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Nov 26, 2012 11:08 AM

nitrate-nitrite-celery juice free cured meat

I'm looking for an online source for cured meat (salami, prosciutto, other similar items speck, bresaola etc) that's made without nitrates, nitrites or celery juice (a natural source of nitrates and nitrites but with the same cancer causing effects).

Prosciutto isn't too hard to find (For example Trader Joes has a house brand that's made with just salt and pork) but I'm having trouble finding other examples.

I used to order from La Quercia but since they've outsourced sales to Zimmerman's the prices are ridiculous.

Question: What are some good sources online for ordering nitrate free cured meats?

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  1. There aren't a lot of cured meats that use just sodium chloride for a curing medium.

    Curing salt is common even in most high end boutique cured meats. Most cures that don't have such compounds require cooking (bacon, pancetta, guanciale to name a few.)

    BTW, the fruits and vegetables in a normal healthy diet will often contain considerably more nitrates and nitrites then you will get from cured meat.

    15 Replies
    1. re: Brandon Nelson

      Prosciutto from parma can only be salt and pork by law. I've had other cured meats that also are without nitrates including hotdogs, bologna, and salami - in some cases salt is used in concert with a lactic acid producing bacteria. It's a question of care and refrigeration and the legal code - but almost all cured meats can be made safely. My problem is sourcing at a price I can afford, not existence.

      There are strong correlations between consumption of meats cured with nitrates and increased cancer risks. These correlations are not found with normal levels of vegetable consumption - even of vegetables with high nitrate content. There are many theories why this is so but I would say it's poorly understood. Sometimes it's clear that you should act before you understand why and not understanding why is not a reason to not act.

      1. re: boris_qd

        IMO, pay the high price for good quality products and eat less of them (make it a "celebration" if cost is really prohibitive).

        Or make some yourself if you do not trust scientific research that do not prove anything conclusive other than you will die if you ingest _VERY_VERY_ large quantity of it and you will die of a lot of other things before cancer gets diagnosed.

        1. re: Maximilien

          I'm not quite sure what you mean by not trusting scientific research. There's plenty of evidence that you should avoid nitrates in meat even if the causes aren't clear. See for example:

          While I agree that it's not conclusive evidence and that there are contrary sources of information there is substantial evidence that moderate consumption may be harmful in a variety of ways (these are just two of many studies). I would prefer to stay on the safe side, you're free to be cavalier of course.

          1. re: boris_qd

            But is it the 4x sodium, or 50% more nitrates that is the cause? The Harvard study claims they have adjusted for other factors like life style and fat, but I suspect that is open to dispute. Their data does not distinguish between regular and no-nitrate processed meat.

            1. re: paulj

              I agree that adjustments are tricky and suspect.

              But the first paragraph clearly says that they distinguish between regular and nitrate processed - in fact that was the purpose of the study:

              "In a new study, researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) have found that eating processed meat, such as bacon, sausage or processed deli meats, was associated with a 42% higher risk of heart disease and a 19% higher risk of type 2 diabetes. In contrast, the researchers did not find any higher risk of heart disease or diabetes among individuals eating unprocessed red meat, such as from beef, pork, or lamb. This work is the first systematic review and meta-analysis of the worldwide evidence for how eating unprocessed red meat and processed meat relates to risk of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes."

              1. re: boris_qd

                But you are seeking something in between their unprocessed red meat, and conventionally cured meat. You still want the salt and aging.

                Have you considered making your own cured meat?

                1. re: paulj

                  Another study found a distinction between nitrate cured and just salted (or even smoked) meat. I'm having trouble locating it at the moment.

                  I dont' have the space and time to cure my own right now. It's something I'd like to try at some point though.

                  1. re: boris_qd

                    You won't find many. Especially not long cured meats. The nitrates are an anti-microbial agent used to prevent the growth of botulism spores. The fact that it keeps the meat red and changes the flavour is a tasty tasty secondary effect. The formation of nitrosamines is only formed when you cook the product at high heat, and even that is neutralized by the introduction of ascorbic acid (generally added to cured meats).

                    If you have the space to store bought meats you have the space to make it. Bacon won't take long, and you can make it with just salt. You have to realize that it's going to taste like salt pork and not "bacon". Fresh bacon takes about a week, doesn't need to be smoked but tastes better if it is.

                    1. re: Zalbar

                      People keep saying this but it's not true. Again, prosciutto from parma is long cured (2 years +) and is made with only pork and salt. It is pink _and_ has a "cured" flavor. Smoked varieties (Speck) are similar if you want smoked flavor.

