The EarthwormExpress

Letter to the Reader

Dear Reader,

Welcome to the Earthworm Express!  Good butchers are invariably great experimental scientists.  They are forever tinkering with recipes and looking to create magical products.

Food is also a national priority for every government.  Centers of learning invested and continue to invest considerable resources to improve technology in food production, including meat.  In reality, the contribution of science and that of the observant butcher all come down to the same thing.

The earliest reference to this process is found in Mesopotamian records where there is a reference to the use of sodium nitrate to preserve meat which is to be preferred over another well-known preserving agent of the time, ammonium chloride on account of the slight astringent taste of sal ammoniac.  This process of experimentation and careful observations have no doubt been going on since humans became cognitive of our surroundings.

New scientific publications see the light of day non-stop.  It is hard to keep up.  Academia is bent on novel meat processing technologies and it dominates scientific literature.  Old school technology easily gets lost in the maze.  What is, for example, the best way to mix pork gelatin in water?  What are the benefits of pure honey in meat preservation?  There is the entire discipline of dry-cured and long-aged cured and fermented meat products.

Earthworm Express is entirely devoted to great stories from food science and technology.  In re-discovering the birth of old-school technology and understanding the science behind it, we are able to make sense of the novel technologies which see the light of day on a continual basis.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt wrote in his magnificent work, The Tiny Work of Tiny Stories, that “the universe is not made of atoms; its made up of tiny stories.”  These are some of the tiny and not-so-tiny stories from the world of meat processing and the technology underpinning our trade.

Most of the work is dedicated to old and new meat technology.

Latest Posts

Highlights From EarthwormExpress

Specials Highlights from our blog are listed below.

Bacon & the Art of Living – the authoritative history of bacon as never told before!

Years of dedicated research yielded a story tole for the first time! In June 2008 I created Woody’s bacon in Cape Town.  I decided to use selected events from the story of Woody’s, re-cast them in the late 1800s and early 1900s and tell the story of the creation of bacon. I left Woody’s in 2018 but the adventure continues and the book is being written through daily experiences. The theme is “steam-punk” in that I cast modern characters and events into a historical setting where they don’t necessarily fit! Not all the chapters are completed, but this is the unabridged version. What remains is editing it down to something readable and publishing.

Please feel free to contribute and comment!

The Charc’ Tank

Podcast where Gil and Eben talk meat!

Nose-to-Tail and Root-to-Tip: Re-Thinking Emulsions

I re-think every aspect of fine meat pasts in cooked sausage production for a commercial small-good manufacturers perspective. Every part of the animal is used and every part of the plant.

The best Bacon and Rib System on Earth

Years of dedicated research and design culminated in the best bacon system on earth.

  • Brine design like never before with custom built technology offers superior brine preparation and meat-on-meat injection;
  • A custom designed grids system that integrates into continues drying/ smoking/ chilling/ freezing system with automatic loading, offloading and grid washing;
  • Bacon moves to sliver automatically;
  • Automated slicing/ Packing;
  • Pasteurization for clients where refrigeration is a problem;
  • Surpassing shelf life;
  • Lowest labour cost;
  • Highest quality and consistency;
  • Best control over injection yields;
  • Slicing yields as high as 98%.

Artisan Meat – Practiced from the beginning of time!

These pages are devoted to the curing art.   It is dedicated to Robert Goodrick who’s advice I seek first and foremost.  A remarkable man with remarkable talent, experience, and knowledge.  Then, the amazing people from “The Salt-cured Pig”.  A Facebook Group that changed my world and brought the exceptional within my grasp.

About Nitrite

A list of my complete work on Nitrites

The History of Bacon, Ingredients and related technologies

The home of the history of bacon, ingredients and all technologies related to bacon curing.  As always, we deal with the history of its use and the chemistry and mechanics behind its functionality.

The Salt Bridge

A butchers story.  The remarkable story of salt.  It forms a bridge to our past and unites our cultures.

From Bacon & the Art of Living, also see Chapter 08.06 From the Sea to Turpan

The Present and Future of Meat Processing

The Present and Future of Food Processing features exciting and interesting new processes and technological frontiers.

Mechanisms of Meat Curing

Here we examine the mechanisms of meat curing.

Honey – the magical super-food

Honey is the worlds first natural medicine and to this day, an amazing superfood!  Here we consider its history and value as a functional ingredient in cured food formulations.


Here we discuss matters pertaining to bacteria, yeast, and molds, hygiene, shelf life, etc.

Kolbroek and the Kune Kune

The Kolbroek pig of the Western Cape and the Kune Kune of New Zealand represent two indigenous pigs with an enigmatic past.

Nitrate and Nitrite – their history and functionality

Producing good bacon is simple, but the processes involved are complex.  I am not a historian or a food scientist, but I work in the bacon industry as an entrepreneur.  Understanding the environment is fundamental.

The best way for me to understand complex processes is to retrace the historical account of unravelling the system.  This is the approach we follow related to bacon.  One of the most exciting stories in bacon is that of saltpetre (potassium nitrate) and sodium nitrite.

Sausages and Blended Hams

Sausages are one of the most exciting forms of processed and fresh meat and have been with us since the dawn of humanity. Each country in the world has its own sausage tradition and favourites!  Here we delve into its history and focus on a few legendary sausages.

Since blended hams have much in common with Sausages, we deal with it under the same heading.

The Master Butcher from Prague, Ladislav NACHMÜLLNER

The amazing story of Ladislav Nachtmullner, the inventor of the first successful commercial curing brine containing sodium nitrite.

The Fascinating History and Use of Ascorbate

Ascorbate provides impressive secondary value to nitrite in meat processing.  It is an essential ingredient in a bacon cure, but how did it end up being used as such?  What exactly is a vitamin, who discovered Vitamin C in particular and who initiated its use in meat curing?  What are the mechanisms behind its functionality and are there alternatives to ascorbate?   What is the relationship between ascorbate and erythorbate and is one better than the other in a curing mix?

This chapter is entirely devoted to a thorough consideration of ascorbate or vitamin C as far as it is used in the curing of meat.

My memories

I created Woody’s brand and set up Woodys Consumer Brands (Pty) Ltd with Oscar Klynveld.  We later asked his two brothers to join us.  Below I share some of my personal memories. I resigned from the company in August 2018.  Here I share some of my memories.  I also feature the memories and heritage of some of the great people we work with and the companies we interacted with.

I managed Van Wyngaardt for a year with Paul Fickling in March 2019, after which I dedicated my time to understanding and re-engineering fine meat pasts.  My memories of the company are shared in the post below.

Eben Interviews Food Mavericks

Here I celebrate some of the heroes of our trade.  I don’t get a lot of time to do so, but in the future, my plan is to focus a lot more on this.

Great men, women, companies, and other organisations who contributed or continue to contribute to the food industry.  In the picture to the left is Sir David de Villiers-Graaff, the grandson of the man who created the Imperial Cold Storage and Supply Company Ltd. whom Eben interviewed in 2014.

Contact Details

Research and contact:  Any comments, suggestions, contributions, or corrections, please email me at or send me a WhatsApp on +27 71 5453029.

I trust you will find this as much fun and enjoyable to read as I have the pleasure of writing it.  Thank you for reading!


Eben van Tonder

Main Menu

A sample of the site in pictures

2 thoughts on “The EarthwormExpress

  1. What a stunning website! Very valuable information and very interesting reading.

    Great Eben!

  2. thanks , very interesting web site.
    well done.
    Richard Brummer
    Cleaning World

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