There are two very useful bacteria belonging to the micrococcaceae spp.
(species) family that really earn their keep. These are staphylococcus carnosus
and staphylococcus xylosus
. Neither contributes to the fermentation process. However, both are responsible for reacting with nitrate to reduce to nitrite. When this happens, some of the nitrite when exposed to oxygen, will actually create "new
" nitrate. This nitrate is also reduced to nitrite by the same bacteria. As the reaction continues, nitric oxide
is produced (not to be confused with nitrous oxide
- a gas). Nitric oxide
is the substance that actually prevents clostridium botulinum
from developing its deadly toxic spores. In other words, it is nitric oxide
that "cures" the meat. If you want to know how that happens, you`ll have to study "free radicals" and radical chemistry.
Much too complicated to explain here. Anyway, staphylococci
are more salt tolerant than micrococci
. Both are anaerobic
and both possess the nitrate reductase enzyme called catalase
(protects against oxygen and delays the rancidity of fat). By the way, staphylococci
also contribute to proteolytic (protein) break down into free amino acids, and lipolytic (fat) break down into free fatty acids.
When nitric oxide
is "finally" formed by the reaction of staphylococcus
bacterium with sodium nitrate
, following the reduction to sodium nitrite
, the process of "curing" meat becomes immediate. The problem we face is in the TIME it takes for COMPLETE PENETRATION. Let`s take a look at Stanley Marianski`s words on page 30 of his book, "Home Production Of Quality Meats And Sausages"
. He states:
"The use of nitrate is going out of fashion because it is difficult to control the curing process. By adding sodium nitrite directly to meat, we eliminate the risk of having an insufficient number of bacteria and we can cure meats faster and at lower temperatures. Sodium nitrite does not depend on bacteria, it works immediately and at refrigerator temperatures. At higher temperatures it will works even faster."
Ross, the really cool thing is that when staphylococcus carnosus
and staphylococcus xylosus
, the new nitrite
reacts with myoglobin
, a protein that binds oxygen and iron, found in the muscles of mammals. You`ve heard about myoglobin. It`s the protein that forms pigments in raw (red) meat (iron atom[+2]oxygen spp.). When you slap a steak in a skillet and cook it, your favorite ribeye turns brown because it loses one electron (+3 oxidation state). Anyway, if the meat has been treated with nitric oxide
, it will remain pink because the iron atom is bound to nitric oxide (NO). Sound familiar? This is why your brined-smoked turkey remains pink even though it is completely cooked. And what about your favorite corned beef? Just like ham... it remains pink throughout the cooking procedure.
Now, don`t get me wrong ol` pard. Siara is absolutely right about the curing length. His recommendations of 7 days per 1 inch of thickness certainly hold true. I support his comments completely. My point is that if we could somehow get nitrite
to penetrate meat faster than the rate of absorption, the process of curing meat would be shortened even more. Personally, I believe that man will someday achieve this level of discovery and intelligence.