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Sep 13, 2008 06:17 AM

could salt peter in sausage be bad??

how much salt peter is important?
can i omit this agent and have some positive effect without it?

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  1. If you are making a dry cured sausage, then salt peter is necessary. Or you can substitute celery extract, if you can find it. If you are making a cooked sausage, then it is not necessary at all, but "pink salt" will improve the appearance of the final product. Is it a dangerous additive? Yes, by our standards, it is one of the most dangerous - as a known carcinogen - that we allow in food. My personal supply says both, "Keep away from children," and "Not for consumption."

    13 Replies
    1. re: almansa

      Hey hae,
      as almansa points out, sodium nitrite is defined as toxic and is a carcinogen. Some people avoid it at all costs, not eating most lunch meats, sausages, hams, etc etc.
      But to put it into perspective, cured meats typically have 10 to 40 PPM when sold. Vegetables many times have more nitrites than this just because of the fertilizer content.
      So "bad" is relative.

      I agree with almansa that if you are going to cook your sausage from fresh (or freeze then cook later on), you don't really need the nitrite.

      I will disagree with almansa in that when making dry cured sausage, salt peter is necessary.
      An old timer Italian friend who taught me the basics of sausage making never used nitrites. Neither did his father or grandfather. He simply 'cured' the meat with plain old table salt (3 level tablespoons per 2kg of meat) and hung them to dry.
      He ate these sausage all his life as did his father and his father's father etc etc.

      Personally, however, I would actually recommend using nitrites when dry curing.
      I like the added assurances of using 'pink salt' or 'instacure #1"; It not only protects against botulism, but the 'curing' is more dramatic and also changes the flavor.
      The recommended amount of instacure #1 (which is 6.25% sodium nitrite) is 1 level teaspoon per 5 lbs of meat.

      If you have 'salt peter', which is straight sodium nitrate, the amount would be staggeringly small, that would be .0625 of a level teaspoon per five pounds of meat...thats why they developped 'pink salt'.

      On a final note, if you do decide to use pink salt (or any other nitrite), give it respect; wash all utensils, bowls, and work surfaces afterward, keep it away from the kids, don't let the pets eat it, etc etc.

      1. re: porker

        Wow, woiw, wow. "Sodium nitrite is defined as toxic and is a carcinogen."

        Not even close.

        Let's get this straight again. I think I've tried to explain this before, and yet people keep making the same silly statements. I'd like you to site references for your pseudo-facts, as I certainly have and will continue to, with my facts.

        1) Saltpeter is not Sodium Nitrate. Saltpeter is Potassium Nitrate.

        2) None of the nitrites or nitrates are toxic. Nitrosamines form when nitrites react with amino acids or very high heat. Nitrosamines exist naturally in nature (Spinach has some) and also form naturally in our digestive systems. Nitrosamines are known to be powerful DNA damaging chemicals, but as yet, there has been no evidence, no connection in the laboratory or epidemiological studies, that nitrites in cured meats increase the risk of developing cancer. And nitrites have been used for well over a century.

        The problem with pottassium nitrate (saltpeter) is that it is not consistent from batch to batch - most commercial operations have quit using it because their products vary too much even with the same recipes. Today's curing salts are much more consistent. They are:
        TCM/DQ/instacure #1 or pink salt, which is sodium nitrite
        DQ/Instacure #2, which is sodium nitrate.

        Keep in mind that sodium nitrite is the fast acting cure. It is almost always used. Sodium Nitrate is most often used in sausages that cure for a long time.

        I heartily recommend these sources for safety information, recipes, ideas, etcetc, to anyone that is interested in curing meats - sausages, hams - whatever. Everything I have written here comes from these books and is verified by my own experience:

        1) Charcuterie by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn

        2) On Food and Cooking, The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee

        Here's a link to my post on a previous thread where we went through this:

        1. re: applehome

          Thanks for setting me straight, apple. I now know my misunderstanding of saltpeter.

          Just a few questions I have. Are the dangers associated with nitrites and nitrates related solely to nitrosamines and if so, is this the limiting factor in the amounts used in curing meats?
          In other words, if you overcure with nitrites (use more than recommended), is there then the possibility of more nitrosamines?

          Or to put another way, why are there strict guidelines on nitrate use in curing meats if they are non-toxic?

