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.
The work is far from complete, but with so many collaborators around the globe, I put this out for review and comment. So, to the curing industry, please fire away with the contributions and corrections.
In the development of bacon curing technology, four iconic curing methods stand between the old dry-cured system and the modern system of the direct addition of nitrites to curing brines and the latest development which is Grid bacon. Here I list the chapters dedicated to these different systems of curing.
In the post above I list all the chapters in Bacon & the Art of Living which deals with the legendary company from Calne, Wiltshire, C & T Harris. I present the chapters for those who desire to restrict their inquiry to the Harris operations.
I fell in love with the story of the Kolbroek from the first time I heard it. It is one of the indigenous South African pig breeds, closely related to the Kune Kune from New Zealand. In trying to trace the origins of these breeds, I had to go back to the development of the English pig. It’s one of the greatest stories of our trade and here I share the complete work from Bacon & the Art of Living on these amazing animals! The list of chapters dealing with these are given in the link above.
In Bacon & the Art of Living, I dedicate three chapters to salt. It remains one of my favourite study subjects. The truth is that I only scratched the surface. It is a subject that I will return to often and I am planning to expand on Chapter 10.12, The Salt of the Land and the Sea. In the link above, I present the three chapters for those who are interested in a more thematic study.
The Afrikaner Nation and Boers feature prominently in my story of bacon. The timeline is such that I returned to South Africa just before the outbreak of the war. So, inserting the Boer War into this work makes perfect sense.
The second role of inserting it is that it is a perfect example of the power of the mental world where we serve images we created and exist only in the mind such as nationalism. It is central to the “art of living” considerations and insights that came to me through the discipline of meat curing.
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
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 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:
In light of the physiological value of nitrites, retain their presence in curing brines.
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.
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
Holy basil Gymnema sylvestre
St. John wort,
A particularly effective mixture is beetroot, artichoke, holy basil, and ginkgo.
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!
Changing Perspectives on Nitrate, Nitrite and Nitric Oxide
Eben van Tonder
11 December 2022
I’ve spent a lot of time on the historical perspectives that emerged over the last few hundred years about nitrates, nitrites and recently, nitric oxide. I took particular note of the changing attitude towards these over the last 15 years not just from a scientific perspective, but also from a public or consumer perspective. I predicted that the avalanche of scientific data that has been emerging especially since the 1980s would eventually swing public opinion as a more complete role of these species become clear in our everyday lives and as essential to our health. More than this, the health and fitness industry would become the main vector driving change away from the stereotypical negative perspectives as the overwhelming beneficial nature of these species becomes clear to sportsmen and women in particular.
Young people are willing and able to process complex sets of information much more effectively than the older generations which means that they can assimilate more complex information which has traditionally been the main obstacle in communicating a balanced perspective related to nitrite in particular. Nitrite, nitrate, and nitrosamine formation is a complex matter. People my age and older grew up with a more linear perspective on things. Something is black or white, for example, where young people are accustomed to thinking in terms of multi-dimensional worlds with complex sets of data.
This week I came across just such a progression where a brand, in this case, CircO2 took some complex sets of data, using innovative marketing techniques and positioned a product, associated with nitric oxide and nitrate, not at the young people, but at the aspirational group of middle-aged and senior citizens. When I use the word “aspirational”, I mean this in the sense that they reach back into what influences the young generation and appropriate their new way of thinking for themselves.
I am not promoting CircO2 as a product. The fact that they use marketing techniques to explain to the general public the essential and beneficial role of nitrate and nitric oxide, and by implication, nitrite also, must be commended. More than this, I propose that the meat industry must do more to aim their own marketing along these lines. There is much we can learn from CircO2 in terms of their approach. They do not shy away from complex data sets. They embraced it and worked hard to present it in a palatable way to consumers.
Of course, CircO2 may not appreciate the link with cured meats as it may distract from their central brand message. I do not propose that there is a link except for the fact that the basics that they present as inherently beneficial in their product are exactly what has been presented as the main problem with cured meats for years. Their clear proclamation of the benefits of these reactive nitrogen species will, over time, become the basis of a complete change of attitude by the consumers towards cured meats.
It is imperative that the curing industry embrace the totality of these new findings, not just in its own messaging, but also in its formulations. What I mean is that more fruit and veg hybrids with meat products must be encouraged because the overwhelming evidence is that these will dramatically improve the health status of the current meat-only formulations. Salt and fat levels must be addressed, and the new formulations must be made available to the mass market and not just the elite consumer.
Another impressive feature of their approach is that they present solid evidence for the efficacy of not only the components included in their formulation but also the complete product. What I mean is this. They test the combined results of the remedy.
With these preliminary thoughts then, let’s delve into the matter at hand.
Their Methods and Subject Matter
My first job after three years of military service was in the industrial chemical environment. Here, Mervyn Niland, the inventor of Flight Hand cleaner taught me the five great rules of sales namely Attention, Interest, Desire, Objection and Close. The manufacturers of CircO2 do a brilliant job of getting one’s attention by introducing us to Mike (70), Eddie (60) and Des who looks closer to my age than Mike or Eddie. All living the kind of active life we all dream of. This was not always the case. Each person struggled with general health until they started giving attention to the one organ in the body often ignored. The “attention” they gave it was taking CircO2.
From Attention to Interest
The marketing team of CircO2 introduce the subject matter and immediately grab your attention which very quickly changes to interest.
They introduce us to the endothelium (a fun fact that I point out to Shannon Hounsell is that “if you could spread this organ out, the cells would cover almost 2 entire football fields!”) :-). The importance of endothelium in the health of all people and older people in particular is correctly highlighted. Related to Mike, Eddie and Des, “they all improved their health by improving the function of their endothelium” using CircO2.
They then introduce us to a surprising discovery by an MIT scientist (look how credibility is introduced early in their presentation).
The attention and interest turn to desire when they list the benefits that Mike, Eddie and Des experienced namely:
✓Restored, healthy blood pressure…
✓ Supercharged energy!
✓ Waking up feeling well-rested and raring to go!
✓ Eliminating swelling in their joints…
✓ Improved memory…
✓ Restored flexibility to arteries…
✓ Improved lung function and reverse breathing difficulties…
✓ Plan a second honeymoon!
They achieved all this by improving the health of their endothelium!
Interest turns into Desire as the story of Nitric Oxide starts to unfold!
I share the link with all my friends from the high school class of ’87! The interest changes in desire! I want this!
After the surge of enthusiasm, some doubt creeps in. Am I being taken for a ride? As soon as it all sounds “too good to be true”, the MIT scientist appears back on stage with the story of his surprising discovery. The work of Robert Furchgott, a pharmacologist from New York and his groundbreaking discoveries from 1980, is introduced. It was Furchgott who discovered that “the endothelium controls your blood vessels which makes them relax and dilate when you need more blood flow. So, when the endothelium doesn’t work well, your blood flow is restricted.”
For the rest of this article, I will present my verbatim quotes from their literature with my comments in italics.
“While Furchgott was doing his research, 2 other scientists were doing research of their own. They discovered a mysterious molecule that seemed to appear out of nowhere and quickly spread throughout the body. Wherever it went, the molecule sent signals that affected the nearby cells.”
“When Furchgott found out about their research, he wondered if there was a connection with the endothelial cells. Turns out he was right! And when the 3 scientists combined their research, Furchgott’s mystery was solved! It turns out the signalling molecule was a very fragile gas called nitric oxide. Nitric oxide sends messages to the endothelium that tell it to relax and allow more blood flow. The nitric oxide discovery was so revolutionary that in 1998, it earned all 3 scientists the Nobel Prize. And it set off a massive wave of research around the world.”
Nitric oxide is essential for your health and overall well-being. It’s as important for your body as oil is for your car.
As you may know, if you stop getting the oil changed in a car, the engine will get gummed up. Eventually, it will run out of oil. And without oil, it won’t be long before your car suffers a critical engine failure.
Well, it’s the same with nitric oxide. But instead of it being an oil, it’s a gas that keeps the endothelium healthy, so your body stays fueled with oxygen and nutrient-rich blood.
And here’s something else you need to know about nitric oxide. It’s actually very fragile. It lasts only a few seconds before it disappears. So your body needs a constant new supply to keep you healthy and active. That’s why if a person is low on nitric oxide and suddenly gets more of it, they can feel the difference almost immediately.
Nitric oxide is nothing short of a health miracle maker! It’s so important that your body has 2 ways to make it.
The first way happens right in the endothelium. There’s a process that converts an amino acid called L-arginine [L-AR-jeh-neen] into nitric oxide.
But if your endothelium starts to get sluggish, the L-arginine has a harder time converting into nitric oxide. In fact, once people get past their 20s, their nitric oxide often plummets.
A study showed that most people in their 70s have lost 75% of their nitric oxide! No wonder so many people develop health symptoms and stop enjoying life.”
Why L-Arginine Supplements Usually Don’t Work
“Since the endothelium uses L-arginine to make nitric oxide, many people believe the problem is they don’t have enough L-arginine. So they think taking an L-arginine supplement will help. And you can find plenty of them on the market that promise to boost nitric oxide. But they’re usually a waste of money. Here’s why.
Studies show once the L-arginine is swallowed, your body immediately starts to break it down. By the time it’s ready to be absorbed into the bloodstream, it’s lost as much as 75% of its effectiveness.
What’s more, L-arginine isn’t well tolerated by some people. People who take it often suffer with bloating, diarrhea, nausea, and stomach pain. So researchers who study L-arginine now say people should avoid it. They don’t see any benefit in taking it and it could cause some unpleasant side effects.
Besides, you don’t need L-arginine to make nitric oxide! Because your body has a backup plan that gives you a steady stream of it.”
Your Body’s Backup Plan
“When your body has a harder time converting L-arginine to nitric oxide, it relies more on another way to make it. This one involves your diet.
You see, there are some foods that contain a certain nutrient. Your body uses the nutrient to make nitric oxide. And what’s so surprising is that it’s a nutrient people used to think was bad. That nutrient is nitrate.
That’s right… nitrate.
You may remember hearing that hotdogs are bad for you because they contain nitrates. And it’s true that eating hotdogs may be bad for you … but it’s not because of nitrates. It turns out nitrates are a vital nutrient because your body needs them to make nitric oxide.
So what healthier foods contain nitrates? Some of the best sources are beets, garlic, spinach, nuts and seeds, and dark chocolate.
Now you may already be eating some of these foods … maybe even a lot of them. Even so, you may still be low on nitric oxide.
Why? Because you need to eat a specific amount of nitrates to get the nitric oxide effect your body needs. That amount is 300mg.
We wish we could tell you exactly how many cups that would be of each of those nitrate-rich foods. But it’s difficult to know. Because the amount of nitrates in food varies dramatically depending on where and how plants are grown, how they were stored, and how they’re prepared.
For example, the nitrate level of a beet grown in one type of soil can have 50 times more nitrate than a beet grown in another type of soil!
But there’s another, even more surprising problem.”
Up to this point, the presentation is flawless. In the curing industry, we know nitric oxide as the curing molecule with broad-spectrum anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties. It is responsible for the cooked-cured colour of meat and much of the antimicrobial efficacy associated with the curing process. For many years the curing industry relied on the use of nitrate and nitrite to generate nitric oxide and it has only recently been discovered that nitric oxide is also generated through bacteria from L-Arganine. The sources for nitric oxide are therefore the same for the body as they are for the curing industry.
A well-known Spanish company produce a mixture of fruits and herbs which they propose to cure meat without nitrate and nitrite being present in them and also apart from L-Arginine. Company’s across Europe, England and Australia have bought into these claims and produce bacon and hams from them, notably one large company in the UK that proclaim that they sell bacon that was produced without any nitrate or nitrate and also without the use of bacterial fermentation from L-Arginine.
The Spanish company in effect claims to have discovered a source of nitric oxide besides nitrate, nitrate and L-Arganine. In a recent discussion with a Dutch friend about these claims, I pointed out that people are awarded the Nobel prize for the kind of discoveries alleged by the Spanish producer. There are others who also make similar claims. These companies in question operates in an environment of secrecy with clearly things to hide. It is fair to say they did not discover another source of nitric oxide! In contrast to them, the messaging by the producers of CircO2is refreshing, transparent and spot-on!
When they say that nitrate is a source of nitric oxide, what they also say by implication is that nitrite is an intermediary in the process, but I understand why they do not delve into this as it will distract them from their simple brand message. It is important for consumers to remember that and look into this.
The Common Habit That Robs You of Nitric Oxide
“Here’s that discovery we wanted to tell you about …
A scientist from MIT was researching how the body makes nitric oxide. And he found out something quite surprising.
It turns out that your body needs a special type of bacteria to start converting the nitrate in food into nitric oxide. And the bacteria live on your tongue. So the process needs to start in your mouth.
Without those bacteria, you could be eating nitrate-rich foods by the truckload, and you’d never make the nitric oxide your body needs to stay healthy. And get this …
It turns out 2 out of 3 people don’t have enough of the special bacteria! And it may surprise you to hear why.
If you take good care of your teeth, there’s a good chance you don’t have much of the special bacteria left.
That’s right. Most mouthwashes … and even fluoride toothpastes … kill the bacteria your body needs to make nitric oxide.
That’s why a person can eat a healthy diet, exercise, and still not stop the decline in nitric oxide as they age.
Luckily, you don’t have to sacrifice healthy teeth and fresh breath to boost your nitric oxide. Because the tongue bacteria discovery gave some scientists an idea.”
“The scientists were doing research at the University of Texas Health Science Center. And they discovered there’s a simple way to get your body to produce more nitric oxide. It works even if you have a sluggish endothelium.
They discovered that with the right ingredients, your body can still produce nitric oxide… provided the ingredients mix with a certain amount of the tongue bacteria. And after a lot of trial and error, the scientists discovered the winning formula. It’s a 5-ingredient combo that works like magic!
The scientists had another problem to solve. They had to figure out how to get the ingredients to mix with enough of the bacteria. That meant a pill or a drink wouldn’t work because they don’t spend time in your mouth.
So to solve the problem, they created a special lozenge. As it dissolves in your mouth, it mixes with just enough of the bacteria to get the nitric oxide process started. And the results are amazing!”
The ingredients they discuss are of interest and have been and are currently the subject of active study by me and a colleague, Richard Bosman. So, it is of great interest to continue looking at their ingredients within the context of nitrate, nitrite and nitric oxide but before we do so we must look again at the method they chose for taking their product which is actually nothing novel.