                      I've had salami and bologna (commercial, all in Europe) that are made with nitrates (artificial or from celery juice). For some reason people in the US (including at places that should know better like the Fatted Calf - i've talked with them about his as well) don't know how to cure without nitrates. A lost art?

                      I've made my own pancetta before (using just salt and spices) and was happy with the results. The pancetta from the Fatted Calf has nitrates.

                      1. re: boris_qd

                        That's because prosciutti di parma is the one freak exceptions that defies explanation. No one is sure if it's something in the air of that specific region, a local microbe, no one knows to date. You can cure anything with just salt, it's salt that does the curing not the nitrates or nitrites. Those just provide flavour, keep the meat pink/red from it binding with the hemoglobin molecules and act as a preventative measure against clostridium botulinum.

                        There are plenty of non-nitrate cured meats, such as bresaola. You can make it by taking a big hunk of top round, covering it in salt and then coming back in three months to a year.

            2. re: boris_qd

              There are also a staggering amount of sources citing that vegetable nitrates are equally dangerous.

              I have spoken to Rich Sanders at Niman Ranch and Taylor Boetcher at Fatted Calf (in that case during a salumi class) about the use of sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite in their cured meats. Both of the purveyors are way ahead of the curve when it comes to responsible sourcing and handling of animal products.

              Both outfits seem to agree that there is no true over riding concensus on the use of curing salt.

              Cured meat needs something to prevent the growth of micro-fauna. The greatest likelihood is that such a substance will be toxic to humans in large enough quantities.

              We all have to decide what risks we are willing to take.

              1. re: Brandon Nelson

                I wonder if the use of nitrite(ats) lowers the need for salt?

                1. re: paulj

                  No, the nitrates are anti-microbial as well as for flavour and color. The nitrite is what gives bacon it's bacon flavour instead of a pork flavour. The salt is what is preserving/curing the meat.

                  @Brandon: Anything in large enough quantities is bad for you. Everything in moderation.

                  1. re: paulj

                    Sodium nitrate and nitrite are "salts".

                    Do you use less sodium chloride when you use curing salts (the typical name for pink salt when used to "cure' meats"), yes, you do. I don't suppose the reduction is relevant in terms of being "low sodium" though.

                    Like sodium chloride they effect the flavor, texture, and effective curing time and shelf life of the meat they are used with.

                    1. re: Brandon Nelson

                      No one cures with only sodium nitrite, that's asking to be poisoned. "Pink salt" is sodium chloride with 6.25% sodium nitrite. The reason for that is the extremely small amounts required for curing. FDA regulations permit no more than 120 parts per million of sodium nitrite in bacon and 200 ppm for longer cured meats such as salami. There isn't any real noticeable reduction in salt required as all cures will be mostly salt and a small measure of pink salt added.

        2. Make them yourself and eat it quickly.

          1. It's not that hard to find bacon cured with no synthetic nitrites. If there is a Whole Foods in your area, they sell this:


            Zoe's Meats sells bacon with no added synthetic nitrites (I haven't ordered from there):


            Finding cured meat without any nitrites at all (even naturally occurring such as those found in celery juice) will be very hard. You'll probably end up with uncured bacon (which in my view isn't very good). Also note that a lot of bacon called "uncured" still contain naturally occurring nitrites so you have to look even harder.

            Prosciutto is different because it doesn't naturally spawn bacteria the way salami, bacon, sausage etc. do, so there is no requirement to use nitrites.

            4 Replies
            1. re: calumin

              All meat have bacterial activity, even prosciutto which is really only a fresh bacon rolled and then hung after an initial curing period. Some isn't even rolled depends on the charcutier.

              1. re: Zalbar

                Prosciutto is a salt cured hind leg, a ham. You are describing pancetta, which is cured pork belly.

                1. re: Brandon Nelson

                  Ya my bad. Traditionally prosciutto cured only with salt is laid down in salt boxes then buried in salt and cured over a period of about a year. Always wanted to try that but don't have a place I could safely do that. As to other salumi and sausages I would never trust any of that stuff made without nitrates unless we're talking fresh ground and eaten within a week.

              2. re: calumin

                The fact that prosciutto is made from a whole intact leg limits the micro fauna exposure.

                Most other salumi are made from ground meat. This exposes a massive amount of surface area to the air. It is that exposure that makes cased cured meat a candidate for stronger methods of preservation.