          On another note, Great Sausage Recipes and Meat Curing by Rytek Kutas states that "Clearly and simply stated, saltpeter is a very deadly poison and its chemical name is potassium nitrate"
          This seems at odds with "2. None of the nitrites or nitrates are toxic."

          -or did you mean sodium nitrites/nitrates?

          Just wanna know, thanks

          1. re: porker

            I do find a reference in Charcuterie where he (Ruhlman) says, "The compound (Saltpeter) was used in the United States until the 1970s when it was deemed too inconsistent to be safe (though it remains common in Europe)." There is no detail on "safe".

            But he mainly stresses the need to maintain sanitation and to use lots of salt - and he absolutely will not make dry-cured (raw) sausages without one form of curing salt or another (and neither will his favorite Salumeria, Armandino Batali). Clearly, the dangers of bacterial growth, including botulism, are more significant than the danger from the compounds themselves.

            Other than reiterating the possible cancer causing dangers of nitrosamines several times in different locations in the book, there is no mention in either source of any other specific danger. I find no reference to human toxicity for any of these compounds.

            I know people who get migraines from meats that have been cured with nitrites. Oddly enough they're the same ones that get headaches from MSG. Maybe it's the sodium. I don't think that we should ignore all warnings and just use lots and lots of curing salts. But I also don't think that the levels that are recommended in most recipes are anywhere near Level of Death toxic for lab rats, never mind humans. (Chocolate cake is toxic in large enough doses.) I'm sure sensitivities exist - imagine that these poor shlubs can't eat meat from Batali or other great charcuterie chefs. But for the great majority of us, curing salts are a blessing and of little concern.

            1. re: applehome

              I would like to see a few opinions other than Ruhlman and Polcyn about the inconsistency of KNO3 saltpetre as a cure.
              In my local area I cannot find pink salt or Prague powder, but saltpetre is in every Rexall pharmacy (one day order item) at low cost. I find I can adapt Prague or pink salt recipes with some advice from U. Missouri extension site.
              If saltpetre is still common in Europe, then it should be good enough for me.

              1. re: jayt90

                I'm in the Montreal area and you'd figure it would be pretty easy to obtain instacure (pink salt) in such a large urban area, but no. If I'm really stuck, I'd have to purchase it from commercial sausage makers at exorbitant prices...

                So I get it via mail-order and its relatively cheap ($18 for 5lbs at

          2. re: applehome

            "2) None of the nitrites or nitrates are toxic"

            Actually you are wrong. Sodium nitrite is considered toxic if you look up the MSDS sheet: (Look under "hazards identifications") and the bottle in my lab shows the same.


            1. re: honkman

              Saltpetre is KNO3, or sodium nitrate. The MSDS sheet on the toxicity of this item (as questioned by the OP) is moderate, so that it is safe in diluted form as permitted by the USDA or Health Canada.

              1. re: jayt90

                I know the MSDS data for KNO3 and NaNO3 but there was a post about nitrates and nitrites as non-toxic which was not correct

              2. re: honkman

                Thanks for posting that - I am obviously wrong about the toxicity.

                Its interesting that they list nothing under Toxicological Information regarding cancer (known or anticipated), which I guess is what everyone talks about. And yet, the item that catches your eye under Hazard Identification - Ingestion is "Estimated lethal dose 1 to 2 grams". And of course, all the warnings about inhalation, ingestion and contact are severe.

                Handling issues with pink salt are probably not as crucial as with pure sodium nitrite. Pink salt is only 6.25% sodium nitrite. Nevertheless, it is important to know that an item is toxic, rather than not.

                Porker - I apologize for correcting you so vehemently when you are right to point out the dangers of handling Sodium Nitrite. It may not be the cancer danger that some people argue, but it is clearly dangerous. I have been lucky to not have run into any problems - I do handle it as directed and only use the amounts of pink salt that is called for in the recipes and books that I have.

                In the entire section titled "Dry-Cure Essentials and Safety Issues", Ruhlman and Polcyn do not stress any handling issues with sodium nitrite. As I said before, their issue with safety is that sanitation and curing salts must be used to eliminate bacteria, particularly e. bot, and particularly with raw, dry-cured sausages. They also stress the importance of controlling the curing environment in terms of temperature and humidity.