They re-discovered what has been known since antiquity. The oldest prescription that describes a similar action is the Dunhuang manuscript discovered in the Mogao Caves in the far Western region of China by a Daoist monk, Wang Yuanlu on 25 June 1900.The mix of religious and secular documents dates from the 5th to the early 11th centuries. One text is of particular interest to us, referred to as the Dunhuang Medical Text. The text is attributed to the famous Daoist alchemist and physician Toa Hongjing (CE 456 – 536).” (Cullen, C, Lo, V.; 2005) There is evidence that it relies on earlier traditions from the Han and Sui Dynasties. “The original was decorated with images of the Three Daoist Lords and the Twelve Constellations, indicating links with Doist traditions. In translation, it reads as follows:
From Cullen, C, Lo, V.; 2005
“The symptoms described by the patient, as described in the Dunhuang manuscript, suggests an advanced case of cardiovascular distress. The colour of the fingernails (cyanosis) indicates ischaemia (lack of oxygen in the tissue) due to restricted blood flow. Cold hands and feet are additional symptoms of this condition. Also, acute pain suggests that the patient may be suffering from severe angina, i.e. restricted blood flow due to the narrowing of the cardiac arteries.” (Cullen, C, Lo, V.; 2005)
“Modern treatment for angina is glyceryl trinitrate or isosorbide dinitrate. So, at first glance, there seems to be a similarity in treatment. All three remedies contain the all-important nitrate. Salpeter is, however, an inorganic compound that exists as a positively charged potassium cation (K+) and a negatively charged nitrate anion (NO3-). Concerning organic nitrate, such as glyceryl trinitrate, there is a covalent bond or a molecular bond between the nitrate moieties (NO3) where they share electron pairs which form the bond with the rest of the molecule (CH2). Where glyceryl trinitrate relaxes the muscle lining of the artery to relax, enlarging the vessel and so allowing more blood flow, saltpetre by itself will have no effect on the treatment of angina.(Cullen, C, Lo, V.; 2005)
This is, however, not the full story. The remarkable feature of the Dunhuang text is that the combination of the use of saltpetre (which is nitrate), not on its own, but when applied according to the dictates of the text, becomes a remedy for exactly the condition described. “The thing about glyceryl trinitrate is that this too, in itself, is not a vasodilator (relaxing of the arterial lining). It is transformed, probably in the arterial wall, into nitric oxide, a chemical species which is the vasodilator. Under very special circumstances, exactly as detailed in the Dunhuang text, <beginning with microbial conversion of nitrate to nitrite by bacteria in the tongue,> the nitrate ion from saltpetre also converts to exactly the same species which is the vasodilator (nitric oxide). Despite the fact that glyceryl trinitrate has been in use for over a hundred years, the identity of this species has only been discovered in 1987.” (Cullen, C, Lo, V.; 2005) The discovery is what the producers of CircO2 have been describing and the reason for the efficacy of the Dunhuang text related to saltpetre is exactly the reason why CircO2, replete with beetroot, a rich source of nitrate is effective to produce nitric oxide in the body and their method of changing nitrate into the species which can achieve the production of nitric oxide is what is done with nitrate in CircO2.
The efficacy of these methods of taking the compounds describes rests on the reduction of nitrate to nitrite in the mouth. As I stated before, the owners of CircO2 do not discuss this, but for the meat curing industry, it is important to note that this reaction is the key issue here. The conversion of nitrate to nitrite by bacteria that was known since antiquity (even though they could not have understood the exact mechanism) turns out to be a very important feature of human existence and health, generally.
Bryan (2011) points to this key relationship between nitrate and nitrite with nitric oxide when he writes that “from research performed over the past decade, it is now apparent that nitrate and nitrite are physiologically recycled in blood and tissues to form Nitric Oxide and other bioactive nitrogen oxides.” One of the important sources of nitrite is “Nitrite is also derived from the reduction of salivary nitrate by bacteria in the mouth and in our stomachs. This is the basis for the efficacy of both Circo2 as well as the remedy prescribed in the Dunhuang manuscript. Bryan expands on this, that another source of nitrite is “from dietary sources such as meat, vegetables and drinking water.” The meat he refers to is probably fresh meat, but we know cured meat is an extremely good source of dietary nitrite. In order for nitrate to become effective in our metabolism, it must first be changed into nitrite, and because mammals lack specific and effective enzymes to do this conversion it is mainly carried out by bacteria in the mouth and stomach or by bacteria that are found on our skin. I deal with this in detail in a chapter in my book on meat curing. The chapter is called The Curing Molecule.
“Once in the mouth, . . . bacteria change nitrate to nitrite. This change requires the presence of these bacteria — suggesting a functional symbiosis relationship — as mammalian cells cannot effectively metabolize nitrate. “When saliva enters the acidic stomach (1 — 1.5 l/day), much of the nitrite is rapidly converted to nitrous acid, which decomposes further to form Nitric Oxide and other nitrogen oxides. This human nitrogen cycle is illustrated below. Once nitrite is absorbed and circulated, it is taken up by peripheral tissues and can be stored in cells.” Bryan (2011)
The image above if from Bryan (2011).
Now back to the ingredients in CircO2.
The Weed That Keeps Your Blood Flowing Like Niagara Falls!
The first ingredient they mention is hawthorn. “It’s been used in Asia since the 1st century to help people with heart, circulatory, and respiratory troubles. And modern scientific research confirms that hawthorn has a remarkable ability to protect endothelial cells from damage.
As you saw earlier, when your endothelium is damaged, your blood flow is restricted. This starves your cells of fresh oxygen and nutrients … including your endothelial cells. This shortens their life and starts a vicious cycle.
As your endothelial cells die, your blood flow becomes more restricted, which causes more endothelial cells to die. And around it goes.
Hawthorn breaks the vicious cycle … and throws it into reverse! It does it by protecting the endothelial cells from damage.
In fact, researchers tested hawthorn extract against several other powerful medicinal herbs. And hawthorn gave endothelial cells 6 times more protection from damage! That means they live longer. That helps repair your endothelium, which improves your blood flow and brings your starving cells back to life.”
The next two ingredients are beetroot and L-Citrulline.
The 2 Most Powerful Nitric Oxide Boosters
“The first one is beet root powder. Beet root powder is loaded with health benefits! It’s a powerful antioxidant … it fights inflammation … it improves brain function … and it’s an amazing source of nitrates. That makes it a nitric oxide-producing powerhouse! In fact, a study showed drinking beet root juice almost doubles your nitric oxide!
In the study, researchers timed a group of people riding a stationary bike until they were too exhausted to continue. They also measured their nitric oxide levels, how much oxygen the participants had in their blood, and how much got into their muscles. Then they split them into 2 groups.
One group got beet root juice to drink every day for 6 days. The other group got a sham drink that tasted like beet root juice but didn’t have any nitrates in it.
At the end of the study, the people came back and were tested again. And the researchers were astonished by what they saw!
The people drinking beetroot juice increased their nitric oxide by 96%! That’s almost double! But not only that…
Instead of gasping for air, they needed less oxygen to pedal … and they could pedal longer, too. But the people who got the fake drink didn’t see any benefit whatsoever.
Beetroot is one of the best nitric oxide-boosters you can find.”
Beetroot juice is replete with both nitrate and nitrite. The fact that the tablet is held in your mouth means that nitrate-reducing bacteria change nitrate into nitrite so that even more nitrite is swallowed. It completely obliterates the tight link that popular science presented for years that nitrite = cancer. The fact that CircO2 not only include it in their remedy but even prescribe the action of holding it in your mouth for a while before swallowing it is a stunning reversal of the old and outdated view of nitrites.
Their formula “also contains an ingredient that gets around the L-arginine problem. And it helps your endothelium make more nitric oxide, too.”
Helps Your Endothelium Make More!
As we mentioned earlier, taking L-arginine supplements doesn’t do much to help your body make nitric oxide. And besides, there’s something even better you can do.
You can get your body to make more L-arginine! How? With something called L-citrulline [L-sit-true-lean].
L-citrulline is an amino acid that your body uses to make L-arginine. And your digestive system doesn’t break L-citrulline down. L-citrulline gives you other benefits, too.
It improves concentration, increases blood flow, and reduces muscle fatigue. In fact, a study found L-citrulline can even give you more muscle power.
In this study, the researchers split people into two groups. One group took L-citrulline capsules for 7 days. The other group took capsules filled with a cornstarch placebo. After a week, both groups met with the researchers for testing.
First, the researchers tested their level of L-arginine. And they were amazed! In just 7 days, the people taking the L-citrulline had an astonishing 38% more L-arginine in their bodies!
Then both groups were tested to see how fast they could ride 4-kilometers on a stationary bike. The L-citrulline group finished faster! But the researchers had to make sure it was because of the L-citrulline. So they did the study a second time. Only they switched the capsules. So the ones who got the L-citrulline the first time got the placebo, and vice versa.
And the results from the second test confirmed it! In each case, the L-citrulline group had more L-arginine and finished the bike race faster. Not only that … the people all said when they took the L-citrulline, their muscles didn’t feel as tired. And they noticed they had more concentration.
So L-citrulline helps your body both physically and mentally. And it keeps your level of L-arginine elevated so your endothelium can make nitric oxide all day, without any side effects.
The 2 Essential Nitric Oxide Vitamins
Their remedy also contains 2 vitamins that are essential to your body’s ability to make and use nitric oxide.
Vitamin B12: Many people don’t get enough B12, or they have trouble absorbing it. B12 is important because it protects the nerve endings in your brain. People who don’t get enough of it often notice they have problems with their memory.
Not only that. Low B12 is shown to lower your nitric oxide levels too. That’s why CircO2 has 1000 mcg of B12. This helps your body to make nitric oxide, while also giving your memory a boost!
Vitamin C: You already know that vitamin C is great for supporting your immune system. Well studies show it also helps your body make nitric oxide … especially when you’re over 60.
Right around the age of 60, people’s bodies start having a hard time clearing out toxins. And toxic build-up is one of the things that wears out your endothelium. But vitamin C is shown to seek out and remove the toxins that weaken your endothelium.
The combination of these 5 powerful nitric oxide-boosting ingredients … in a delicious lozenge that melts on your tongue … makes CircO2 the best nitric oxide-booster you can find. And the results speak for themselves.
In cured meats, adding vitamin C fulfils another important function besides its value in CircO2. It is legislated in most countries on earth, that wherever nitrites are used to cure meat, vitamin C must be part of the formulation because it blocks the possible formation of nitrosamines in the human body. The link with cancer is the formation of nitrosamines the possible formation which is prevented by adding vitamin C. (Mirvish, 1975) This, the fact that vitamin C is added to all cured meats, together with the minuscule amounts of nitrites used in meat curing, considered in the comparatively massive amounts that it exists in leafy green vegetables such as beetroot and spinach, it key physiological function in the human body, the amounts swallowed every day from our saliva, all points to nitrite in cured can not possibly be the reason why some studies point to possible health concers associated with it.
The fact that a product like CircO2 exists is a testimony to the erroneous science that concluded that nitrite is to blame for any possible adverse health effects of cured meat. I appreciate how the owners of the CircO2 referred to it that hotdogs may be unhealthy, but it is not for the inclusion of nitrates (and by implication, nitrites). What is interesting is that the possible reasons why certain brands of cured meat are unhealthy are far more within the control of the processor than the use of nitrite and ultimately nitric oxide without which meat can not be cured.
Boosts Nitric Oxide in Just 20 minutes!
The point of quoting their presentation is to show that when one talks about nitrite, nitrate and nitric oxide and you ingest it through cured meat, leafy green vegetables or the formulation, CircO2, the results are almost instantaneous!
Most supplement companies rely on studies that test the individual ingredients in their supplements. But they never study how people respond to the product itself. That’s not the case with CircO2. In fact there are several studies that show how well the actual CircO2 lozenge works.
In one study, researchers gave people the lozenge to dissolve on their tongue. Then every 5 minutes, the researchers used the same process we mentioned earlier to measure the amount of nitric oxide in their body. They kept measuring them for over an hour. And the results were astonishing!
The participants’ nitric oxide levels began to rise almost immediately. In less than 20 minutes, their nitric oxide was 650% higher! And it stayed elevated, too!
In another study, researchers tested the formula on a group of people aged 42 to 79. All of them had high triglycerides.
The researchers split them into two groups. One group got a box of lozenges with the CircO2 ingredients, and the other got a placebo. They were told to let a lozenge dissolve on their tongue every morning and evening.
When the 2 groups returned 30 days later, the researchers tested their triglycerides again. The CircO2 group’s triglycerides dropped by as much as 55% … without making any other changes to their lifestyle!
But even better was how the CircO2 group felt. At the end of the study, the participants from both groups filled out a questionnaire. Many people in the CircO2 group said they:
– Felt more relaxed
– Slept better
– Had more energy
– Were less anxious
And most of them said they felt so good they wanted to continue taking the lozenge.
There’s just no denying it! You feel noticeably better when your cells are flushed with oxygen and nutrients! And it makes you healthier, too.
Nitric oxide can do more for your health and well-being than practically anything else I’ve seen. In fact, I’m shocked that the standard screening tests we get when we’re older don’t include a way to test for nitric oxide.
Having masterfully taken us through the steps of attracting our attention, piquing our interest, motivating a desire for their product to develop, and overcoming objections, they now close the deal with links to their order portal and the promise of a healthy and bright physical future.
For those interested to learn more about CircO2, either do an internet search or visit advancedbionutritionals. Products like these will continue to become available based on the latest research. The wellness and sports nutrition industry are far advanced in embracing the value of nitrite, nitrate and nitric oxide.
The curing industry is lagging behind in assimilating this research into its own messaging and in formulating new and improved products that embrace similar research that not only show that nitrite does not equate to cancer, and instead embraces the full spectrum of the benefits of plant components.
This is the sole focus of the work of Richar Bosmann and me. It should be a major focus for everyone!
A South African friend living in Australia sent me a message this morning about an evaluation I did about the recently launched no-nitrite bacon from Woolworths which I suspect to be similar to the Spanish company I described earlier (Evaluation of Woolworths “contain no nitrites” Bacon). He wrote, “I have read this morning an interesting article from Prof Henry Mintzberg where he was writing about Milton Friedman’s doctrines and Henry said the following: ‘When the corporation knows more than its clients do, there is room for deception. A good deal of advertising can be described as manipulative in nature, that is, designed not to inform but to affect ― to create emotional need or dependency. To the extent that this kind of advertising works ― expressly as it is designed to ― then to use Friedman’s terms, it coerces the consumer and evokes involuntary cooperation, thereby distorting consumer sovereignty.” This is exactly NOT the kind of advertising that CircO2 practices and as excited as I am by them bringing the subject matter they address into the popular mass media, I think their approach is a rebuke to a lack-lustre response by the meat industry! They certainly seek to educate with integrity and capitalise where the meat industry seems to do nothing!
The question emerges how do bacteria penetrate meat? The relevance is that Richard Bosman and I are working tirelessly to create a curing system that uses bacterial fermentation. In order for meat to be cured, either an oxidation reaction of ammonium/ ammonia or L-Arginine is required or the reduction of nitrite is. (See my chapter in Bacon & the Art of living, The Curing Molecule) The focus of our work is on creating the former.
I posed a few initial questions about the relationship between the penetration of meat by bacteria and the percentage of salt used in a curing brine (with no nitrates and nitrites) to the inventor, scientist, entrepreneur and author, Greg Blonder. (For more on Greg visit Genuineideas) Greg set me on the path to the solution.
The pioneering work on the subject of the general penetration of bacteria in meat was done by the New Zealand researcher, C. O. Gill who was associated with the Meat Industry Research Institute of New Zealand in Hamilton. It is an area of meat science where remarkably little has been done since and I suspect, in light of the emerging new curing methods of meat fermentation which allows for an oxidation step to nitric oxide, will become a focus area over the next couple of years for researchers.
From Richard Bosman’s Quality Cured Meats. I include the post by Pasch du Plooy who submitted the picture to show how alive this discipline is. He writes, “My Dad built this beautiful stand for me a few weeks ago. We asked Richard Bosman Quality Cured Meats for one of his finest Prosciutto’s. He blew us away with this 18-month-old aged ham! Sliced in front of guests. We kept it simple and served it with fresh, seasonal melon and a spritz of citrus oil. Such a hit at our last wedding.”
Is Meat Intrinsically Sterile?
