and chorizo, andouille.

                                                                      I recall reading years ago that microwaving bacon prevents nitrosamine formation.

                                                                      1. re: mcf

                                                                        According to:


                                                                        "well done or burned bacon probably is potentially more hazardous than less well done bacon. Bacon cooked by microwave has less nitrosamine than fried bacon. Consumers should cook bacon properly. "

                                                                        I likes mah bacon done well, but I also tend to cook it in the microwave.

                                                                        Maybe it all balances out. Fortunately I don't eat it often enough for it to be an actual problem.

                                                                        1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                          I like it well done, but not burned and I nuke it; does that give me cover? :-) I eat uncured bacon pretty regularly; so far, so good.

                                                                          1. re: mcf

                                                                            I tried to explain this to my son this evening. He wiggled his eyebrows at me in that way that he has when he's trying not to tell me I'm crazy, and then said, "Statistics don't work that way, Mom."

                                                                            e.g. he doesn't think the +side of microwaving the bacon will balance out the -side of cooking it well done.

                                                                            Well it MIGHT. I'd much rather live in hope than in fear! LOL!

                                                                        2. re: mcf

                                                                          May I just say that Niman Ranch bacon is no longer Niman Ranch bacon, or the Niman Ranch bacon of yesteryear. Huge changes since Bill left.

                                                                          1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                            I've read that, too. I've only bought it in the past couple of years and BLEAH. Don't know how good it might've been before at all.

                                                                      2. I suppose it is what you are used to. I switched to nitrate free bacon provided by a local farmer with good sustainable practices and it reminded me of what I used to eat at my grandmother's house. I prefer it and have lost weight by limiting my exposure to chemicals, such as nitrates and pesticides and switching to pure fats - unprocessed, organic lard; grapeseed oil, coconut oil, sunflower oil and olive oil. I also switched to organic produce, raw milk and raw butter and have lost weight (about 10 pounds in a few months) while eating richer foods. Good cholestrol count , etc.

                                                                        1 Reply
                                                                        1. re: oyefunke

                                                                          I'm happy that you've found a system that works for you so well. But equating nitrates to pesticides is really misleading. Nitrates have been used to preserve meats since before the middle ages (in the form of saltpeter). While it isn't as significant of an issue with whole meats, like bacon, eating any raw, dry-cured sausage (like salumis), made without nitrates is virtually inviting c. bot into your body. There is a place for nitrates in our food.

                                                                        2. The truth is there is no such thing as "nitrate free bacon". If it were truly nitrate free, it would be as gray as a cement sidewalk.

                                                                          Cured meat products claiming to be nitrite-free are exploiting a regulatory loophole. I absolutely, positively can tell you that if you look at their ingredients, you see something like celery powder, or celery extract, or similar, because....those are natural sources of nitrate, and they are added specifically for the nitrates. In fact, I'm willing to bet that the label has a little asterisk next to the words "nitrate-free", and the asterisk points to a disclaimed that said something like "except for the nitrates occurring naturally in celery powder" or whatever ingredient they are adding.

                                                                          5 Replies
                                                                          1. re: ChefBoyAreMe

                                                                            I know that's typically the case, but there may be a significant difference in quantity used and, maybe, quality too. Garrett County bacon does not have celery juice added, the package lists pork, salt, raw sugar, spices. So unless celery is a spice...

                                                                            1. re: mcf

                                                                              Celery SALT could count as a spice.

                                                                              I have no idea if that would be allowed by the labyrinthine rules of the FDA (or whoever controls labeling of packaged foods)

                                                                              1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                Could be. Also sea salt is high in naturally occurring nitrates, as is turbinado (aka, raw) sugar. Either of those, or the "spice" could be contributing. I go back to my standard...without some source of nitrates, the meet would not be pink, it would be gray.

                                                                                Another interesting weasel is "uncured". By definition, curing involves the use of salts to preserve, but that doesn't necessarily mean just sodium chloride, aka "salt". Nitrates are salts. But, in an if you aren't "adding nitrites", you aren't "curing", so your bacon is technically (from a regulatory standpoint) "uncured", even though though it is. If you said it was "cured", the question becomes with what, and then you are, at some level, admitting to directly adding nitrates.

                                                                                What will probably happen is cured meats currently labeled "uncured" will be required to change to "naturally cured" (as opposed to "conventionally cured", with nitrates specifically added, and have to fess up to the use of "naturally occurring sources of nitrates" to accomplish this.

                                                                                1. re: ZenSojourner

                                                                                  I don't think so, literally. Every other brand labels the celery addition seperately. But maybe.

