Using Sodium Nitrite and Sodium Nitrate
Nitrates and nitrites have gotten a bad rap. During the mid 1970`s, I remember a series of articles published by an attention-seeking reporter trying to establish a name for himself - he was a sensationalist. Indeed, he stirred up and excited the American public, putting fear of nitrates and nitrites into the average consumer. The fact remains, the National Academy of Sciences (Research Council) states that when used in proper concentration (established legal limits), nitrite does nothing to directly harm consumers. Did you know that vegetables contain more nitrites than sausage? In fact, vegetables contain higher concentrations of nitrate than any other foods in our diet. Spinach, lettuce, and beets, are full of the stuff.
Nitrate in itself is not successful in producing the curing reaction. Sodium nitrate must be reduced by lactic acid bacteria (micrococcaceae species), or other natural means, to be effective. In other words, nitrate breaks down into nitrite - and nitrite breaks down into nitric oxide - the substance that actually cures meat. Modern science has not produced a substitute for sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite used as agents to preserve meat and destroy clostridium botulinum.
Nitrates and nitrites must be used with caution. Both are considered toxic in larger amounts and for that reason, strict limits on their use have been established by the USDA. In the United States, the amount of added sodium nitrite lies within the range of 50-200 mg. per kilogram, and sodium nitrate in the range of 200 to 600 mg. per kg. How much is lethal? A fatal dose of potassium
nitrate (saltpeter) is about 30 grams (two tablespoons). Merely 1 gram of sodium nitrite (about 22 milligrams per kilogram of body weight) will cancel your clock! That`s only about 1/3 of a teaspoon! It takes a little more for sodium nitrate to keep you permanently horizontal - one full teaspoon will do the trick!
It is important to note that in various countries, the formulas for nitrate and nitrite cures vary greatly. The strength of nitrates and nitrites themselves do not vary. It is the amount added to a salt carrier that makes a cure stronger or weaker in comparison to others. For instance, In Poland, the nitrite and salt cure called Peklosol is available at only 0.6% nitrite. In Germany, it is called Pokelsalz and contains the same 0.6% nitrite content in salt. In Sweden, folks call their product Colorazo at 0.6% nitrite. In France, it`s Sel nitrite` at 0.6% nitrite. These cures contain only sixty-hundredths of one percent nitrite. Note the placement of the decimal point. Although the cure is not pink in color (it is white), a consumer would find a product much too salty to be palatable if it were to contain ominous amounts of nitrite. In America, Cure #1 contains 6.25% sodium nitrite, and 93.75% salt - ten and a half times stronger than most European cures, with the exception of some of those in the UK containing 5.88% sodium nitrite.
One curing agent must never be confused with the other within any recipe and one certainly must not be substituted for the other. Moreover, both cures are never used together in the same recipe. Notice that formula #1 contains only nitrite while formula #2 contains both nitrite and nitrate. If you mix, cure, and smoke sausage, it becomes your responsibility to follow directions mixing exactly four ounces of Prague Powder with one hundred pounds of meat, or for us home consumers, precisely two level teaspoons mixed with a little water for even distribution, for each ten pound batch of sausage. If you are mixing only five pounds of sausage, add just one level teaspoon of curing salt. For dry-curing whole pieces of meat muscle, we multiply the amount of cure by 4. This allows a "pick up" of about ten percent or approximately 156 parts per million in the final product. Please measure carefully and remember that any recklessness in mixing these salts may potentially injure someone.
Man discovered anciently that when salt was added to meat it improved its flavor, color, and shelf life. Then somewhere in time, sodium nitrate came into use as a naturally occurring contaminant of salt. Chile and Peru have massive deposits of sodium nitrate (NaNO3). Not to be confused with sodium nitrite (NaNO2), the substance is also found in leafy green vegetables. Acting as powerful antioxidants, nitrates and nitrites reduce oxidative rancidity. However, when added directly to meats, sodium nitrite is primarily responsible for the inhibition of pathogen growth including that of clostridium botulinum - the bacteria causing botulism poisoning. Nitrate in itself is not successful in producing the curing reaction. Sodium nitrate must be reduced by lactic acid bacteria (micrococcaceae [kocuria] species) or other natural means to be effective. In other words, nitrate breaks down into nitrite - and nitrite breaks down into nitric oxide - the substance that actually cures meat. Modern science has not produced a substitute for sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite used as agents to preserve meat and destroy clostridium botulinum. As these salts are poisonous used in proportionately greater amounts, companies have continually tried to improve upon them though their efforts have been futile.
is used to cure all meats that require cooking, smoking, and canning. This includes poultry, fish, hams, bacon, luncheon meats, corned beef, pates, and many other products.
Note that Prague Powder Cure #1 in the United States, contains 6.25% sodium nitrite (NaNO2), and 93.75% sodium chloride (salt). As this formula contains no sodium nitrate (NaNO3), there is no waiting for nitrate to be broken down into nitrite and it is effective immediately in curing meat. In the United States, Cure #1 is manufactured using one ounce of sodium nitrite added to each one pound of salt. When used in the curing process, only 4 ounces of cure is added to 100 pounds of sausage. Two level teaspoons will cure 10 lbs. of meat.
is used in dry-cured sausages and whole-muscle meats where curing time allows the nitrate to gradually break down into nitrite. Cure #2 in the United States, contains one-ounce (6.25%) sodium nitrite (NaNO2), with .64 ounce (4%) sodium nitrate (NaNO3), and 89.75 sodium chloride in 1 lb. of salt. Why so much nitrate? Remember, it is actually nitrite reducing to nitric oxide that cures meat. After two weeks dry-curing, only about a quarter of the 6.25 % sodium nitrite remains in the meat. Nitrite is simply too fast. In salamis requiring three or more months to cure, a certain amount of sodium nitrate must be added to the recipe to break down over time. Since micrococcaceae species are inhibited at low pH, sausages relying on nitrate reduction must be fermented by a traditional process. Therefore, nitrate is still used by many dry sausage manufacturers because sodium nitrate (NaNO3) serves as a long time "reservoir" of sodium nitrite (NaNO2).
Potassium Nitrate (Saltpeter)
Saltpeter is 100% potassium
nitrate (KNO3). Although it is used in various cures throughout the world, it is no longer included in cures in the United States (with the exception of only a few applications) as it is thought to produce cancer-causing nitrosamines when cooked at higher temperatures. Commercially, with only a few exceptions, it has been banned by law since 1975. A fatal dose of potassium nitrate is merely 30 grams. Sodium nitrite will cancel your clock at only about 22 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. You can plainly see why these cures MUST be handled correctly. By the way, when you mix charcoal and sulfur together with potassium
nitrate, you get... gunpowder!