Meat is sterile if we exclude any bacteria contamination due to disease or injury. Gill (1979) writes that “it has been shown that muscle tissue from commercial carcasses is sterile if care is taken during sampling, the outer contaminated layers being first removed either by surgical techniques or by deep searing of the tissue with a hot template (Buckley et al. 1976; Gill et al. 1978).” He makes it clear this is the case across all species when he writes that “in addition to . . . work on mammals, there is also evidence that the flesh of fish and birds is usually sterile (Herbert el nl. 1971; Mead et al. 1973).” (Gill, 1979) Not only is the meat sterile, but “carcasses from normal healthy animals would appear to have considerable residual ability to maintain tissue sterility.” (Gill, 1979)
The clear fact is that meat is sterile on the inside and contamination with bacteria from the gut, post-slaughter is unlikely since “bacteria cannot pass across the intestinal wall nor penetrate muscle tissue until there is considerable breakdown of the tissue structure. Similarly, there is no movement of bacteria longitudinally within the intestinal wall until tissue breakdown is well advanced (Kellerman et al. 1976; Gill et al. 1976; Gill & Penney 1977). There is therefore no mechanism by which bacteria can pass from the intestine of dead animals to other tissues until at least several hours after death, the time involved being largely dependent on the temperature at which the carcass is stored.” (Gill, 1979)
Important Characteristics of Bacteria to Consider
We must be aware of the phases of bacterial growth.
In an “ideal environment”, the following phases of bacterial growth are observed a lag phase, an exponential or log phase, a stationary phase and as nutrients decline in the environment, a death phase.
The bacterial growth curve represents the number of living cells in a population over time. Michal Komorniczak/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0
We must also be aware of the fact that bacteria can be either proteolytic or non-proteolytic. Proteolytic bacteria is a type of bacteria that can produce protease enzymes, which are enzymes that can break down peptide bonds in protein molecules. The result of proteolysis is therefore the breakdown of proteins into smaller molecules catalyzed by cellular enzymes called proteases. (Shirai, 2017)
Proteolysis in dry-cured meat products has been attributed mainly to endogenous enzymes (Toldráet al. 1992a). On the other hand, Rodríguez (1998) found that “proteolysis on hams may be due not only to endogenous but also to microbial, enzymes.” Gill (1977) came to the same conclusion years earlier when they found that bacteria are confined to the surface of meat during the logarithmic phase of growth but when proteolytic bacteria approach their maximum cell density, extracellular proteases secreted by the bacteria apparently break down the connective tissue between muscle fibers, allowing the bacteria to penetrate the meat. Further, non-proteolytic bacteria do not penetrate meat, even when grown in association with proteolytic species. (Gill,1977)
In terms of the penetration of bacteria into fresh meat, Gill (1977) found that the “penetration of meat by nonmotile bacteria (i.e. not mobile) and the rapid rate of advance of invading microorganisms indicate that physical forces are involved in the movement of bacteria through meat. Non-proteolytic species do not invade in company with proteolytic species probably because, with mixed cultures, penetration originates in the area of growth of a microcolony of the proteolytic species so that the non-proteolytic bacteria are excluded. Protease production by bacteria does not occur until the end of logarithmic growth when the meat is in an advanced stage of spoilage. Therefore, unless the meat has been treated with a protease preparation to cause breakdown of the muscle structure, there should be no penetration of bacteria into organoleptically sound meat.” Gill (1977)
Also, “the proteolytic species were present between the muscle fibers throughout the meat, and some degradation of muscle fibers occurred. . . . Penetration of meat by bacteria apparently results from the breakdown of the connective tissue between muscle fibers by proteolytic enzymes secreted by the bacteria.” Gill (1977) Shirai (2017) quotes Gill (1984) when he stated that bacteria migrate into meat via gaps between muscle fibers and endomysia. Gill did not salt the meat as part of their experiments.
Is Bone-Taint Evidence of Intrinsic Bacteria?
Bone-taint is often given as evidence for the existence of intrinsic bacteria in the deep tissue regions of fresh meat. When discussing this, Gill (1979) says that “in hams which have been injected (pumped) with brine, any deep spoilage is likely to result from the injection of extrinsic bacteria.” (Gill, 1979) He rules out that bone-taint is evidence of intrinsic bacteria when he writes “‘bone-taint’ of hams is not unequivocal evidence for the occurrence of intrinsic bacteria.”
For all the possible causes for bone-taint considered by researchers by the 1970s, I give the complete paper by Gill (1979) below where he concludes that “it is clear that more than one condition is encompassed by this term (bone-taint), and it is possible that with beef carcasses a considerable proportion of the conditions so described are not the result of bacterial growth in deep tissues.” (Gill, 1979)
How Would Starter Culture Bacteria Enter Salt-Only Dry-Cured Meat
The question is relevant because I suggested in my comments on salt-only curing methods that bacteria play a role in oxidising nitrogen-containing elements to nitric oxide and that it is possible to have a curing system where no nitrite is used.
How Bacteria Can Enter Dry-Cured Meat
Gill did not dispute the fact that bacteria from the surface are able to penetrate meat. More recent studies have, however, shown this to be the case even for non-proteolytic bacteria also. Bosse (2015) studied the kinetics of migration of colloidal particles in meat muscles in the absence and presence of a proteolytic enzyme to simulate non-motile bacteria penetration. They concluded that “particles are able to diffuse into the densely packed fiber structure of meat muscles, which is contrary to the long-held belief that such penetration may not occur in the absence of extensive proteolysis or mechanical damage of tissue.” (Bosse, 2015)
Water and Salt: Changes to Microstructure of Meat
To develop a possible model of vectors facilitating the migration of bacteria to the deep tissue parts of meat, we consider the combined effect of water and salting.
Thorarinsdottir (2011) investigated the effects of salting and different pre-salting procedures (injection and brining versus brining only) on the microstructure and water retention of heavy salted cod products. They found that “salting resulted in shrinkage of fibre diameter and enlargement of inter-cellular space. Water was expelled from the muscle and a higher fraction became located in the extra-cellular matrix. These changes were suggested to originate from myofibrillar protein aggregation and enzymatic degradation of the connective tissue. During rehydration, the muscle absorbed water again and the fibers swelled up to a similar cross-sectional area as in the raw muscle. However, the inter-cellular space remained larger, resulting in a higher water content of the muscle in the rehydrated stage.” (Thorarinsdottir, 2011) Such water would undoubtedly contribute to the migration of bacteria during a starter culture containing brining of meat. Their observation is that when salt is rubbed on the meat surface and migrates into the meat, water is expelled from the muscle and a higher fraction which becomes located in the extra-cellular matrix will undoubtedly aid the migration of bacteria into meat in a salt-only curing system. The inter-cellular space is also enlarged during dry salting, believed to result from enzymatic degradation of structural components in the muscle during the first days of dry salting.
They state that the microstructural changes in dry-cured ham and these “have been related to proteolysis (as we developed above) and have been described as degradation of the proteins in the costamere and in the cell membrane. After curing, the Z-disks are no longer in line. It has also been observed that the myofibrillar bundle becomes more compact with a large number of empty spaces or gaps in between neighbouring myofibrils.” (Larrea et al., 2007).
Changes to the microstructure of dry-cured meat which results in water being expelled from the muscle to become located in the extra-cellular matrix is one of the likely routes for the migration of bacteria during salt only curing from the surface into the deeper tissue regions. Further, there is an increase in the inter-cellular space that was believed to result from enzymatic degradation of structural components in the muscle during the first days of dry salting. Besides this Staphylococcus xylosus, known for its ability to oxidise nitrogen and form Nitric Oxide is a proteolytic bacterium.
Hansen CL, van der Berg F, Ringgaard S, Stødkilde-Jørgensen H, Karlsson AH. Diffusion of NaCl in meat studied by (1)H and (23)Na magnetic resonance imaging. Meat Sci. 2008 Nov;80(3):851-6. doi: 10.1016/j.meatsci.2008.04.003. Epub 2008 Apr 11. PMID: 22063607.
Rodríguez, M., Núñez, F., Córdoba, J. J., Bermúdez, M. E., Asensio, M. A.. (1998) Evaluation of proteolytic activity of micro-organisms isolated from dry cured ham. Applied Microbiology, Volume85, Issue5, November 1998, Pages 905-912, https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2672.1998.00610.x
Thorarinsdottir, K. A., Arason, S., Sigurgisladottir, S., Gunnlaugsson, V. N., Johannsdottir, J., & Tornberg, E. (2011). The effects of salt-curing and salting procedures on the microstructure of cod (Gadus morhua) muscle. Food Chemistry, 126(1), 109-115. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2010.10.085
I updated my review of curing systems by adding a section on the mechanism behind salt-only curing. It just so happens that the South African retailer, Woolworths launched their range of bacon with the claim “contain no nitrites.” In discussing salt-only-curing, I used them as an example and evaluated their claim. Here is the extract from Bacon Curing – a Historical Review. Our own nitrite-free bacon is discussed in Oake Woods Catering Bacon.
The Mechanism of Salt-Curing
For years I never seriously looked at salt-only-curing. Yes, its mechanism is well known, or so I thought! The salt reduced the water in the meat which retards the micro activity and meat breakdown (enzymatic) while L-Arginine slowly oxidises to L-citrulline and nitric oxide and nitric oxide cures the meat.
The booklet that Edward De Bruin, my South African friend living in New Zealand sent me (Methods of Meat Curing, 1951, US Dep of Agriculture) reported that in a survey done in the early 1950s, it was found that 37 percent of the farmers used dry curing. The curing agent they used was salt only. The author describes it as follows, “a fine grade of sack salt or table salt applied to hams, shoulders, and bacons. All the salt was applied at one time by about one-half of the farmers, 10 pounds (4.5kg) of dry salt per 100 pounds (45kg) of meat being used. The liquid extracted from the meat during cure was not permitted to accumulate. Curing temperatures ranged from 20° to 50° F. (-6°C to 10°C), the average being about 40°F (4°C). Most hams weighed 20lb (20kg), 25lb (11kg), or 30lb (13.6kg) : shoulders and bacons weighed 20lb (20kg) pounds. The hams were cured for 1½ days per pound : shoulders and bacons, 1¾ days. About 50 percent of the farmers smoked their meat. Prior to smoking 3 to 1 days in hickory smoke, the meat was washed. The meat was stored in a dry, cool room with some air circulation. Consumption began immediately after the meat was cured and smoked, although some meat was stored for 9 months.”
The method was simple and effective. It took around 30 days to cure the meat and this was the problem. All subsequent curing methods from time immemorial, which is the subject of this work, were done to reduce this time. With the 20:20 hindsight we have peering back over aeons of time, we realise that what they were looking for was other ways to speed up the production of Nitric Oxide which is the curing molecule with its reddening effect on the meat and its broad spectrum antimicrobial activity.
The earliest progression from salt-only curing was the addition of nitrate directly through saltpetre and the oxidation of ammonium. This article sets out this progression. Following World War 1, nitrite was added directly and right from the start this was controversial. The motivation for the change from nitrate to nitrite was the availability of nitrate in a war situation and secondly, the speed of curing with nitrite curing being much faster than nitrate curing. Since that time, and especially from the 60s and 70s, the curing industry tried to find a system that does not rely on nitrate or nitrite. I believe this was done based on an inadequate understanding of the role of nitrate and nitrite in human health but it’s a discussion for another time. (The Truth About Meat Curing: What the popular media do NOT want you to know!)
When the industry found this to be impossible (curing without nitrate or nitrite), a trend began where some denied its inclusion in meat or at least tried to hide it. They did this by using an ancient method of curing where plants and fruits are used, naturally high in nitrate and nitrite but label declaration legislation does not necessitate you to declare all the chemical species naturally found in the plant matter. So, it is still nitrate and nitrite added to the meat which produces the nitric oxide which cures the meat, but using this strategy, producers did not have to include nitrate or nitrite on their labels.
Using this method of curing results in a healthier product due to the inclusion of minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and other beneficial plant constituents but to claim no-nitrite/ nitrate curing is false. A contemporary example of this may be the recent launch of Woolworths in South Africa.
Woolworths in South Africa launched a range of bacon recently which they claim to be cured without nitrite. They state on their packaging that their bacon is cured “using a combination of fruit and spice extracts without compromising on flavour, texture or colour, and it contains no nitrites.” The question is what “contains no nitrites?” Is it the bacon that contains no nitrites or the curing brine?
Maybe they added these indirectly through plant matter which, in the end, is exactly the same thing as adding it directly with a major difference being that adding it through plant matter makes the process uncontrolled – meaning they can’t control how much they add as opposed to the method of adding nitrate and nitrite directly which enables you to reduce the amount of ingoing nitrate and nitrite to the smallest possible ratio which is the “safest” way of doing it if you believe that nitrates and nitrites are bad for your health (an assumption that I do not subscribe to, see The Truth About Meat Curing: What the popular media do NOT want you to know!) Whatever the consequence of adding it through plant matter, claiming “no nitrites” will be a blatantly false statement and I don’t believe this is what they are doing for one moment.
Of course, the “contain no nitrites” may mean that they took care to remove all residual nitrites from the bacon after it was cured. Residual nitrites are what is left in the bacon after curing. I will argue that nitrates and nitrates is not a big deal (The Truth About Meat Curing: What the popular media do NOT want you to know!) but I understand many consumers still have a negative perception of nitrites and if the products are not formulated right, it poses a problem. Residual nitrites can be reduced dramatically by employing a range of processing techniques and through bacteria. Staphylococcus xylosus and Staphylococcus carnosus have, for example, been shown to be also able to reduce the residual amounts of nitrates and nitrites (Neubauer and Götz, 1996; Gøtterup et al., 2007; Mah and Hwang, 2009; Bosse et al., 2016). Woolworths is a quality-driven company their statement, “contain no nitrites” means that they used nitrates and nitrites but removed any traces of it before its made available for sale, I applaud them for their work! There is a small technical matter related to the chemical generation of nitrate from nitric oxide in a meat system and the fact that nitrite will soon be generated through bacterial action which calls into question if one can call any cured meat system 100% free from nitrites, but that is a question for another forum and it is possible with the right approach.
All this is an example of how the industry is grappling with the fact that nitrates/ nitrites are used. Before any of this became an issue in the world, there was curing with salt only. It would seem to me that at the heart of the entire move away from salt-only-curing was the fact that we fundamentally missed the role of microorganisms with the ability to react with protein and to create nitric oxide which then cures the meat. Well, we “missed” it because it was so hard to see nor did we have the technology to identify and isolate certain bacteria with this ability, nor did we understand what bacteria need to be effective by way of nutrition.
We had glimpses of this from the world of salt-only curing! The mechanisms underpinning salt-only curing are only emerging now as a powerful method to cure meat without the use of nitrate or nitrite, directly or indirectly. Let me say it like this. Now that we are working out the mechanism of salt-only curing, we discover ways to do it as quickly as is done with nitrite curing. Despite many years of intense research into meat curing, it is remarkable that we are only now starting to understand how the oldest form of curing works.
