Louisana

Louisana

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Cured or Not

cure
kyo͝or/

- to preserve (meat, fish, tobacco, or an animal skin) by various methods such as salting, drying, or smoking.

Call me behind the times, but I am always amazed by what I don't know, and worse, yet, how long it takes me to find out what I am missing.

In the grocery store yesterday I notice "Uncured" bacon. Now for those of you already enlightened about this, stay with me here. Like many of us, I was raised reared in a world of "Cured" meats. The salty and smoky flavor of cured ham is unmistakable. When you are cooking collards, do your throw pieces of sandwich ham from your Oscar Mayer package into the pot?  Oh, no. You want that a piece of ham hock from a cured ham to give that unique salty smoky flavor.

This brings us to the types of curing: salting, sugaring, and smoking. There is hot smoking, cold smoking, and smoke roasting. 

All this is based on chemistry, a subject  I avoided like the plaque once I got to college after surviving Mr. Allen's Advanced Chemistry class in high school. Centuries ago, man, in all his wisdom, concluded that spoiled meat contained something very bad (botulism) that would lead to death.  The idea of vegetarianism not being appealing, through trial and error (thanks to Harold's camp fire and Eric's salt seller) they found that by "curing" their meats they could both enjoy their kill and avoid botulism. 

All this brings me back to the meat counter in the market and the "Uncured" bacon. If bacon by definition is "cured meat from the sides and belly of a pig (ie pork belly)", does not that make the term "Uncured Bacon" an oxymoron? 

The official definition of “Uncured” bacon is "bacon that hasn't been cured with general sodium nitrites (salts), flavorings, and other things." Even as we delve into the belly of the issue, the semantics of  it gets murky. While "Cured" bacon is soaked in a brine of flavorings and salt - which contain nitrites, the definition of "Uncured" bacon continues as "[usually] cured with a form of celery juice, which contains natural nitrites, and plain old sea salt, as well as other flavorings like parsley and beet extracts". 

This all begs to ask the obvious - if it is still "cured" with sea salt..... 

I'll spare you an opus on nitrites and nitrates. The long story short - both "Cured" and "Uncured" bacon are cured (yes cured) with these "chemicals". The "Uncured" version can say that their process uses natural nitrites from celery juice and beets. But we live in a world of nitrites and nitrates. Many green leafy vegetables have more nitrates per serving than bacon (of any kind). Heck, nitrites are part of the powerful antimicrobial agent in our saliva. 

So much for all the hullabaloo about the nitrites/ nitrates in bacon. This new "Uncured" epithet looks to be just lipstick on a pig. Whether "Cured" or "Uncured", neither makes bacon more healthy. All this mess about curing aside, just start talking to the health nuts concerned about fat. Suddenly nitrites look like super complex mega vitamins. 

In defense of the real thing (not that I would take sides here), I did read a recommendation to buy and eat "Cured" bacon due to the rare chance of contracting trichinosis from the pork in "Uncured" bacon. But I would not worry about. After all, there are folks injecting botulism in their face daily. Who knows, in the future the rage could be capsules containing yersinia pestis (Bubonic Plaque) to ensure eternal youth. And, I don't think that can be cured.

Why mess with a sacred food, especially one of the southern trinity: Bacon, butter, and gravy?

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