                But I do stand corrected - and thank you for that. It's how I learn.

                1. re: applehome

                  Nitrites are not know be cancerous. The potential problem with them is that they react under strong acidic conditions (e.g. your stomach, pH about 1) to nitosamine which are known to cause cancers in several animal models. The problem is of course that causing cancer in animals doesn't automatically means that it will do the same in humans (so far we cured every cancer in rodents but are far from doing the same in humans). Overall the current animal data suggests to not consume large amounts of nitrites so be on the safe side.

            2. re: porker

              hello porker;
              i am ready to make some beef sausage (part of it i will freeze for fresh sausage and part i will hung them to dry)

              my question is about the ratio of meat and pink salt

              all the experience i have about sausage is seeing my father and grandfather (italians) making it back in brazil - now i am by myself in dallas TX and i have some 30 lb of beef tenderloins trimmings with a decent amount of fat and i would love a receipe for it (i never heard of anyone making sausage from filet mingon...)

              your help would be very appreciated

              1. re: evandro

                Hey evandro,

                A couple of humble suggestions.
                If you are alone and just beginning to make sausage, maybe start with a smaller amount, perhaps 5 to 10lbs.
                I first learned with an experienced older Italian guy. We'd do two pork legs maybe 10kg (22 lbs or so) each. It was a lot of work beacuse 1. I was a new guy and 2. he was an old guy.
                More work because we'd skin the leg, de-bone, remove all sinew, veins, blood, gristle, silverskin, etc. Then cut into strips for the grinder.
                Still to be done; grind, (at least once, sometimes passing it twice), clean casings, mix seasonings into meat, stuff casings, tie off, and link.
                30lbs of meat and maybe 5-10lbs of fat is a big job for a first time.

                That said, the usual ratio of pink salt (instacure#1) to meat is 1 teaspoon per 5lbs of meat (your meat/fat grind).
                I would also suggest to only add the instacure to the portion you plan on airdrying, not to the fresh sausage that you will freeze.

                Example: you grind a total of 40lbs (meat plus fat). Maybe you want to freeze 30lbs and use 10lbs for drycuring. Mix all your seasonings with the 40lbs, remove 10lbs to the fridge. Make your fresh sausage with the 30lbs, get the remaining 10lbs, add 2 teaspoons instacure#1 (pink salt), mix well, make your air-dry sausages.

                As for recipes, I don't do a whole lot of beef sausage. I made some polish style kabanos (sometimes 'kabanosy, similar to karnatzel) and some pepperoni (slim jim) style semi-dry sausage. I used Ruhlman's and Rytek's books for recipe variations.

                Curiously, I'd like to know what sausage types your father and grandfather made. Were they making family (Italian) recipes? Or were they making more Brazilian style (linguica or chorizo)?

                Couple of other points; drying sausage is a science/art all its own, with specific temperatures and humidity levels. Living in Canada, I simply blocked off a corner of my basement and hoped for the best (no humidity or temp control). I only dry sausage in fall and winter months, rest of the time, it gets too warm/hot in my basement. Being in Dallas may be a challange for air-drying.
                I usually hang a few length of links in a U-shape and point an oscilating fan at them. Its a darkened room, about 45-50F. After a few days, they'll start drying and shrinking. After about a week, I'll cut an end open and see if its dry enough for me, but it usually takes about 10 or 12 days (using regular hog casings).

                Maybe read up on some of this stuff to get a heads-up
                These are pretty good

                or an on-line source of info (as well as plenty of recipes

                I'm interested to hear how it goes, so be sure to let me know!

          3. Here's a "literature review" that might be helpful for the home charcutierier, and also for the hotdog consumer. It's comprehensive enough (with peer reviewed research in the references cited) to give enough info to make a personal decision about how much Na/K/nitrate/nitrite you want to have in your life (and your meat).


            2 Replies
            1. re: FoodFuser

              Thanks for posting that - there are references sited for most of what is said, but I question one statement that is not referenced:

              "In the early 1800's it was realized that saltpeter (NaNO3 or KNO3) present in some impure curing salt mixtures would result in pink colored meat rather than the typical gray color attained with a plain salt cure."

              Saltpeter has been used for many, many years before the 1800's - most certainly people would have noted the color and flavor changes long before then. Most articles I've read credit its use since the middle ages.