Proteins and lipids or fats in meat tissues are degraded mainly by enzymes which are also present in the meat during the ripening of the hams/ bacon but the breakdown of proteins and fat cells is also achieved through bacteria (Flores and Toldrá, 2011) and they play a direct role in curing in salt-only systems. Morita et al. found that Nitric Oxide formed in salt-only curing systems is achieved from L-arginine due to nitric oxide synthase (NOS) in either Staphylococci or Lactobacilli. (Morita et al., 1998 and quoted by Gasasira, et al, 2013) Another study on the production of cured meat colour in nitrite-free sausages by Lactobacillus fermentum showed that nitrosylmyoglobin (a form of the meat protein, myoglobin, formed during curing) could be generated when the bacteria, Lactobacillus fermentum AS1.1880 was inoculated into the meat batter, and the formation of a characteristic pink colour with an intensity comparable to that in nitrite-cured sausage can be achieved using 108 CFU/g of the culture. In other words, bacteria, in a salt-only curing system can directly achieve what nitrite curing would later accomplish.
Despite the fact that even in the 1950s salt-only-curing was the biggest single way that bacon was produced on farms in the USA, I am going to look at two important salt-only-cured hams that have been the subject of research which elucidated the mechanisms underpinning salt-only-curing and to illustrate that the key, understanding the mechanism behind salt-only-curing, is bacteria. Microorganisms drive the process!
Parma ham is traditionally produced using only sodium chloride without the addition of nitrate or nitrite and develops a deep red colour, which is stable also on exposure to air. It has been shown that bacteria are responsible for the creation of nitric oxide without nitrate or nitrite which then cures the hams. Fascinatingly, despite the fact that we know that bacteria are responsible for the creation of nitric oxide which leads to nitrosylated heme pigments, the identity of the pigment of Parma ham has not been established. In one study, the stability of the pigment isolated from two different types of dry-cured ham (made with or without nitrite) was compared to that of the NO derivative of myoglobin formed by bacterial activity. Heme pigment from Parma ham made without nitrite was more stable against oxidation than the pigment from dry-cured ham with added nitrite.” (Møller and Skibsted, 2001) This is a most fascinating discovery! Further, heme pigments extracted from Parma ham and a bacterial (Staphylococcus xylosus) formed NO-heme derivative and have similar spectral characteristics (UV/ vis spectra and ESR).” (Møller and Skibsted, 2001)
In China, Nuodeng ham is a dry-cured ham, traditionally made by Bai ethnic people in the Nuodeng village, Dali, Yunnan Province. As part of the production process, they use mineral-rich local salt reserves, and distilled corn liquor and rely on the favourable climate. From these hams, Kocuria rhizophila was isolated (Shi, 2021) and is probably responsible for the formation of the cured colour.
I can give many more examples. Dry-cured, long-cured or salt-only systems are in part enabled by bacterial action where the meat itself is fermented, nitric oxide is generated and the meat is cured. I return to this subject in the very last section of this article under the heading Bacterial Fermentation Curing. Woolworths in South Africa may very well rely on this mechanism of curing their bacon which is the only system where they can make the claim that nitrite is not present. If one would test their cure or their bacon at any time immediately following curing and in the time that it spends on the retail shelf or in the consumer’s refrigerator and nitrite is found, it will make their claim that no nitrites are present, false.
Besides the option of using plant matter that contains nitrate or nitrite, they could of course create the cured colour with proteins outside the meat environment and infuse these into the meat, which I doubt is what they are doing. They could use nitrite to cure the meat directly or indirectly and add bacteria that eliminates all nitrites post curing which is possible, but I would think improbable. The last option is that they could use nitrites at a level below 10 parts per million which will still cure the meat but is undetected in certain methods of testing for nitrites. The challenge will be that at those low levels the nitrite offers little protection against dangerous microorganisms but I notice that they add rosemary extract which could bolster this protecting mechanism. If this is what they are doing, it would unfortunately again make their claim of “contain no nitrites“, false. If, and I am by no means suggesting they are doing this, a clue would be if they are very sensitive to environmental exposure to nitrites during production as this could push the levels of nitrite in the bacon into the levels which are “detectable”.
The last option would be “underhanded” and with a company like Woolworths, there is no chance that they employ such a strategy. Friends of mine work in their meat department both in the compliance as well as operational departments and they would never be a party to anything not completely truthful. Well done to Woolworths then on your product which can only be using some form of fermentation.
Bacterial fermentation of meat is probably the closest one will ever get to a no-nitrite system which is a spectacular return to salt-only curing. Working out how to do it is, as the saying goes, the million-dollar question and if Woolworths found the way, I salute you! As far as our consideration of curing systems goes, our first consideration of curing, namely salt-only, will also be our final consideration under Bacterial Fermentation Curing. In between these two is the most fascinating story never told!
As far as Woolworths’ “contain no nitrites-bacon” is concerned, maybe they can be more specific about which one of the options they refer to when they make that claim. Our own nitrite-free bacon is discussed in Oake Woods Catering Bacon.
The use of starter culture in meat processing seems to be as established as fermentation itself. How many know that this art which seems to have been with us forever was really only commercialised in the 1950s by the work of Dr Fritz Niinivaara? He is the father of the meat fermentation industry and the use of starter cultures we have today.
Dr Acton asked him to give a lecture about his life’s research in the area of meat preservation by fermentation and dehydration, and about the importance of bacteria in this process. At the time of delivering the lecture, Dr Fritz Niinivaara had spent half his life doing research on starter cultures and was Professor Emeritus, Department of Meat Technology, University of Helsinki, Finland.
I present the lecture in its entirety. The importance of this lecture goes beyond the starter culture industry. Dr Niinivaara’s recollections go back to the foundation of meat science as we know it today and are therefore of extreme importance, not just to the fermentation industry, but to meat science overall. It harkens back to a time when researchers were proud of their field of study and when much work was done to correct misconceptions about meat.
We strangely find ourselves in similar times which makes the lecture not just foundational to our trade, but also relevant for today. I will use this as the index page on all subsequent notes on meat fermentation which has become a field of intense interest to me personally. The index to this work will be after the references given by Dr Niinivaara to his lecture.
The History of Food Fermentation
Niinivaara writes that “the preservation of food by fermentation is as old a custom as is the history of man. It was, surely, learned by chance. The purpose of fermentation is not only to preserve the food but also to improve its flavour, consistency, texture, and nutritive value. So, fermentation creates new and unique products from a given raw material: wine from grapes; cheese from milk; beer from malt; and salami or dried ham from meat. Dried, fermented meat products have a shelf-life of months and a delicious flavour, quite different than the flavour of meat.”
Fermentations were carried out during centuries without any scientific knowledge about the nature of the processes involved. Up until recently, sausage-makers would transfer old curing brine to the newly-prepared one. Thus new brine would become inoculated with beneficial microorganisms, causing the desired changes in the cured meat during ripening. This traditional method was based on empirical observations, with almost no knowledge of bacteriology. Therefore, the results were not always satisfactory. Failure was not uncommon.
In the 19th century, Pasteur showed that fermentations are caused by specific types of organisms. The first defined bacterial starters, intended for the fermentation of milk, were introduced about 100 years ago. It was not until the 195O’s, however, that a pure starter culture became available for the fermentation of meat (Liicke et al., 1989). Shortly thereafter, pure cultures were mixed for even better results. The scientific basis of the use of starter cultures in the meat industry was for the first time presented in my doctoral dissertation in 1955. This study will be described later.
People often ask me: How did I become interested in the use of bacteria for the production of dried fermented sausage?
As a student and later as an assistant of Finnish Nobel Laureate (Biochemistry, 1945) Professor Artturi I. Virtanen, I became quite well acquainted with the importance of the bacterial cultures used in the processing of dairy products: cheese, butter, sour milk products (yoghurt), among others. Professor Virtanen had spent a great part of his life in the field of Dairy Science, having made many important discoveries. The results of his research significantly improved the quality of dairy products by ensuring the success of the delicate biological processes utilized then.
In 1947, Professor Virtanen asked me to initiate and to organize a new field of endeavour: meat research in Finland. Consequently, I left my work in biochemistry and started a brand new career without having the slightest idea about this new discipline, unaware of the nature of the problems to be solved.
I found my experience in Dairy Science to be quite useful. The fermentative changes in cheese were quite well known at that time, thanks to Professor Virtanen’s previous research work. The formation of the typical flavor, aroma and consistency depended on the activity of the appropriate microbial flora in the cheese. Cultured microbes were used in these processes.
The ripening of dry sausage, I supposed, might have been by a similar process, but the information on the kind or kinds of bacteria which played a role therein was non-existent. Some microbes could have been useful and desirable but also harmful if found to cause discoloration, unpleasant odor or putrefaction within the system,
Therefore, I concluded that it might be an interesting and economically important task to clarify the relationship between different microbes, the changes produced during the process and the quality of the final product.
Decisive for my future work was the discussions with Dr Niven and Dr Deibel in Chicago in 1953. Both of these scientists were interested in the role of microbes in meat fermentation, e.g., in the ripening of dry sausage. This was my first study trip to the U.S.A..
The First Successful Achievement with Pure Cultures for Meat Processing
In spite of the many unsuccessful experiments in the U.S.A., I decided to start the research in order to isolate bacteria and test the influence of these organisms in the manufacture of dry sausage. The main purpose of the studies was to isolate bacteria from good quality dry sausage and to determine their influence on the ripening process. The ultimate purpose of the study was to inoculate sausage batter with cultures of the isolated bacteria in order to improve the process by shortening the fermentation time, improving color and flavor and eliminating the risk of spoilage and discoloration inherent in the traditional process.
In addition to the organoleptic evaluation, microbiological, chemical and physical determinations were carried out. Variations in moisture content, drying loss, fat content, pH value, redox potential, photometric color determinations, and the content of glucose, lactic acid, nitrate, nitrite ammonia and hydroxylamine in the sausage, were carried out.
Microbiological analyses included differences in total bacterial count, aerobic and anaerobic microorganisms and micrococci were determined. The technological trials were carried out in the pilot plant of the Research Institute for the Meat Industry, in Hämeenlinna, Finland.
In the preliminary tests, the best results were achieved with a bacterial strain which we called “M-53.” In accordance with Bergey’s Manual, this organism was classified to be closest to Micrococcus aurantiacus. The “M-53” organism was then used as the starter organism in the original and subsequent research work. The results of this research work became the author’s Doctoral Dissertation in 1955 (Niinivaara, 1955).
In my dissertation, the following important observations were made and published. Using starter cultures:
Color formation was speeded up.
The pH value of the system was lowered more rapidly.
The desired consistency was achieved more rapidly.
Total processing time could be shortened considerably, a great economical advantage.
The process became fail-safe in view of the antagonistic nature of the starter culture which inhibited many spoilage or pathogenic organisms.
“It is a Long Way From Idea to Success.’’
There were many factors which led-through many difficulties to the success of utilizing starter cultures industrially. The first of these, a very important one, was the industrial propagation of suitable strains. Fortunately, I was able to start a good cooperation with an enthusiastic person from Germany, Herr Rudolf Müller, who agreed to develop the cultivation of microbes, i.e., “starter cultures”, on an industrial scale. At that time, there was no model to follow for this kind of product and, therefore, we had to overcome numerous difficulties. The greatest one of these was the preconceived opinion of many people in industry as well as in research institutes.
The bacterial culture methodology I had used at pilot plant scale was not directly applicable at industrial scale. A new method had to be developed. Lyophilizing technology was still in quite a primitive stage: it was not cost-effective, and it significantly decreased the activity of the microorganisms. If that were not enough, later on we had problems with bacteriophage, which destroyed the cultures towards the final stages of cultivation. Therefore, we were forced to isolate new phage-resistant strains exhibiting the characteristics we had determined to be desirable in starter cultures for sausage: nitrate reduction capacity, acid production capacity and an antagonistic effect towards harmful/ undesirable bacteria.
Finally, when after much toil lyophilized starter cultures became available, we met the skeptical attitude and preconceived opinion of the meat industry.
Fortunately, at that time I was working in the Research Institute for the Meat Industry in Hämeenlinna and therefore had the opportunity to organize experiments in order to demonstrate the advantageous influence of the starter cultures. Through Herr Müller, the positive, encouraging results obtained by the Finnish meat industry were transmitted to the German meat industry, where initially the attitude was very skeptical, as well. In fact, many leading European Meat Research Institutes would stubbornly not accept this innovative methodology and, therefore, discouraged further research on the subject.
Thus, Finnish meat industry was the first test laboratory in the development of the starter cultures for industrial use. The Finns (filled with “Suomalainen Sisu,” a mixture of courage, determination, inspiration and stubbornness), went from pilot-plant scale to the industrial level of applications. But slowly, through continued experimental work in Finnish industrial plants, and later on in the German meat industry, the beneficial influence of starter cultures on the production, quality and economics of dry fermented sausage was finally recognized. The use of starter cultures was accepted and became a reality. This was a key accomplishment!
In 1972, at my initiative, the International Starter Culture Symposium was organized in Helsinki. This event strongly influenced the opinion and effectively removed the prejudice from many meat scientists. Afterwards, cooperation with many countries developed and collaborative studies were carried out and published (Proceedings, Starter Culture Symposium, Helsinki, 1972).
Mixed Starter Cultures
After having gathered a great deal of information about the importance and role of the micrococci in the ripening process of dry sausage, we started to clarify the role of lactobacilli in the process. These investigations led to Esko Nurmi’s Doctoral Dissertation in 1966. As a result we were the first to develop the combined inoculation with mixed starters containing a pure culture of Micrococci and a pure culture of Lactobacillus plantarurn. The Micrococcus ensured color formation whilst the Lactobacilli was responsible for the decrease in pH-value and for the formation of the desired texture and consistency. This was another key accomplishment!
Before Nurrni’s findings, it was commonly believed that Lactobacilli were the main spoilage organism in European dry sausage (Coretti, 1958). These studies showed that lactobacilli are also useful and, in many cases, necessary organisms in the ripening process.
Some Aspects of the Properties of the Starter Cultures
Research carried out during recent years has proved that the antagonistic properties of starter cultures is a very important conservation factor. In addition to their role in fermentations, the suppression of spoilage and pathogenic bacteria offers new application for the use of starter cultures in food manufacturing. Just in the last years, the use of microorganisms as protective flora has expanded, for example, in the packages of cooked sausages
In my first publication on starter cultures (Niinivaara, 1955), the inhibitory effect of starter cultures was already mentioned. This was shown in laboratory trials, but also in technological experiments at pilot plant scale. We were able to show that the microbial formation of hydroxylamine is possible only when nitrate was present in the growth milieu. Hydroxylamine had an inhibitory effect on the growth of spoilage bacteria.
In the work by Pohja (a dear, inspiring co-worker of mine) and Niinivaara (1 957), we showed how the starter organisms inhibited the growth of many undesired organisms. Later, the antagonistic influence of starter cultures on the growth of Salmonella senftenberg in the dry sausage (Niinivaara et al., 1977) was shown. Pohja’s doctoral dissertation pointed out the first selection system of useful Micrococci. Later on, his work has been used as the model for other microbes. Thus, the starter cultures improve the hygienic conditions during processing and minimize the potential health risk caused by the pathogenic organisms.
The Gram-Negative Bacteria in the Fermentation
There are many indications that gram-negative bacteria play an advantageous role in the fermentation process. For instance, the proteolytic activity of the bacteria in this group can degrade proteins to form the desired aroma. On the other hand, we usually try to avoid the growth of gramnegative bacteria because many pathogenic organisms belong in this group.
Esko Petäjä (1977) started an investigation to clarify the role of gram-negative bacteria in sausage ripening. He isolated a Vibrio strain (Vibrio costicolus) that he used in the drying and fermentation of dried ham with limited success. Although it had a positive influence on the flavor of ham, Vibrio costicolus was found to be very sensitive, difficult to cultivate and apt to lose its fermentative capacity after freezing. Therefore, it never came into commercial use.
