If you’ve ever looked at a package of bacon you may have noticed the words “nitrate-free” or something similar. Over the last few years nitrates have been the subject of a lot of controversy because of their possible link to carcinogenic compounds but I’m here to dissect what it really means to be nitrate-free when it comes to products like bacon or ham.
Namely, it’s important to understand the difference between naturally occurring and synthetic nitrates. Nitrates are commonly present in curing agents that are salt based and used when processing bacon, for example. Many of these are synthetic and lab-produced and can even give bacon and ham that characteristic pink color as they contain a red dye. Naturally occurring nitrates on the other hand are commonly found in celery powder and juice, which is what is frequently used in the brining process for bacon and ham, like ours.
But then, you may be wondering, why are some of these products still labeled nitrate-free? According to our USDA inspector, as long as we are not adding nitrates to the brining process, we can call it nitrate free. Since curing salt has synthetic nitrates in the ingredients, it cannot be labeled nitrate free.
The chemist in me gets excited to break this down for you (did you know I went to college for this stuff?). Curing salt has synthetic nitrates (as well as artificial dyes) as part of its ingredient list. We add celery powder instead of synthetic curing agents. Keep this in mind, almost ALL leafy greens & even carrots contain nitrates! So, when we add celery powder, it naturally contains some levels of nitrates in its chemical constituents, just like it also contains fatty acids, salt, antioxidants and chlorophyl. Because we aren’t adding straight nitrates, our USDA inspector says our nitrate free labeling is accurate!
In addition to being nitrate-free, our bacon and ham (and the rest of our pork offerings) are also free of artificial colors and preservatives so you can rest assured that the product you’re receiving is superior in all aspects, the natural way.
Our belief has always been that if we’re raising a high quality pork, the last thing we want to do is add anything in it that doesn’t uphold those same values!