              1. re: applehome

                Yep, when I saw that I just chuckled and let it slide on by. I figured whoever wrote it had never shared the atavistic experience of entering a cool cave and licking the rocks ("peter") of the salty wall. It's a logical step in human food evolution that it's been used as a cure for a long time. Even the Egyptians and Chinese were using it.

                The real genius came when the Chinese realized it could be used as the oxidizer in gunpowder. That's a quantam leap up from the lick of a salty wall.

            2. The original comment has been removed
              1. Hi
                I added 1/2 teaspoon pure Saltpeter to 2Kg (~4lbs) meat, which is ~1000ppm nitrate. Should I throw it out, or can it still be eaten (in moderate quantities)?

                8 Replies
                1. re: Nonius

                  Not sure about saltpeter but with cure #1 sodium nitrite you would be right on

                  1. re: Nonius

                    Nonius, in today's market it is easy to find Instacure, not as difficult as it was six years ago when this was started, thanks to all the popularity of Rulhman, etc.

                    Why would you use saltpeter/potassium nitrate, when it's easy to find the much safer products?

                    1. re: JMF

                      Regardless of the below do you know if that level of nitrate can still be eaten now that I made the mistake?? I read recommended concentration is ~150 ppm, but not toxic under 1gr/day (1Kg of my salami) On the other hand I'd like some feedback from more experienced folks before eating and relying on data floating on the net ...

                      Two reasons to use saltpeter:
                      1) I keep kosher (jewish dietary law) and am not aware of a brand of prague powder/ instacure with supervision (hechsher). Saltpeter is a pure chemical which doesn't need such certification.
                      2) I live in Israel where curing salts (even Mortons Tender Quick) is not available, but saltpeter is. It is sold here in spice shops for curing meat! I could order via internet, but did not yet find solution to point 1) :-)

                      1. re: Nonius

                        I was going to reply along the lines of JMF, but your concerns are valid enough (I saw some posts where people wanna use salt petre simply because thats what they did in the "old days"...).

                        Anyway, maybe have a look here
                        which is a thread on kosher Instacure.

                        At the end of the day, if you are OK with Instacure (#1 and/or #2), I'd suggest ordering on-line.
                        Its easier to use, more and more recipes call for it, and its more of a modern standard in charcuterie.

                        1. re: porker

                          Saltpetre is fine for me, and many others. It is widely used in Europe, and over here it is easier to buy at a Rexall than mail order plus postage for potassium nitrite. Conversion of recipe amounts from the myriad of nitrites (Pink salt, Prague 1, Prague 2, Morton's Tenderquick etc.) is actually simple when I consult USDA, U of Missouri, or West Virginia Tech websites.
                          And oh boy, do I have a trove of early recipes using saltpetre, researched by E. David!

                    2. re: Nonius

                      Nonius, we can only guess at what you have done, without more information.
                      Was saltpetre added to ground meat, without salt?
                      Did you brine the meat, with saltpetre dissolved in the liquid?
                      Or rub it with a saltpetre mix?

                      Elizabeth David wrote extensively about saltpetre cures until the 1970's, so I checked some of her recipes which I used at the time (I somehow survived):

                      A brine: 1.5 lb sea salt, or coarse salt; 6 - 8 oz. brown sugar; 1 oz. saltpetre; 1 gallon water.

                      A rub, for 5 - 8 lb. meat: 1 oz. saltpetre; 1 lb. coarse salt; 4 oz. brown sugar.

                      For sausage meat with saltpetre, you can probably salvage it if you add salt and spices, and mix well.

                      1. re: jayt90

                        I mixed spices, lactic starter, 3 tblsp regular salt and 1/2 teasp saltpeter into the ground meat (beef) and stuffed in casings. so no rub or brine.
                        From the recipes you quote it is difficult to know how much nitrate actually ended up in the sausage as it is applied on the outside.

                        1. re: Nonius

                          I don't have a sausage recipe with saltpetre , but I think you are safe.
                          1 oz. = 6 teaspoons , but you have used only .08 oz. KNO3, way less than the rub or brine for the same amount of meat.
                          The nitrate in KNO3 will convert to potassium nitrite, and production of nitrosamines under high heat is always a risk, but unlikely with salami, unless it is pan fried at high heat.