Petäjä also isolated several strains of Aeromonas. Two strains of his collection, Aeromonas X and Aeromonas 19, had the most favorable effect on the quality of sausage. The best results he achieved when Aeromonas was inoculated together with Lactobacilli.
These strains are not available commercially despite the fact that 12 years ago we achieved very interesting results in production trials carried out under the direction of Dr. Abraham Saloma in Argal S.A., a commercial operation in the city of Lumbier (Navarra), in Spain. This factory has for several years successfully used these starter cultures in the commercial production of Spanish dry sausages, Salchichon and Chorizo.
Starter Cultures and the Nitrite Problem
During the last decades, investigations have been carried out on the fate of nitrate/nitrite in cured meat products. Evidence exists that under certain circumstances the formation of carcinogenic nitrosamine is possible. This is one reason why many laboratories are trying to find out how to minimize the concentration of nitrite in meat products to a level where bacterial spoilage could be avoided without jeopardizing color formation.
My co-worker Eero Puolanne has worked on this problem. In 1977, he published his Doctoral Dissertation “The effect of lowered addition of nitrite and nitrate on the properties of dry sausage.” He was able to show that by using starter cultures it is possible to lower the nitrite and nitrate addition by one third from the normal level.
Investigation by Niven
By an astonishing coincidence, at the same time my work on the use of Micrococci was published, Charles Niven published his study on the use of Pediococcus cerevisiae (P acidilactici) as starter culture in the American type of dry sausage known as “summer sausage” (Niven 8, Wilson, 1955). We had worked independently of each other. After the discussion in Chicago in 1953, we did not have any contact with each other, but our studies were published exactly at the same time (April 1955). Niven’s Pediococci also became commercially available and was sold under the name ACCEL (E. Merck, Rahway, N.J.).
The future opens many new perspectives to create new starter cultures and utilization of microorganisms in new fields.
Leistner, et al. (1 990) have mentioned the genetic possibilities of improving certain properties of bacteria. In the future we could, through gene technology, improve the production and activity of microbial protease, lipase, catalase, nitrate reductase, to name a few. In that way we could give new properties, or strengthen the desirable ones already existing in the microbe.
It seems also possible to transfer new genes into a given microorganism so that it may produce aroma components, vitamins, specific desirable metabolites, and so on. In addition to the research oriented towards the solution of old, traditional problems of meat fermentation, there are new elegant methods to create better cultures with stronger activity in those desirable reactions that favor a good fermentation process.
Much research has been carried out in the field of meat fermentations. Yet, we are far away from understanding the complete interrelations between the microbiology, the technology and external factors influencing the fermentation and ripening process (Buckenhuskes, 1990).
A very significant step in starter culture research was the financial aid received from the United States Department of Agriculture. Two grants of considerable magnitude became available for this research in the years 1959-1 963 and 1964-1969. This financial support made it possible to continue the research work on starter cultures in Finland. Thirty-eight scholarly papers were published on this subject, thanks to the generosity of the USDA.
The year after my studies on starter cultures were published, we started the international cooperation with Germany. The objective was to create starter culture technology and a distribution organization to deliver the cultures to the meat processors. This cooperation continued for about 20 years.
Many other international contacts came into being later on, which proved to be very beneficial for the research and development work. In that fashion, we were able to exchange thoughts and ideas, bacterial strains and even research work personnel between countries. Mutual cooperation was carried out with Yugoslavia, Hungary, Bulgaria and later with Spain. In all these countries, fermented sausages have for centuries constituted a very important gastronomical tradition. In addition, they play a significant role in the meat industry.
I would especially like to allude again to a very interesting and sympathetic cooperation with a meat processing firm in Spain. This cooperation started in 1976 by the initiative of Dr Abraham Saloma, who was then the technology director of this company, Argal, S.A., then a subsidiary of the Antonio Porta Labata Group. Under Dr Saloma’s direction, important improvements were achieved in the production of fermented salchichon and chorizo at commercial scale.
One significant accomplishment at Argal was the establishment of one of the most complete starter culture programs anywhere in the meat industry. More than 12 different strains of microbes (bacteria, yeasts and fungi) were daily propagated and incorporated into fermented products. Each particular sausage was inoculated with a tailored mixed starter culture that ensured distinctive characteristics and high quality in the final product. I would like to thank Dr Saloma for these pleasant years of fruitful cooperation, friendship and international understanding
The year 1955 was the birth year not only of starter cultures for meat, but also the birth year of the international cooperation called the European Meeting of Meat Research Workers (EMMRW), renamed the International Congress of Meat Science and Technology (ICoMST) in 1987. The birthplace of this Congress was the same small Finnish town, Hameenlinna, where much of the starter culture work originated and was carried out.
This Congress has gathered annually, without interruption, during 35 years, having become an international forum for lectures concerning not only starter culture research but meat science and technology across many international borders. More than 30 countries participate each year in this congress. It has been a wonderful feeling that the idea of scientific collaboration, originally expressed in a small circle amongst good friends and colleagues, was the seed for a great intercontinental cooperation
Some Remarks About My Life’s Other Activities
As I mentioned at the beginning of this lecture, I started meat research in Finland in 1947. There was no model in Europe to learn what meat science was all about and which problems had to be solved. Even in countries where meat research had been started, like in Germany, everything was destroyed by the war. Meat science laid in primitive stages in ruined Europe. The only way was to identify the problems and to produce solutions alone, and through research build the knowledge, to improve the quality of the products, to improve the economy of the production, to improve the utilization of the byproducts. We started our independent research work from zero in meat science and technology.
The most important question in the production of cooked sausages was the water-binding capacity of meat. This was the theme with which we worked during the first years, since 1952 in co-operation with German meat scientists Grau and Hamm.
The next step was to concentrate on the problems of the fermented meat products. As I described at the beginning of this lecture, the role of the beneficial microbes should be cleared up. The final goal was to find and cultivate microbes, add them as the pure cultures in the meat mass and by that way speed and ensure safety in the processing. Both things mean better economy in the production. Of decisive importance for this work was the encouraging discussion in the American Meat Institute Foundation with Dr. Niven (in 1953) and later the financial aid by USDA in the form of two grants of considerable amount. In many scholarly papers. New information about the basic problems in meat science was published in the international scientific journals and congresses. This research activity created a new field of food science. This made it possible to establish a professorship at the University of Helsinki for Meat Science and Technology. Through this research work, meat technology gained “saloon competence,” as people say in Europe. It became working knowledge.
Through financial aids by the meat producers, the chair and professorship of Meat Technology were founded. My duty was to start this academic activity in 1961 again from zero, like the industrial meat research 14 years earlier.
Besides the scientific research-partly continuing the old themes-the education of new generations of young students for leading technical positions in the meat industry was my duty with high challenge.
This professorship in Meat Technology was the first one in Europe. No models existed for the content of the instruction. No academic text books existed. The lectures, the exercise works had to be created from zero, again.
Now, more than 100 meat technologists are in leading positions in the Finnish meat industry. Eero Puolanne, one of my students, is continuing my academic career as professor of Meat Technology and Director of “my” Meat Research Institute.
Just before retiring and leaving my duties as university professor, I started a new activity in the field of meat.
It was generally known that consumers had lots of wrong information about the nutritive value of meat. Housewives, who in most homes are responsible for the preparation of meals, were confused when buying meat: which meat or which part of the carcass for which purpose. The strong propagation from the side of Die Grunen, the “greens,” vegetarians and raw food eaters, made the housewives still more confused. They often ask: “Is meat healthy for my family or is it not?” To improve the knowledge of the consumers about the quality and nutritive value of meat, to facilitate the choice of meat, to give new ideas in food preparation, we founded a society that we called “Meat Information Center,” of which I was the first chairman and charter member
During the last years, we have been able to build a useful cooperation with many corresponding organizations abroad. The international cooperation helps us to get new ideas and to evaluate experiences about different activities
Last, but not least, I should like to mention the constructive cooperation with students in Finland: The Society of Food Science (“Lipidi”). I have made numerous studying excursions with my excellent students in many countries in the world, sharing ideas, promoting knowledge of food science, creating strong bonds with fellow professionals and fostering goodwill amongst many people internationally. This Society has selected a few honorary members, one of them being Abraham Saloma (since 1978). Other (“Lipidi”) honorary members are Professor Robert s. Harris (U.S.A.), Doctor Peter Zeuthen (Denmark), Professor Lothar Leistner (Germany), Professor Ferenc Lorincz (Hungary), Professor Torsten Storgards (Sweden), Professor Rainer Hamm (Germany), Professor Velimir Oluski (Yugoslavia), Doctor Sandor Balogh (Hungary), and Professor Ralston Lawrie (U.K.).
During the 22 years I was active in the University of Helsinki, I performed the duties of the chairman of this Society for 20 years. Like my job as University Professor, my position in this society was inherited by my successor in the office, my dear student, Professor Eero Puolanne.
I am very happy to be able to review today, before this wonderful audience, many of the magnificent developments which have taken place during the past 35 years. Time has quickly flown from the first experiments when we inoculated sausages experimentally to the present, when starter cultures are indeed an integral, indispensable part of fermented meat and other food products. The reason why I was invited to participate in this very interesting meeting is that I was there when this beautiful story began.
Buckenhuskes. 1990. Lecture at the FIA-Conference 1990 at Singapore.
Coretti. 1958. Die Bakterienflora Frankfurter Rohwurste. Arch. Lebensmittelhygiene. 9: 32-35.
Krol, 6. 1984. Progress and problems of fermented sausages. Trends in Modern Meat Technology-1. pp. 55-57. Pudoc Wageningen.
Kunz, 6. 1989. Aspects in the use of starter cultures in meat products.
Kuusela, K.; Puolanne, E.; Petaja, E.; Niinivaara. F.P. 1978. A rapid method to estimate the activity of lactobacilli used as starter cultures. 24th European Meeting of Meat Research Workers, Kulrnbach.
Leistner, L. 1987. Perspectives of fermented meats. International Congress of Meat Science and Technology. Helsinki. pp. 323- 326.
Leistner, L. and Sclinunsefridze als Starterkulturen beider Rohwurstherst ellemg. Starterkultur Symposium, Helsinki, 1972.
Lucke et al. 1989. Starter culture development. Proc of the COST 91 bis sub-programme “Food Technology of the EEC.” Goteborg.October 3-5.
Niinivaara, F.P 1955. About influence of bacterial pure cultures on the ripening and color formation of the dry sausage (in German). Acta Agralia Fennica. 85.
Niinivaara, F.P.; 1964. Bacterial pure cultures in the manufacture of fermented sausages. Food Technology 18, 2:25-31.
Niinivaara, F.P.; Sederholm, H. 1963. Uber die knotinuerliche Zuchtung von Mikroorganismen. 9th European Meeting Meat Research Workers.
Niinivaara, F.P.; Sirvio, P.; Nurmi, E.; Puolanne, E. 1977. Der Einfluss von Starterkulturen und verschiedenen Zusatzstoffen auf das Wachstum von Salmonelle senftenberg in Rohwurst.
Niven, C.F.; Deibel, R.H.; Wilson, G.D. 1955. The use of pure culture starters in the manufacture of summer sausage. Am. Meeting Amer. Meat Inst. 5 p.
Nurmi, E. 1966. Effect of bacterial inoculations on characteristics and microbial flora of dry sausage. Acta Agralia Fennica. Nr. 108. p. 7-73.
Petaja, E. 1977. The effect of gram-negative bacteria on the ripening and quality of dry sausage. Dissertation. J. Scientific Society of Finland. 49: 107-166.
Pohja, M.S.; Niinivaara, F.P. 1957. Uber die antagonistische Wirkung eines Mikrokokken-Stammes gegen die in Rohwurst vorkommenden Bakterienstamrne. Zeitschrift fur Lebensmittel-Untersuchung und-forschung 106, 4: 298-301.
Pohja, M. 1960. Micrococci in fermented meat products. Dissertation. Acta Agralia Fennica, 96.
Puolanne, E. 1977, The effect of lowered addition of nitrite and nitrate on the properties of dry sausage (in German). Dissertation.
J. Scientific Agricultural Society of Finland. 49:1, 1-106.
Roca, M.; Incze, K. 1989. Antagonistic effect of some starter cultures on Enterobacteriaceae (E. coli). Meat Science 25, 123-131.
The Lecture Published
E F. Niinivaara, Reciprocal Meat Conference Proceedings, Volume 44, 1991, American Meat Science Association.
The use of nitrites and nitrates in meat curing has been one of the most researched matters in food science for many years. Over the years I have dedicated an enormous amount of time to understand not just its chemistry, but also the history of its use. Here I want to list all the work I have done on the subject The one document where I try and pull everything together is Bacon Curing – a Historical Review. I deal with its chemistry in an elementary manner in Bacon & the Art of Living, my book on the history of meat curing in Chapter two, The Curing Molecule.
The quest has been for years to try and find a way to cure meat without using nitrites and nitrates directly. It has recently been discovered that nitrate and nitrite are of huge physiological importance to humans. As such, the value of a quest to eliminate it from food must be reconsidered. This leads me to as the question:
It has been discovered in recent years that bacterial fermentation of meat yields nitric oxide which cures meat. A fundamental question follows namely if it is possible to have cured meat without any nitrites and nitrite present. I am not talking about using nitrite and nitrite but the newly developed meat fermentation systems. It is possible to effect curing without the use of nitrates and nitrites directly or indirectly. However, from a consideration of the various reactive nitrogen species, the question comes up if nitrite and nitrate will not eventually form in meat where nitric oxide is present.
Nitrite curing was commercialized in 1918 and the impetus for its global spread following WW2 was the work of the Griffith Laboratories on the back of the work of Nachtmüllner. The German and American affinity for the direct use of sodium nitrite was however not shared internationally and in England in particular they have accessed nitrite for a very long time using bacterial fermentation of the brine itself. In the next section, I explore the development of curing systems pre-1918. In the next section, I review the major curing systems that have been used around the world since before nitrite curing became commonplace.
My adventure in Lagos, Nigeria takes me back to the foundation of the meat industry. It is fair to say that there are generally three meat products sold in the country being mince, stewing meat without bones, and stewing meat with bones. The challenge is to migrate from this to properly defined primal cuts.
As far as the production of sausages is concerned, due to the infancy of the meat industry, meat fillers that became commonplace in other developed markets are not available in Nigeria. What I love about this is that it forces me to think about the origins of the industry. As far as sausage fillers are concerned, such a filler is rusk.
The question then comes up as to the comparison between the use of rusk and meat extenders such as TVP (Texturised Vegetable Protein) or texturized soy protein to be specific. Without getting too technical about the difference, it made me ask for the most basic recipe for rusk. One can get amazingly creative with this basic recipe. One can add emulsifiers, and protein from various sources, and use them as a carrier of spices and other functional ingredients.
Oladapo Adenekan, the previous production manager of the old UTC who dominated the food trade in Nigeria for many years shared this recipe with me after our discussion about making our own rusk. In the bakery department, Samy is working with us to create our own rusk for use in our meat recipes.
I share the recipe that Dapo gave me. This simple recipe set about an amazing journey of discovery leading right into the heart of the meat industry!
Rusk Formulation for Meat Filling
Wholesale Wheat Flour
Weight loss of 16%
Spread over a tray
Set oven to 115o C and roast for 50 minutes.
