Chapter 16.08: Finally – Bacon, the Superfood

Introduction to Bacon & the Art of Living

The story of bacon is set in the late 1800s and early 1900s when most of the important developments in bacon took place. The plotline takes place in the 2000s with each character referring to a real person and actual events. The theme is a kind of “steampunk” where modern mannerisms, speech, clothes and practices are superimposed on a historical setting.  Modern people interact with old historical figures with all the historical and cultural bias that goes with this.

Finally - Bacon, the Superfood 
December 1990
By Eben van Tonder
(Latest review: 25 December 2022)


The most exciting journey on earth has been the almost 20 years it took me to unravel the mysteries behind bacon curing. In the end, I’ve learned that the greatest goal in life is not to strive for permanence, and the never-changing for this is just an illusion and what will the satisfaction be in achieving such an end? In life, the greatest satisfaction is in the inherent ability always to explore and improve, no matter past successes and failures. Life stops when we cease to explore. The music stops when the last note is played, and, in a way, it is up to us when the last note will be played.

I’ve set out to understand curing and credited a few companies with “making the best bacon on earth.” (Chapter 16.00: The Best Bacon on Earth.) I’ve learned that meat curing is an exact mimic of physiological processes. However, I’ve also learned that we stopped mimicking our physiology when Ladislav Nachmüllner invented nitrite curing in 1918 (See Chapter 15.03: The Direct Addition of Nitrites to Curing Brines – the Master Butcher from Prague). Since then, most attempts at “improving” curing have been made to circumvent the nitrosamine issue by eliminating nitrite from curing brines. This proved almost impossible to achieve for many years. Nobody thought that such a system is possible that achieves curing through the second route for nitric oxide formation to cure the meat than the reduction or reductase steps of “nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide”.

The industry knew that the oxidation or synthase route existed via the “enzymatic NO-synthase –> L-Arganine,” responsible for the production of nitric oxide in the body and that in long-term curing such as dry-cured hams and bacon, the same reaction is mediated through bacteria giving us “bacteria mediated enzymatic NO synthase –> L-Arganine” pathway. Nobody could design a system for commercial, high-throughput factories for many years based on this pathway. I am aware of one such a system from Europe that successfully incorporates the required elements to achieve curing within 24 hours using this pathway, therefore skipping the use of nitrites entirely. Richard Bosman and I have been able to duplicate this in our own brine formulation here in Cape Town, and still, as monumental as that achievement is, in light of the discoveries of the physiological value of nitrite and the mechanisms at our disposal to completely eliminate the possibility for nitrosamine formation from nitrite in the curing brine, I suddenly understand that by retaining the nitrite and incorporating the latest research on the inclusion of plant matter in curing brines, a superfood can be created.

The company we created to “house” these inventions is aptly called Oake Woods & Co, in honour of William Oake, who invented tank curing in the early 1800s and his son, also called William Oake, who, through the company Oake Woods, invented a progression on his dad’s invention called auto-curing at the end of the 1800s. (Chapter 12.01: Mild-Cured Bacon, Chapter 13.06.01: Oake-Woods & Co., Ltd., Rapid, and Auto-Cured Bacon) It is directly due to their work that Wiltshire curing existed and is still practised in the United Kingdom (Chapter 14.04: Wiltshire Cured or Tank Cured Bacon.). William Oake invented it!

The firm, Oake-Woods no longer trades in the UK, and Richard and I thought it appropriate to take up the name. The curing system where we exploit the “bacteria mediated enzymatic NO synthase –> L-Arganine” we develop for one client, and we will likely, end up working with the Europeans on it now that we successfully achieve such a system ourselves and can intelligently and productively suggest changes and improvements to their system. The rest of our work is squarely focused on retaining nitrite and exploiting all the benefits and advantages delineated in the previous three chapters. We believe that we have developed the best and most healthy bacon on earth! A superfood!

The experience of working on an entirely new brine system affords us unique insight into the life of William Oake, senior and junior. Every curing system was invented by a person or a group of people. It did not just fall from the sky! Men like William Oake, who invented mild curing in the early 1800s, and his son, who invented auto curing in the latter half of the 1800s. With friends like Richard Bosman, I have the privilege to go through the same experience these men went through.

How did this major change in thinking happen, and what is the basis of such a new approach? I dealt with major points already in the previous three chapters. These four final chapters form a unit:

Steps Towards a Superfood

  1. In light of the physiological value of nitrites, retain their presence in curing brines.
  2. In light of the danger of N-Nitrosamine formation, take every precaution, including adding Vitamin C and E and limiting the number of residual nitrite in the final product in line with the discussion in Nitrosamines.
  3. Incorporate sufficient plant components into the brine formulation to ensure the complete elimination of nitrosamine formation in the product, oral cavities, and digestive tract.

