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Everything You Want to Know About Nitrates

We get more nitrites from our saliva than we consume in products such as hot dogs or bacon.


The use of nitrite remains an integral part of traditional curing methods for several reasons:

•   It reacts in the meat to form nitric oxide, which binds to the iron atom in the red pigment myoglobin and prevents the iron from causing the fat to oxidize. That binding also produces the rosy pink-red color of cured meats—what we’ve been used to aesthetically since about the 10th century, when the Romans began adding saltpeter to meat to obtain that desired color.

•   In terms of flavor, it contributes a characteristic sharpness that keeps evolving; a country ham aged for 18 months, for instance, has had time to develop a deep, resonant whang. And because nitrite is a powerful antioxidant, it helps keep the flavor of cured meats vibrant and free from off-flavors.

•   Nitrite also squashes a variety of pathogens, including, most important, Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium that can cause rare but deadly botulismBotulus is a Latin word for “sausage,” by the way, and the bacterium came by its name from its pathological association with Wurstvergiftung, or “sausage poisoning,” first investigated in the late 18th century in Germany.

But if you’re worried about consuming these preserving agents, let me break this to you as gently as I can: Even if you wouldn’t touch a ham sandwich, pepperoni pizza, or salumi plate with a 10-foot pole, you can no more avoid nitrate and nitrite than fly to the moon. According to sources such as “Human safety controversies surrounding nitrate and nitrite in the diet,” published in the journal Nitric Oxide: Biology and Chemistry, our saliva, surprisingly, “accounts for approximately 93.0% of the total daily ingestion of nitrite while foods account for a very small portion of the overall daily nitrite intake. This is due to the chemical reduction of salivary nitrate to nitrite by commensal bacteria in the oral cavity.” Forget cured meats; if you’re really concerned about nitrite, better stop swallowing.

Read More from the Source: Jane Says: You Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Nitrites

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