The History of Rusk
Bisma Tirmizi does an excellent job chronikling the history of rusk. Her delightful story begins as she explains when she stumbled upon this information when her “six-year-old son came home from school saying that he wanted to have, ‘cake rusk and chai’.”
She writes, “I looked at him quizzically, to which he said, ‘If we don’t have them, can we make them?’ So I called up a friend of mine, who is a baker of sorts, and asked her if it was possible to make cake rusks at home. She laughed and said, ‘Of course, how do you think biscotti and cake rusk came to be, do you want my Italian nana’s recipe for biscotti or my Pakistani dad’s recipe for cake rusk?’
What do you think my answer was?
My research tells me that eating stale bread was a norm in ancient Europe. Ancient Roman soldiers are said to have carried a hard bread known as biscoctus, literally meaning ‘twice cooked’.
The sub-continental cake rusk may very well be a descendant of the ancient biscoctus. Food historians mention that recipes for foods named rusk began showing up during the reign of Elizabeth I.
The Oxford English Dictionary mentions that the word ‘rusk’ dates back to the year 1595 when referring to a twice-baked bread.
Alan Davidson says in The Oxford Companion to Food:
Rusk is a kind of bread dough incorporating sugar, eggs, and butter. It is shaped into a loaf or cylinder, baked, cooled, sliced, and then dried in low heat until hard. Rusks have a very low water content and keep well for extended periods. Sharing a common origin with the modern biscuit, medieval rusks were known as panis biscoctus, meaning twice-cooked bread, and were used as provision for armies and ships at sea.
In many countries there are breads that may resemble rusks, in that they are essentially oven-dried bread, whether plain like the Italian bruschetta or of a sweet kind [like the cake rusks of pre-Partition India]; but they may incorporate other ingredients such as spices [cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg] or nuts.
It is said that the earliest modern cookie cakes are from 7th century Persia, since it was one of the first few regions to cultivate sugar, second to the region we know as the sub-continent, our very own home.
Sugar spread to Persia and then to the Eastern Mediterranean and Arabia, and with the Muslim invasion of Spain, and the Crusades we saw the advent of the developing spice trade. The cooking techniques and ingredients of India, Arabia and Persia spread into Northern Europe. So we can safely assume that the modern day cakes traveled to Europe from Asia, and then back to Asia, as if it was an import from Europe.
In the article titled How Sweet It Was: Cane Sugar from the Ancient World to the Elizabethan Period, Brandy and Courtney Powers say:
In 510 BC, hungry soldiers of the Emperor Darius were near the river Indus, when they discovered some ‘reeds which produce honey without bees’. Evidently, this early contact with the Asian sources of sugar cane made no great impression, so it was left to be rediscovered in 327 BC by Alexander the Great, who spread it’s culture through Persia and introduced it in the Mediterranean. This was the beginning of one of the first documented sugar and [cake] products of the Middle Ages.
However, cake rusks are a legacy of Elizabethan naval provisions. These were smallish lumps of bread twice baked so as to be indestructible enough to last out a long voyage at sea. The earliest known reference to them comes in an account of Drake’s voyages, written in 1595: ‘The provision…was seven or eight cakes of biscuits or rusks for a man.’
The modern, more refined cake rusk is sliced cake; re-baked, crisped and dried, and it dates to the mid-18th century. These hardened delightful cakes were enjoyed at tea times and were perfect for dunking in evening time tea or milk. These were re-introduced (in their modern form) to the sub-continent from England, where they were popularly served as shipboard fare; dried, tinned or stored for long periods of time.
Some historians suggest that the creation of rusks was just a basic need for home-cooks to get away from everyday kneading and to make the bread last longer. It is said that the first rusk was made by a byzantine baker.
When the time arrived to make cake rusks, I turned to my Italian Pakistani friend. Needless to say, they turned out delicious, perfect for an evening, of cake rusk and chai. Here it is, from my kitchen to yours.”
Bisma’s recipe, of course, goes well beyond the reason for Oladapo’s recipe which is for the meat curing establishment, but her story is engaging, and her recipe is worth sharing.
2 cups flour 6 eggs 225 grams butter 2 tsp. vanilla essence 3 tsp. baking powder (level) ½ tsp. salt 1 ¼ cup powder sugar Orange food colouring
Preheat oven 350 degrees Fahrenheit (176o C). Cream butter and eggs in a cake mixer, add sugar and vanilla and mix, adding all dry ingredients and food colouring and mix. Once cake batter is ready, pour it into a greased 8 x 8 inch pan and bake for 55 minutes.
Once cake is ready let cool and slice, re-bake directly on the oven rack in a 300-degree Fahrenheit oven for 20 minutes. Let cool and harden completely and enjoy with a cup of tea, milk, or coffee. Store in an airtight cookie jar.
The story then took on an unexpected twist. Suddenly, posting a short article motivated by Dapo’s rusk recipe lead me right into the heart of the meat industry. I discovered that like every meat ingredient, rusk had an evangelist who changed the ingredient to a legendary institution.
Robert Goodrick, the English Master Curer sent me the following clipping about a patented Rusk brand from the UK registered in the name of TB Finney & Co.
The listing in the 1914 Who’s Who in Business reads, “FINNEY, T. B., & CO., Ltd., Pepper, Seed, Spice and Rice Millers and Butchers’ Outfitters, Cornbrook Spice Mills, Trentham Street, Cornbrook, and Cornbrook Bakery, Rusholme Road, C.-on-M., Manchester. Hours of Business: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Established in 1894 by T. B. Finney. Incorporated as a Limited Company in 1911. Directors: T. B. Finney (Chairman), R. Finney, T. Bardsley, G. E. Cooper, C. Howard, and J. Pedder. Premises: Consist of five-storey Mill and outbuildings. Staff: Fifty. Specialities: “PAB ” for Sausage and Polony Making (Inventors and Sole Makers), Pepper, Seed, Spice and Rice, Peppers and Spices, warranted absolutely pure. Patents: PAB, Bergice Reekie, &c. Connection: United Kingdom, Foreign, Colonial. Telephone: No. 6632 City, Manchester. Telegraphic Address: ” Preservaline, Manchester.” Bankers: London City and Midland Bank, Ltd. (Chester Road).” (www.gracesguide.co.uk)
The very early use of rusk in the production of Polony is fascinating as its modern equivalent in TVP is used extensively in the production of Polony in South Africa. (The Origins of Polony) What is even more interesting is that the wide-scale use of rusk in England can be traced back to a single man or company. I am not suggesting that TB Finney was the only man who should receive the honours of establishing the status of rusk in the English world (and worldwide) as a filler, but certainly, he can be credited as one of them.
Robert included a photo of TB Finney and the title page of his publication, Handy Guide.
Courtesy of Robert Goodrick.
Courtesy of Robert Goodrick.
Recipes with Rusk
There are two recipes from Finney that immediately catch my eyes
Seasoning: 8lbs Salt 4lbs White pepper 1oz Ground Cayenne 1/2oz Ground Mace 1/2oz Ground Nutmeg 1oz Ground Thyme Use at 1/2oz per pound (14g’s per 453mL water) of pudding mixture.
Mix well and chop fine, fill into wide hog or narrow bullock casings. Boil 1/2 hour and place into cold water ’till cold. Cornish: 10 lbs Lean Pork 4lbs Fat Pork 2lbs PAB (Rusk) 2 quarts water
Seasoning: 41/2lbs Salt 2lbs White pepper 1/2oz Rubbed Parsley 1oz Rubbed Thyme ľoz Ground Mace ľoz Ground Nutmeg Use at 1/2oz per pound of pudding mixture.
Mix well and chop fine, fill into wide hog or narrow bullock casings. Boil 1/2 hour and place into cold water ’till cold.
These recipes have a striking resemblance to how we make Russians, Viennas, or Lunch Loaves in South Africa. With the dominating influence of the English in the history of South Africa, I am convinced that the meat curing traditions are as much English as they are German and Dutch! The original history of these recipes may be Russian Jewish immigrants, Germans, especially from German West Africa (present-day Namibia), and even Polish/ Hungarian in terms of its distant heritage, but what we produce today are equally, if not greater in its reliance on the English tradition. Of all the nations on earth, the English remain most closely associated with the use of rusk in their sausages which has been replaced by texturized soy in places like South Africa.
The baking of rusk brought me back again to the foundations of the meat industry. I am deeply thankful for the opportunity to be involved in the Nigerian project as it allows me a unique vantage point as an amateur food historian to witness the birth of our industry firsthand. Thank you to people like Oladapo Adenekan who freely share his memories and experiences and who allow people like me and Samy a glimpse into his world. Enormous gratitude to Robert Goodrick for sharing these images and background with me. It is people like Robert, Dapo, and Samy that bring history to life, even on a subject seemingly as mundane as rusk. It makes one realise that there are no accidents and legends are created through dedication, skill, and focus which means that they walk in the footsteps of people like Thomas Finney! In the meat industry, there is no such thing as a mundane ingredient or concept!
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.
The Curing Molecule
Before we get into storytelling, it will be of great value to have a technical discussion about meat curing. The story will be more enjoyable if you understand how curing works. This chapter is designed to give you enough background to understand the fundamentals of curing and some of its complexities. This is not intended to be a science textbook and so I take the liberty to present matters in a somewhat simplified manner. I don’t for example always indicate when I am talking about an ionic compound when I write a simple notation for nitrite as NOO. I also added, “Want to know more?” sections for those who have a chemical background or those who want to gain a deeper understanding. Get through Chapter 2 and a story awaits which will blow your mind!
What is Meat Curing?
The most important question in a work on the history of meat curing is to understand what meat curing is! Meat curing is the process whereby meat is changed into a form that lasts outside a refrigerator. We can say that it imparts longevity to meat. In the curing process, there are two changes that we can identify with our senses. A delicious taste develops and the colour change to a characteristic pinkish/ reddish colour. A slightly less obvious characteristic is cured meat is safe from microorganisms which make us sick. These characteristics are observed through observation but what happens as far as chemical reactions are concerned?
The large molecule which is the building block for muscle or meat is called a protein. An important class of proteins in our body is called hemeproteins (also spelt haem protein or hemoprotein). These are proteins which have something attached to them that biochemists refer to as a heme prosthetic group. A prosthesis helps a person who lost a limb to still accomplish a certain task like a handshake. The prosthesis in the case of proteins is non-protein additions to the protein which accomplish specific tasks. The heme prosthetic group allows proteins to carry oxygen, facilitate electron transfer and participate in oxygen reduction among other processes. Curing is the reaction between protein and the small gaseous molecule called nitric oxide (NO).
In curing nitric oxide is bound onto this heme component. It is this binding of nitric oxide to the protein which we observe as a pinkish/ reddish colour. Nitric oxide is responsible for key characteristics of cured meat. The colour, the longevity and the fact that the product is free from microorganisms, likely to make us sick. Another characteristic of cured meat we observed with our senses is the cured taste. Exactly how the taste is altered through curing is something which we have not completely worked out yet.
Want to know more?
Nitric oxide is the most important molecule related to the cured colour of meat. This does not say that other chemical species also derived from nitrogen do not play a role in changing the colour. This is true related to colour formation as well as anti-microbial ability. An example is nitrogen dioxide (NO2). The researcher Cornforth (1998) showed that pink rings that form in beef roasts cooked in gas ovens and turkey rolls are produced by nitrogen dioxide (NO2). Similarly, we know that both nitrite and nitric oxide plays a very important role in the antimicrobial working of the curing process. The researcher, Scairer (2012), reported on the antimicrobial value of nitric oxide.
How is Nitric Oxide formed?
Let’s begin by looking at how nitric oxide is formed. For our discussion, what is essential to know is that it is formed both inside the body or by the body itself and outside the body. Almost every cell in our bodies can produce it. There are also two basic types of reactions that produce it.
i. Meat proteins contain an amino acid called L-Arginine. The body has the ability to access its nitrogen and combines it with an oxygen atom to create nitric oxide. Beginning in the 1990s scientists started to understand that certain bacteria also have the ability to convert L-arginine into L-citrulline and nitric oxide which cures meat. The exact mechanism is still under investigation but this remarkable discovery accomplishes what has become like the search for the holy grail namely the curing of meat without the use of nitrate or nitrite.
ii. The second major way that nitric oxide is created is the conversion of nitrate to nitrite and the nitrite to nitric oxide. The source of nitrate can be salts such as sodium or potassium nitrate or it occurs in large volumes in certain plants which we regularly consume. Bacteria break the nitrate down to nitrite and nitrite is changed into nitric oxide through mainly chemical reactions. In conventional curing operations, either nitrate or nitrite salts are used to create nitric oxide which cures meat.
This means that bacteria are involved in the reactions involving nitrate and L-Arginine. Interestingly enough, this seems to be the reason why this remarkable discovery remained unidentified for so many years. The conversion of L-Arginine only takes place when no nitrate is present. If nitrate is present the bacteria use the nitrogen found in nitrate and not L-arginine. That L-Arginine plays a role in salt-only, long-term curing processes has been suspected for many years and in the 1990s it was identified that the reaction was mediated through bacteria. What seemed to have happened was that the scientific community continued to relegate this to the realm of long-term cured hams and bacon. It is only in recent years that commercial quick-curing factories using bacterial fermentation became a reality in large high throughput commercial curing plants using bacterial fermentation and no nitrates or nitrites. In fact, so successful have these developments in meat fermentation been that meat curing is achieved in approximately the same time as is done with sodium nitrite.
That sets the first part of the stage for our discussion about meat curing. My own life is a good example of how only knowing the facts as I presented above about meat curing does not mean that you can use the techniques. The reality is that these methods can only be effectively applied within the framework of a complete curing system and developing such a system is far more complex than one imagines. I have, for example, known that bacteria are able to use L-Arginine to create nitric oxide for a full five years before I started to unravel the context and requirements of what it will take to use this to cure meat in a commercial curing operation. Colour stability and a safe microenvironment must be created. The formation of biofilm must be managed. The speed of the reaction must be increased. So I can go on and on and the point is simply this, it is a wonderfully complex endeavour.
Let’s return to the consideration of the two curing paths that we just looked at. In the course of this chapter, I will make repeated references to these two reactions. The story of bacon is, in a nutshell, the story of ways to produce nitric oxide in the fastest possible time to cure meat.
It has been an obsession of many curers and scientists to find another way to cure meat. In other words, not to use the nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide path to curing due to questions that emerged about the safety of nitrate and nitrite. The use of bacteria to cure the meat achieves this! However, right at the outset, I want to caution that nitrate, nitrite and nitric oxide are like the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in that where you find one, you find them all due to the high reactivity of these nitrogen species (Reactive Nitrogen Species) as we refer to them. Creating nitric oxide with bacteria from L-Arginine may seem like solving the problematic use of nitrate and nitrites in meat curing but if the two cousins of nitric oxide (nitrate and nitrite) will in any event both appear in meat cured with bacteria only, is it really addressing the problem?
A far more fundamental question exists namely if the hysteria against nitrate and nitrite is warranted! Is the use of nitrite or nitrate really problematic? Are these really entities of concern when we consider human health? In recent years evidence started to emerge that the exact opposite is true namely that if we do not ingest sufficient nitrate and nitrite, this has far more detrimental health effects on humans than having them in our food.
Want to know more?