We have made this point in the previous chapter, but for those who target eliminating nitrites from cured meat completely, where one finds nitrate and bacteria, such as in the mouth or digestive tract, you will always find nitrite and nitric oxide and where you have nitric oxide, one can find nitrite and nitrate. This calls into question the wisdom to try and find a meat-curing system which will result in absolutely no nitrites ever being present in the cured meat. (See Communication Record: Leif Horsfelt Skibsted)

Plant Based Sourced on Nitrate

  • Beetroot
  • Artichoke
  • Holy basil Gymnema sylvestre
  • L9H
  • Ashwagandha root
  • Salvia
  • St. John wort,
  • Broccoli
  • Stevia
  • Spinach
  • Gingko
  • Kelp
  • Tribulus
  • Eleuthero
  • Epimedium
  • Eucommia
  • Hawthorn berry
  • Rhodiola
  • Green tea
  • Codonopsys
  • Panax ginseng
  • Astragalus
  • Pine bark
  • Dodder seed
  • Schisandra
  • Cordyceps

A particularly effective mixture is beetroot, artichoke, holy basil, and ginkgo.

Phenols with Antioxidant Properties

Berries, tea, beer, grapes, wine, olive oil, chocolate, cocoa, coffee, walnuts, peanuts, corojo, pomegranates, popcorn, and yerba mate.

An Ever-Evolving Science and Art

This work can never be completed. Let me put it in Biblical terms where the bible is referred to as the conon which comes from the Greek κανών kanōn, meaning “rule” or “measuring stick”. There is a debate among Christians if God, as they understand and define him, still speaks today. Certain groups believe God is still speaking, and others believe the conon is closed.

I want to use the concept of a closed canon and apply it to meat curing. Some believe that meat formulations “are closed”. The canon, as it were, is the traditional way that cured meat products have been made in the past. This is a problematic view as it does not keep abreast with the latest scientific findings and the changing reality of our culture. As such, the work can never be completed. Subsequent generations will always have the onus to improve on previous generations in light of the culture and science.


I remember when Andreas Østergaard sat me down in a coffee shop in Denmark and asked me to explain to him what we wanted to do with the meat like yesterday. So started my real education in curing. In Bacon & the Art of Living, I use the opportunity to cast the actual and real lessons learned in Europe, England, America, New Zealand and Australia over many years within a particular historical context. It allowed me to put myself in the shoes of the historical characters I attempt to bring to life, and in many instances, it gave me insights that I would not have had.

My understanding of a very complex subject matter is limited and I use the opportunity to write as a way to learn. The last few chapters have been challenging. You will notice extensive quotes. I will go back, as I always do, to these chapters whenever I get a chance, and I re-write the quotes in the most simple language I can find since it is true that the more simple I can present it, the better I understand it myself. It is, after all, easy to complicate something, but understanding is a prerequisite for simplifications. The Dutch have a saying that it is not the writing that is the difficult thing, but the cutting! I will add the simplification and changing from quoting others to putting it in my own words. This is how I learn.

My children grew up with me, spending every waking moment at work, hiking the mountains of the Western Cape, or studying. This work will have many more revisions as I continue to learn. The most thrilling part of this was the complexity and the fact that I had to uncover the history that is not dealt with systematically in any other place, namely the story of curing. This was an unexpected bonus!

The quest was, however, to understand bacon as well as “the art of living”. I started in Chapter 1 with Bacon, my Teacher! This sound a bit strange, but in my case, it is true. I remember, as a boy of 17, sitting on the beach in Amanzimtoti, South of Durban, working through the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin in Dutch. What I was seeking was something permanent. A future that would not become irrelevant by later discoveries and inventions.

The search for the true nature of bacon became a lesson in understanding the complexity of the mammalian body and life itself. My faith changed to spirituality, and my quest for what is unchanging became the trill to be involved in the great cycles of life, content to be a part of it to the limited degree that I can understand and enjoy it. Life is so much bigger than my limited and finite understanding, and my enjoyment of it is far removed from any actual reality of my life. I am thankful that I can extend this to all areas of my life. When all is said and done, I could experience a thousand lifetimes through this work, and while I did that, hopefully, I learned something with which I can serve my fellow human beings. This is why I am sharing it. That, and the sheer enjoyment of telling the story. Life is beautiful!

(c) Eben van Tonder


(c) eben van tonder

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