                                                                                  1. re: mcf

                                                                                    There's no way I could even guess for sure. But sometimes companies will go ahead and do things until they get caught and then say, Ooops, sorry, my bad, here's your $500 fine. Then go ahead and keep doing it for as long as they can get away with it.

                                                                                    That happened with Synthroid, a medication for hypothyroid condition. The FDA told them over and over and over again that they had to fix problems with dosage reliability (that's a big deal with thyroid meds) and they kept saying they would but then wouldn't actually do anything, for YEARS, until the FDA just came in one day and shut down production altogether. I think it still took them another 6 months or longer to fix the problem.

                                                                                    If drug companies get away with that sort of thing, just imagine what food manufacturers can do!

                                                                            2. I've been using the Trader Joe's brand uncured smoked bacon for over a year and I find it tastes way better than regular bacon with nitrates; I can't believe people faulted the flavor. I also buy the organic beef roasts, lamb, and the new organic uncured beef brisket, which tastes much better than any corned beef I have ever eaten. The onoy problem with the bacon is that you have to cook it more slowly or it burns. It "makes" my seafood chowders.

                                                                              1. I've read, & relate to, many of the pro's & con's about Nitrates in bacon since health-wise it's not that great for you to begin with. Here's something I've not seen mentioned here yet & I'm coming from the position of a true bacon lover with COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), a condition of the lungs that afflict millions of Americans, & many others all over the world. COPD in & of itself is not degenerative. As long as one takes care to not exacerbate it's symptoms it won't worsen over ones lifespan on it's own. COPD is about 95% smoking related & 5% genetic. (Mine happens to be from both, lol :P) The point is this, as much as the 'Nitrates: good or bad for you?' debate continues... it's known to be horrible for the more delicate tissues of the body, namely your lungs. I'm not saying Nitrates promote lung disease/disorders. I'm no Doctor & I'm not in a position to say... but I do know Nitrates (among many other things) in any form help degenerate lung tissue, particularly in those people with COPD, & that has potential to shorten my lifespan drastically. Along with compromising my quality of life long before I do die, from lack of being able to breathe. You're saying, "If this guy is so health conscious why does he even eat bacon to begin with?!?" Well, cause I'm not a heath nut & my girlfriend will vouch I'm not health conscious at all... but I do feel the difference in my ability to breathe well & process oxygen since I've cut Nitrates from my overall diet... & I'll never give up my bacon! ;)

                                                                                Hope this helps some of the folks out there that wondered about this...

                                                                                1. No such this as Nitrite or Nitrate free. They just replace it with other nitrates such as celery salt or sea salt. Also pay close attention to the part where it says your saliva contains more nitrates that any food.


                                                                                  3 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: davisnet

                                                                                    This is an ancient thread, but yeah, 'nitr*te-free' and 'uncured' bacons are flat-out dishonest labeling.

                                                                                    1. re: davisnet

                                                                                      There is such a thing as allergies to some nitrate salts used in commercial "cured" meats. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium_n...

                                                                                      This is an actual study, not Chris Kresser's quakery (he has been factually wrong in many of his writings)

                                                                                      There is a difference between nitrate allergy or intolerance and the worries many people have about cancers being caused by consuming foods with the nitrate salts added vs the ones that use celery juice and are labeled uncured.

                                                                                      Personally I don't care why people want to avoid eating meat with sodium nitrate (salt) in it. The increased interest means I can actually find processed meats I can eat without having an asthma attack or my throat swelling. :-)

                                                                                      1. re: blackpointyboots

                                                                                        Do you have reason to believe that these allergies only apply to nitrates added in the form of sodium nitrate, and not to nitrates added in the form of celery juice? It's the exact same ion; I don't understand why there would be a difference. The abstract you linked doesn't seem to suggest anything about a difference. If you're intolerant of sodium nitrate, then you are intolerant of celery juice (in similar doses).

                                                                                    2. Oscar Meyer makes an Uncured Nitrate Free Bacon that is delicious, and the more we reduce chemically treated meats to natural substances, the healthier we will be. I just ordered Neuske's Bacon, and I hope there are no added nitrates. I believe that you cure bacon by smoking it, so their bacon is also cured. Let's hope when I read the incredients on the package it is nitrate/nitrite free. Carlene

                                                                                      1 Reply
                                                                                      1. re: CarleneB

                                                                                        Reread the label. It does NOT say 'Nitrate Free'. It says 'No nitrates or nitrites added'. The ingredient list includes

                                                                                        CULTURED CELERY JUICE*, SODIUM PHOSPHATES, CHERRY POWDER. *INGREDIENT TO PRESERVE QUALITY.

                                                                                        The celery juice is a source of (organic) sodium nitrate; it just isn't the purified chemical form.