A closer look at the nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide sequence in our bodies:
The researcher, Weitzberg (2010) reportes that “several lines of research . . . indicate that the nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway is involved in regulation of blood flow, cell metabolism, and signaling, as well as in tissue protection during hypoxia (meaning, a lower-than-normal concentration of oxygen in arterial blood).” This is the exact curing reaction when we begin with slatpetre (NO3–) or with nitrite NO2– as is the predominant current system of curing in high throughput curing operations. When we use sodium nitrite to cure the meat, the process still results in the formation of nitric oxide (NO). The curing reaction is therefore a “natural reaction” which takes place in our bodies and is essential to life.
Can we remove nitrogen (nitrate or nitrite) from our diets?
We are all aware of the importance of oxygen to our everyday lives. Without it, life as we know it is not possible. A second element as important to life as oxygen is nitrogen. Where does nitrogen come from and why is it important to life? Let’s take a step back and consider nitrogen for a moment before we return to nitrate and nitrite in food and the chemistry of curing.
The Importance of Nitrogen
I have written extensively about how reactive nitrogen species are formed from atmospheric nitrogen and I will leave the subject to be discussed later.
Sufficient to point out that nitrogen is one of the most essential plant foods and is taken up in the structure of plants. From the plants, they provide sustenance to animals when they eat the grass. The ability of animals to absorb nitrogen is a key element in what makes food nutritious. From very early it has been shown by various scientists that animals fed with food containing no nitrogen get sick and even die whereas animals fed with food high in nitrogen thrive. This is important since, in evaluating the use of nitrogen in meat curing (through nitric oxide), the first thing we must realise is that without nitrogen, there is no nutrition. We need nitrogen like we need water or oxygen to live.
Want to know more?
The role of nitrogen in plants:
Nitrogen is part of the green pigment of plants, responsible for photosynthesis, called chlorophyll. It further is responsible for a plant’s rapid growth, increasing seed and fruit production, and improving the quality of leaf and forage crops. (Plant Nutrients and Lilies) This is important as we will later see how nitrate, nitrite and nitric oxide not only cures meat and ensures the overall health of our bodies, but how the same reaction is key to the nutrition of plants. The curing reaction is by no ways something foreign. It is vitally important to all aspects of animal and plant life and humans form part of this group of animals.
Nitrogen as plant food:
Potassium (K) and nitrogen (N) together with phosphorous (P) are considered the primary nutrients of plants. These are normally lacking in the soil because plants use them for growth and thus deplete it. As we will see, nature replenishes nitrogen, but modern farming created the demand to add extra nitrogen to the soil. Potassium (K), nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P) are all part of the macronutrients. The secondary nutrients are calcium (Ca), magnesium (MG), and sulphur (S). These nutrients are normally abundant in the soil. When lime is applied to acidic soil, large amounts of calcium and magnesium are added. Decomposing organic matter normally yields enough sulphur. Potassium (K) is absorbed in bigger volumes than any other mineral element except nitrogen and in some cases, calcium. It assists in the building of proteins, photosynthesis, and fruit quality and it reduces diseases. (Plant Nutrients and Lilies) The abundance of potassium in plants can be seen from where we first identified it namely from potash or plant ashes soaked in water in a pot. Potassium is derived from this practice predating the industrial revolution.
All proteins, the building blocks of muscles contain nitrogen. Our bodies use nitric oxide to stay healthy in many different ways. To such an extent that without nitric oxide in our bodies, life will not be possible. The question is now if the body produces enough nitric oxide on its own and the answer is no. We need to supplement what the body can produce through our diet. Some of the foods where we get nitrate or nitrite in our diets are:
By far the biggest source of nitrates is leafy green vegetables. The way that the nitrates end up as nitric oxide in our bodies is the nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide sequence. These vegetables also contain nitrites and these turn into nitric oxide through the steps of nitrite-> various-chemical-reactions ->nitric oxide.
Borehole water often has nitrate and nitrite from animal and human waste and fertilisers in surrounding areas. The sequence of reactions that change the nitrates in water into nitric oxide is the same as above namely nitrate-> nitrite-> nitric oxide.
-> Cured Meat
Nitrate salts are found naturally around the world. Potassium nitrate for example we know as saltpetre. Nitrite salts are manufactured salts containing sodium and nitrite. Saltpetre (potassium or sodium nitrate) is used in meat curing to this day. If we consume cured meat we ingest nitrates or nitrites and it ends up changing into nitric oxide in our bodies either through the reaction nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide or nitrite-nitric oxide. Cured meat is, however by far the smallest and most insignificant source of nitrates and nitrites.
What is important to focus on here is the path from nitrate to nitric oxide. Let me illustrate it in greater detail using saltpetre as an example. Saltpetre can be represented as one nitrogen atom and three oxygen atoms and to make it easy, I will write it as NOOO to focus on the number of oxygen atoms. The astute observer will see that I leave the metal part of saltpetre out and I represent only the nitrate part. Nitrate joins forces with metals like sodium, calcium, or potassium to form sodium nitrate, potassium nitrate (which is known as saltpetre) or calcium nitrate. In terms of curing meat, only sodium plays a further role and we will look at that later, but for now, it’s helpful to ignore the first part of the pair and focus only on the nitrate part.
When nitrate connects to one of the metals it forms a very stable salt which does not easily lose an oxygen atom. We said we represent nitrate in this chapter as NOOO, but you remember that the actual representation is NO3–. The stable molecule now loses an oxygen atom through bacteria that use the extra oxygen atom in its metabolism. So, NOOO loses an oxygen atom through the action of bacteria and nitrite is formed which we represent as NOO (actually, NO2–). In contrast to nitrate, nitrite is an unstable molecule and is easily changed to one of the other Reactive Nitrogen Species (RNS) such as nitric oxide. If NOO loses an oxygen atom, NO or nitric oxide is formed. This reaction happens chemically and not through bacteria and it involves nitrate first changing into other forms before it ends up as nitric oxide.
Ancient curing methods start with nitrate, which is changed to nitrite and eventually to nitric oxide. This is the way that it was done before sodium nitrite became available around the world after World War I and many artisan curers still prefer to start with nitrate when they cure meat. The reason for this is that the bacteria also contribute to the development of flavours in the meat which one loses if one starts directly with nitrite in the form of sodium nitrite which does not require bacteria to change into nitric oxide to cure the meat. It became the norm following World War II to skip the step of changing nitrate to nitrite which is time-consuming and may result in inconsistent curing by beginning the reaction sequence by using sodium nitrite and not nitrate.
Whether you talk about the reaction nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide or nitrite-nitric oxide, these scenario has at their heart the loss of one oxygen atom in every step. The opposite is also possible mainly that oxygen atoms can be added. At times, nitric oxide can gain an atom to form NOO or nitrite and NOO to form NOOO or nitrate. Remember that we said that where you find one, you are likely to find the others. So, where you have either nitrate, nitrite or nitric oxide, you are likely to find the others also.
Want to know more:
It is easy to see that the 3 following the O which represents oxygen indicates that one nitrogen atom binds to three oxygen atoms in the nitrate molecule, but what does the minus sign indicate? The nitrogen and three oxygen atoms form a unit or a package. The nett charge of this package is, however, negative, which is what the minus sign indicates. We call this not a molecule, but a very special molecule called an ion (where there is only one atom) or an ionic compound as in the case of nitrate with nitrogen and oxygen atoms in the molecule. A compound is supply two or more elements grouped together. An ion is what we call a unit like this (which can be an atom or a molecule) but it has a net electrical charge which is either + (positive) or – (negative). Ionic compounds are held together by these ionic bonds or electrostatic forces, as we refer to them. The ion by itself has a charge as either + or – but when it connects with another ion of opposite charge, the molecule is neutral overall. It has a component which is positively charged (called an anion – a positively charged ion) and a negatively charged component (called a cation – a negatively charged ion). An example of an ionic compound from everyday life is table salt with one positively charged sodium ion (Na+) and one negatively charged chloride ion (Cl−) called sodium chloride or table salt. We call it a salt because one component is alkali and the other is acidic.
The combination of nitrogen and oxygen yields several salts of importance for example saltpetre. Like table salt is the colloquial term for sodium chloride, so the colloquial term for potassium nitrate is saltpetre. The nitrate component or ion, NO3– reacts with metal ions such as sodium, magnesium, potassium, or calcium. The metal components occur in solution (mixed into water) as a strong acid in the form of (HNO3) with a strong base (KOH) which reacts to form a crystal [P+].[NO3–] or PNO3. Traditionally, saltpetre refers to potassium nitrate.
Another metal it often combines with is sodium to form sodium nitrate. Sodium or natrum (German) is represented by the letters “Na” for sodium and again, the nitrate component which is NO3– combines to give sodium nitrate written as [Na+].[NO3–] to form NaNO3.
The final example is the metal calcium, abbreviated Ca which represents calcium, but calcium combines with two sets of nitrates (NO3–) x 2 written as (NO3)2 and the complete name is therefore Ca(NO3)2. In our discussions here we ignore the metal part of the molecule being in our examples above potassium (K), sodium (Na) and Calcium (Ca). For easy of reference, when we talk about nitrate, we only refer to the NO3–component but often, there would be either K or Na or Ca attached to the nitrate but because it plays no role in the rest of the chemical reaction, we will conveniently ignore these metal components.
Summarise different metals that combine with nitrate:
NOOO (nitrate) + K (potassium) = KNO3 (Potassium Nitrate)
NOO (nitrite) + Ca (Calcium) = Ca(NO2) 2 (Calcium Nitrite)
This is another equally likely reaction which involved the gaining of oxygen atoms and not losing it (reduction). An example of an oxidation reaction is the reaction with L-Arginine which we looked at briefly and the oxidation of ammonia (NO3)/ ammonium (NH4+), both of which creates nitric oxide and are mediated through bacteria. We will tell the story of the formation of nitric oxide from ammonia in a subsequent chapter.
We summarise the two reactions as follows:
-> Reduction (losing oxygen atoms)
One way to create nitric oxide is by removing oxygen atoms. We remove one of the three oxygen atoms from nitrate (NOOO), and we get nitrite (NOO). In the name, the “a” is replaced with an “i” and, nitrite has one less oxygen atom than nitrate. If we remove one more oxygen atom from nitrite (NOO) we get nitric oxide (NO) which is the primary curing molecule.
So, let’s review the simple but important chemistry. Don’t worry about trying to remember these. We will refer to them so many times that you will easily remember them when we are done.
NOOO or (NO3–) = Nitrate or Saltpetre
NOO or (NO2–) = Nitrite
NO = Nitric Oxide
When nitrate loses one oxygen atom, it changes to nitrite and nitrite that loses one oxygen atom changes to nitric oxide.
NOOO (nitrate) – O = NOO (nitrite)
NOO (Nitrite) – O = NO (nitric oxide)
We have seen that to form nitric oxide from nitrate salts, you lose two oxygen atoms. Chemists say that the number of oxygen atoms is reduced. The word “reduced” will be important as we will say that the nitrate or nitrite is reduced, we mean that it lost an oxygen atom.
The same salts that nitrate forms with metal are formed by the more reactive nitrite.
NOO (nitrite) + K (potassium) = KNO2 (potassium nitrite)
NOO (nitrite) + Ca (Calcium) = Ca(NO2) 2 (Calcium Nitrite)
-> Oxidation (Gaining Oxygen Atoms)
Earlier, we have seen that nitric oxide is created by our bodies through certain processes in our cells. Instead of taking an oxygen atom away, it created nitric oxide by starting with a nitrogen atom and then it adds an oxygen atom to the nitrogen atom, and it forms nitric oxide. This process is called oxidation (adding an oxygen atom).
Ammonia is oxidized through bacteria which adds an oxygen atom to nitrogen and creates nitric oxide. More about this later when we drill down into sal ammoniac. Another way this happens is when ammonia is burned in the presence of oxygen. In this case, it is also oxidized to either nitrogen gas (N2) or nitric oxide (NO). It must be noted that the oxidation of ammonium salts usually produces nitrogen gas.
The Ever-Presence of Nitrogen
Let’s return to considering how gas, nitrogen, enters our world and becomes part of the nutrition of plants and animals. Otto et al (2010) estimate that with 1.4 billion lightning flashes each year, an estimated 8.6 billion tonnes of chemicals of one form or other are generated from the general formulation of NOx. Don’t get scared with the introduction of the x. It tells us we have a variable from which the exact number differs. You are already familiar with three of the forms this can take. Look at Nitric Oxide (NO), nitrite (NO2-), and nitrate (NO3–) and see if you can spot the function of the x which in this case is either an implied 1, an overtly stated 2 or 3. Can you tell me why the 1 is implied and for what form of nitrogen and oxide?
This estimate by Otto et al (2010) is staggering. It dwarfs what the curing industry can produce. It comprehensively obliterates the notion that nitrogen or nitric oxide or even nitrite for that matter are evil chemical species, which is produced by humans, and added to meat which will, so it is reported, do harm to the human body.
Otto, et al (010) and many others show conclusively that the presence of nitrate and nitric oxide is pervasive on planet earth. Nitrite is far less prevalent than nitrate. Nitrite is highly reactive and does not stay in this state very long (similar to nitric oxide). It forms a salt such as sodium nitrate which is more stable and is naturally found in some vegetables and meat, but still, nitrites often occur in vegetables. Most current sodium nitrites in dietary sources are made by humans. Nitric Oxide is also “fleeting” being a gas which quickly reacts to become another species.
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“Nitrogen is an essential element for all forms of life and is the structural component of amino acids from which animal and human tissues, enzymes, and many hormones are made. For plant growth, available (fixed) nitrogen is usually the limiting nutrient in natural systems. Nitrogen chemistry and overall cycling in the global environment are quite complex due to the number of oxidation states. Nitrogen itself has five valence electrons and can be found at oxidation states between −3 and +5. Thus, numerous species can form from chemical, biochemical, geochemical, and biogeochemical processes.” (Hanrahan, 2005) Below I list the oxidation state of different nitrogen species (and important chemical data).
Global nitrogen species and selected chemical data by: Hanrahan, 2005.
If you’re interested to learn more, google oxidation states. For those with a lively interest in this, I give the oxidation state of key nitrogen species.
The special Oxidation States of Nitrogen
Nitrate ion, oxidizing agent in acidic solution.
Nitrogen dioxide is a brown gas usually produced by the reaction of concentrated nitric acid with many metals. It dimerizes to form N2O4.
An oxidizing agent usually produces NO(g) or a reducing agent to form the nitrate ion.
Nitrogen oxide is also called nitric oxide. A colourless gas is produced by the reaction of metals with dilute nitric acid which then reacts with O2 in the air to form the brown NO2 gas.
Dinitrogen oxide is also called nitrous oxide or laughing gas.
Commonly found in air and very unreactive because of the very strong triple bond.
NH2OH Hydroxylamine, a weak base, can act as either an oxidizing agent or a reducing agent.
Hydrazine, a colourless liquid, is a weak base. Used as rocket fuel. It is disproportionate to N2 and NH3.
In basic solutions and as NH4 agent in aqueous solutions. When ammonia is burned in the presence of oxygen it is oxidized to either N2 or NO. The oxidation of ammonium produces nitrogen gas. salts usually.
Demonstrating Oxidation and Reduction
Let’s illustrate this with a helpful diagram which illustrates both oxidation and reduction of nitrate found in beetroot.
Nitrate–nitrite–nitric oxide pathway. Adapted from Niayakiru et al., 2020 by Milton-Laskibar (2021).
