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Curing & Smoking

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.

Extreme Cautions must be exercised in adding nitrate or nitrite to meat, since too much of either of these ingredients can be toxic to humans. In using these materials never use more than called for in the recipe. A little is enough. Federal regulations permit a maximum addition of 2.75 ounces of sodium or potassium nitrate per 100 pounds of chopped meat, and 0.25 ounce sodium or potassium nitrite per 100 pounds of chopped meat. Potassium nitrate (saltpeter) was the salt historically used for curing. However, sodium nitrite alone, or in combination with nitrate, has largely replaced the straight nitrate cure.

Since these small quantities are difficult to weigh out on most available scales, it is strongly recommended that a commercial premixed cure be used when nitrate or nitrite is called for in the recipe. The premixes have been diluted with salt so that the small quantities which must be added can more easily be weighed. This reduces the possibility of serious error in handling pure nitrate or nitrite. Several premixes are available. Many local grocery stores stock Morton® Tender Quick® Product and other brands of premix cure. Use this premix as the salt in the recipe and it will supply the needed amount of nitrite simply and safely.

Much controversy has surrounded the use of nitrite in recent years. However, this has been settled and all sausage products produced using nitrite have been shown to be free of the known carcinogens.

Remember, meats processed without nitrite are more susceptible to bacterial spoilage and flavor changes, and probably should be frozen until used.

Trade and brand names are used only for information. The Cooperative Extension Service, The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences does not guarantee nor warrant the standard of any product mentioned; neither does it imply approval of any product to the exclusion of others which may also be suitable.

This document was extracted from "Sausage and Smoked Meat Formulation and Processing", 1982. Bulletin 865, Cooperative Extension Service, The University of Georgia, Athens. By A. Estes Reynolds, Jr. and George A. Schuler, Extension Food Scientists.

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