In the illustration above, beetroot contains nitrate (NOOO). Nitrate loses an oxygen atom and nitrite (NOO) is created. This is done through bacteria. It loses another oxygen atom and nitric oxide (NO) is created. These are examples of reduction reactions or losing-an-oxygen-atom reactions. In our current survey, nitric oxide (NO) can now react with a heam protein to cure the meat.
Nitric oxide (NO) can gain an oxygen atom to create nitrite (NOO) and nitrite can gain an oxygen atom to create nitrate (NOOO). There is another mechanism whereby nitric oxide (NO) gains two oxygen atoms at once and nitrate (NOOO) is created directly, skipping the formation of nitrite (NOO) completely. These are all examples of oxidation reactions or gaining-an-oxygen-atom reactions.
I add another graph to explain the various ways that oxidation and reduction take place of nitrate, nitrite and nitric oxide.
Meat curing is no longer the only industry to recognise the importance of nitric oxide. It turns out the molecule vilified for hundreds of years as purportedly being bad for us, possesses some remarkable qualities which recently became the intense subject of scientific investigation. Without it, life is not possible and the reason why few people know about it is that it has only been discovered as late as the 1980s and 1990s.
Want to know more:
Nitric oxide turns out to be an extremely important molecule.
The Biologically Essential Molecule, Nitric Oxide; Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) and Reactive Nitrogen Species (RNS)
Years ago, before the importance of nitric oxide was appreciated, consumers looked upon the fact that nitrite (which is very reactive and much more poisonous than nitrate) is used in food with great scepticism. They failed to understand that in nature N (nitrogen) easily and often becomes NO (nitric oxide), NOO (nitrite) or NOOO (nitrate or saltpetre). Also, NOOO (nitrate or saltpetre) often and easily becomes NOO (nitrite) and NO (nitric oxide). Where you find NO, chances are that you will also find NOO and NOOO. Likewise, where you find NOO, you will find NO and NOOO. This is a normal part of the functioning of the human body.
The fact that nitrite is poisonous must be qualified by the statement that nitrite is poisonous under certain conditions. What exactly those conditions are will become a major focus of our study, but simply to say that because something is poisonous under specific conditions, that it is dangerous to include it in food is itself a false assertion.
During this work, I will introduce a very important comparison namely between Oxygen and Nitrogen. Oxygen is like nitrogen in that under certain conditions it is toxic and can lead to death. In fact, it can be stated that ANY cell with a nucleus, as a normal process of the metabolism of the cell, generates both reactive species of oxygen and nitrogen. (Griendling, 2016)
We understand that even oxygen has unintended negative consequences such as ageing us and causing the ultimate demise of the body despite the fact that we recognise it as foundational to life on earth. The same two-edged sword experience is what we encounter in the discipline of curing and it is extremely important to understand it and responsibly ensure that no negative environment exists that may cause the nitrogen species to be harmful to humans in any shape or form.
The facts so far are crystal clear. Nitric Oxide (NO), the curing molecule, as its cousins of nitrate or saltpetre (NOOO) and nitrite (NOO) are essential to human and animal life and the functioning of our bodies. Nitrogen is probably no more or less dangerous than oxygen.
It’s Present in our Bodies!
Green et al, (1982) gave us these interesting results of nitrate and nitrite found in our urine, saliva, plasma, gastric juices and milk which points to the fact that these compounds are ever-present in the body. It is part and parcel of human physiology!
When discussing nitric oxide which we have seen as an essential part of our biology, or whether we are talking about nitrate or even nitrite, the first thing to grasp is that these molecules are naturally part of the human body and, as you can see from the table above, they are found in our saliva and our gastric juices. There are other places they are also found on the human body, but we will get to that later. A blanket statement such as that nitrite is bad for us we can unequivocally call an incorrect statement!
The curing molecule is Nitric Oxide. There are different ways to produce nitric oxide. One is to start with the more stable nitrogen salt, saltpetre or nitrate (NOOO). Bacteria use nitrate or saltpetre in respiration in the absence of air and nitrite is created (NOO). Nitrite comes into contact with chemical elements which facilitates the loss of another oxygen atom which brings nitric oxide about which reacts with the protein. It is this reaction that presents itself to us as creating a pinkish/ reddish colour. Nitric Oxide, an extremely important and versatile molecule is created in the human body through a chemical reaction with the amino acid, L-Arginine. This same reaction is also mediated through bacteria added directly to the meat and fermentation becomes a very productive method to cure meat without the use of sodium nitrate or nitrate. So, nitric oxide comes to us through that which our bodies produce naturally or through our diet when we ingest either nitric oxide, nitrates or nitrites.
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.
Bacon is more than a culinary delight! The universe chose this humble dish to be my teacher. It took many years to prepare me so that I could receive its lessons. First I had to be disillusioned. From my earliest consciousness, I was totally engrossed in my experience of life. I was taught the human mental pictures of language, religion, family, nationalism, geography, sport, school, music, history, mathematics, poetry, woodwork, war and love. At first, I believed everything. Love was unconditional, deceit was foreign, and life was simple. I must have been six or seven when I started noticing cracks in aspects of my belief system. That the worldview I was being taught was at times at odds with real life.
I wanted to figure it out and started testing using simple experiments. The first step was always to understand the system. Initially, I completely immersed myself in it. I studied the systems from within and not as an objective onlooker. I then design experiments based on the internal logic of the system. If a and b, naturally should follow c. I would change a or b or sometimes both while observing for changes in c.
The Most Elemental
In my 20s as I discovered the work of Michael E Porter and under his influence I sharpened my investigative strategy. I sought to identify the most fundamental elements which determine the essential characteristic of anything whether it is physical or abstract. The next question was this – are the fundamental elements fixed? Do they exist objectively and independently and if not, what are the things that influence their particular set of characteristics? Almost always I found such characteristics to be conditional.
This testing of anything and everything of great value and interest to me became my single-minded quest to the exclusion of any other pursuit in life. I started to appreciate the unfathomable value of old traditions. The benefit of others, infinitely more able to analyse than myself with often years of experience which I did not have. Their voices came with clarity, filtered by the sands of time into a purity that I enjoyed in my current existence that is very noisy and distracted by everything that the modern world offers.
Mental constructs which were discredited through experimentation reappeared in different perspectives as I changed my angle of looking at them. For example, I started to value the formative influence that the Christian tradition had in my life by instilling the value of disciplines like archaeology and the interpretation of ancient texts. Within the Christian framework, I wrested with the distance between us and the ancients who wrote the bible. Using the same techniques I was able to very carefully discover a body of ancient knowledge that holds the key to much of the puzzle of meat curing. I am indebted to my Christian teachers for schooling me in these. On a side note, spirituality and my connection with the mysterious “unknown” grew and I later embraced it as a valuable part of my human experience and a rich way to connect to others.
The Fog of Antiquity
The time before writing existed has a fog that obscures it from us. I discovered that the fog of millions of years contains small particles of light and reflections and just as we can know the make-up of distant stars by analysing its light, so we can decipher the knowledge of the ancients by studying the particles of the fog of antiquity. I learned that knowledge is not only acquired by sight, smell, hearing and touch but by our entire being. An example of this is my quest to know the food traditions of ancient civilisations. In Africa, I want to know the food people ate. The transmission of recipes from mother to daughter is like reciting poems or songs and carries clues about ancient times not written down anywhere. Even where I have no ancient writing to fall back on or recipes handed down I discovered that by visiting the old settlements, now uninhabited, with only ruins remaining, sitting amongst these or walking through them – the ancients would speak to me till I can see the flames of the fires where woman are preparing supper and I smell the aroma of the ancient dishes.
It was not until my 38th birthday that powers greater than me determined that the crystal that would refrac the light of the reality of everything to me would be bacon. The new world of discovery started to open up, leading me into lands I could not imagine existed. All this through my pursuit of bacon which is so mundane that nobody has bothered to write the comprehensive story of its development. It became my teacher of the marvels of the natural world.
Meat Curing’s Ancient Origins
I love the unpretentious beginnings of meat curing which is the bedrock of bacon and ham. Its secrets were initially guarded by women before artisan guilds took over as custodians of its principles and practices. The curing of meat became intimately linked with the earliest desire of humans to explore far away from their habitation. When the horse was domesticated and long-distance travel became a thing as was already the case with long sea voyages, the curing of meat was essential to ensure nutrition thus enabling the fulfilment of a basic human desire for exploration and discovery. It made international trade possible as fleets and caravans of animals and people trading their commodities around the globe relied on its power to deliver nutrition. Other more unfortunate human characteristics were likewise enabled by meat curing – the desire to dominate. Cured meat would become the staple of armies for the building of empires.
It facilitated another basic human instinct of immortality, our final destination and our relationship with the departed. Here we get the first glimpse that bacon curing is not the application of an external preservative to food or colourant to meat. The curing of bacon and hams is not something done to the meat. It is unlocking secret powers inside the meat with the aid of salts or waters or what was naturally excreted from the human and animal bodies which would then facilitate the change in the essential nature of the meat. This change in the character of the meat made it last longer, taste delicious and caused the meat to “come to life again” by changing from a dull brown to a bright pinkish/ reddish colour. The ancients found that most of the excrements of the human and animal body namely sweat and urine were powerful agents to elicit this enigmatic change in meat.
Like the power of nature which allows huge and heavy ships, laden with many tonnes of produce, people and ammunition to stay afloat by natural forces that early humans did not fully understand; yet, they mastered its application – in the same way, the ancients could appreciate the fact that the curing of meat was something natural, intimately associated with the normal, healthy functioning of the human and animal body. In this sense, it was completely different from cooking a soup where different bits of ingredients are added or the baking of bread where heat cause the parts of the bread to clump together, rise and dry out to form a new, appetising whole.
The earliest cognitive and conscious humans recognised this. Since it could bring meat back to life, could this not prevent our deceased relatives and other loved ones from decaying? Bacon and hams, the curing of meat became the bedrock which allowed mummification to develop as stories from around the world were told by travellers of corpses in distant desert lands that do not undergo decay if they are exposed to particular salts, so powerful that thousands of years later we still have these naturally mummified bodies with us. They knew what salts caused this because women used the same salts in preserving meat. They started experimenting with the salts and applied them to the deceased with astonishing success, being able, not to bring the dead to life again, but to prevent decay!
The next progression naturally followed from the previous. If it could bring old meat back to life and safeguard the deceased from decay, surely this life-giving transformation must work for the living also. So, they incorporated it into the much-prized elixir of immortality. The quest to find a cocktail that would allow us to live forever and if we could not live forever, would have the ability to stay off the outwards ravages of old age at least for a time. They not only experimented with the salts responsible for curing. They applied the same bodily experiments of sweat, urine and saliva to the skin and bathed in it as is done to this day in India where cow urine is considered holy by some. They found that it kept the skin young and prevented acne in teens.
They observed that it indeed possessed life-giving power not just for the dead, but the living also. The same elements which stimulate meat curing can heal wounds and a host of other human ailments such as the relief of chest pain. Some were able to work out that by combining curing salts with saliva, for example, its potency is enhanced many times over.
Spices had the same effect on meat especially noticed by people living in the Mediterranean and the nations around the Black sea. To this day stories persist that these people can cure meat without the salts commonly associated with curing.
Meat Curing – A Life-Giving Principle?
The ancients knew that certain salts were not the only curing agents. The millions of years separating us from them means that this knowledge was lost except in a few isolated communities where certain aspects of the trade persist in salt-only long-term curing, spice curing in Italy and Spain and drying techniques in Turkey. These are however fragmented bits of knowledge viewed as oddities and nothing more. The wonder, the life-giving aspect revealed in meat curing has for the most part been lost.
Everything related to cured meat has, however not always been positive and some linked it with disease. Humans who do not understand that the answer to the fundamental question of the most basic realities of life is not fixed, started to make absolute pronouncements on matters which are relative, depending on multiple factors. Imminent scientists from the modern world report that people who consume cured meat tend to suffer from certain ailments. They made the fatal error of concluding that cured meat is unhealthy, causing cancer. In making this assertion, they chose to ignore the fundamental importance of the curing reaction to human and mammalian existence and the complex factors which make many foods turn against our bodies. They chose simple statements that obscure truth over the wonder of complexity.
In recent years through rigorous scientific investigation, the essential role of the curing reaction in meat has been elucidated. It was discovered that the curing reaction is essential to the functioning of the body of all animals, including humans. The body has the inherent ability to create the curing reaction in response to a host of diseases and invasive enemy microorganisms and viruses. More than a defence mechanism only, the curing reaction in the body generates chemical species involved in functions such as the signalling between different parts of the body.
Most recently we discovered that microorganisms, bacteria, in particular, can create the curing reaction in meat in a way that mimics the reactions created by what came to be known as curing salts, closely linked with how our bodies create the curing reaction without the aid of salts. In other words, certain bacteria, feeding on parts inherent in meat solicits the curing reaction in the same way as curing salts, plants, spices, waters and human bodily fluids such as urine, sweat and saliva do. The basic mechanism is the same as how the body creates these reactions “by itself!” This has been a remarkable discovery and ultimately answers the question if meat curing is possible without curing salts and for that matter, without spices or plant material or human or animal bodily fluids. The answer to this question is an overwhelming “yes!”
Can Something of Infinite Benefit be Harmful?
Let’s return to the question related to a possible link between cured meat and disease and ask the important question about the health effects of cured meat as follows. Is it possible that what has been known since antiquity as having great health benefits to humans, could have detrimental effects also? This of course relates to curing salts in particular. Can millions of years of human experience be wrong about cured meat? We already eluded to the answer. The resolution of the question is in the understanding of the interconnectedness of everything. That any classification of cured meat as cancer-causing is wrong in that it incorrectly presents the conclusion as an objective statement of truth which stands independent of any other fact while it is in reality at best only a conditionally true statement. Assigning cured meat with the designation of cancer-causing these scientists reveal a lack of understanding of the interconnectedness of life and a strawman position is presented about the modern curing industry. This is a very serious error as it portrays the false use of science.
Life taught me that even a false narrative is an opportunity to learn and grow and where I at first was annoyed by this wrong view I came to appreciate it. It intensified my own search for the conditions that make cured meat either good or bad. It forced me to look deeper than I would have done and to expose the fact that under certain conditions cured meat can be dangerous just as milk or water or oxygen can be harmful to the human body under certain conditions. More than anything, these false notions trusted me in the realm of nutrition. Bacon became the doorway that taught me about the relationship between humanity and our food.
My Teacher is Bacon!
Bacon became my teacher. Worlds opened up that have been lost to time, obscured in the fog of antiquity. Meat curing’s scope of influence is breathtaking. It aided almost every great human endeavour. The loss of this knowledge is tragic and I set out to tell its story from the perspective of my discovery of its secrets.
On my many travels around the globe, I wrote letters to my kids and colleagues recounting what I am learning. I present much of the work by publishing these letters, interspersed with chapters where I advance the storyline and explain essential detail. Like bacon, I also speak from a very specific environment that impacts the presentation of the facts. The southernmost tip of the great African continent became the backdrop of my discoveries and from here I set out on a global quest to learn how to make the best bacon on earth.
In the end, bacon not only taught me about health, nutrition and science but about my relationship with the entire human race and with my family. As Bacon taught me about life, the lessons reached into the most basic realities of my existence. Its story became my own story of love and life, tragedy and triumph, deceit and manipulation by others, respect and honour, great and enduring friendships and comradery.
What follows is the story of Bacon & the Art of Living!