The Meat Factory

It is easy to build quality factories in the so-called developed world. In developing environments, it’s far more challenging. I build factories in such “challenging environments.”

Wherever I am involved in a new meat plant design, I do it from the perspective of creating the optimal combination of various technology sets, whether its flooring, equipment, processes, personnel or functional ingredients. It is a science where my fucus is the best output for the client, based on his budget and the enviroment the plant will operate in and not selling sets of technology that I may or may not be alligned with.

Here I share notes on lessons learned and I index work I have done on technology and considerations applicable to factory design in developing and developed countries.



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This page is part of a series on The Meat Factory. Visit this page for the full list of related discussion documents.

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My First Visit to Ile Ife (ile ife): Foundational Work in Uncovering our African Nutritional Heritage

My First Visit to Ile Ife (ile ife): Foundational Work in uncovering our African Nutritional Heritage
10 June 2023
by Eben van Tonder

A short clip where I celebrate the beauty of Ile Ife.


I am on a quest to discover the culinary and nutritional heritage of Africa. One of the sources of great interest to me is the religious heritage as technology from the past is often written into its mythology. Due to the sacred nature of religious narrative, it often remains unchanged for many generations. I discovered the ancient city of Ile Ife (ile ife), 218kg northeast of Lagos which is the centre of the traditional Yoruba faith. It is here, according to the traditional narrative where the first humans were created. From here the first sunrise has been observed. This city existed since 1080 AD with evidence of habitation stretching back to 10 BCE. Its age and focus on animal sacrifice immediately made me travel there this past weekend to see what I can discover from their sacrificial system that contains pockets of technology from ancient Africa. An indigenous African religion of this age and depth and grounding with a tight connection to one holy city which rivals the Christian, Islam and Hindu faiths was of such huge and immediate interest to me in light of my work that I had to get there at the first available opportunity! Can it be that such a place exist?!

The German explorer, Frobenius (1913) wrote that “it was in Timbuktu where I obtained a full description of Ife and its temples as well as of its inhabitants, and in other Soudanese towns from slaves who never again could hope to see their native homes.”

The Magnitude of the Experience

There is nothing that could have prepared me for my visit to Ile Ife, the centre for life for Yorubaland, a region designated across modern-day countries of Nigeria, Togo, Benin, and about 60% of the land area of Ghana.

It was a place of legends, The German explorer, Frobenius (1913) wrote that “it was in Timbuktu where I obtained a full description of Ife and its temples as well as of its inhabitants, and in other Soudanese towns from slaves who never again could hope to see their native homes.”

The streets are dusty; the houses old; the people warm and friendly with many times more motorcycles than cars. It’s a city that could not have looked much different 100 or 200 years ago. Unlike Lagos with its stifling masses, here is enough space to breathe. Goats lazily sleep on platforms within one of the main traffic circles of the city. It’s easy to cross the road because for long periods there is no traffic at all.

Pockets of Ancient Observations on Nutrition

The king or Oòni (King) of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, travelled to Abuja – not that there would have been much hope to meet him, but this is Africa and Ile Ife is unlike any place on earth. Within the first half an hour of being at the palace, Eemese Tayo introduces me to the centre of blood sacrifices. Standing next to the altar, he confirmed that blood is more powerful than meat; intestines come next in terms of nutritional value and next is meat. All these trumps vegetables. The practicalness of using blood which is a liquid vs a solid is abundantly evident, but still, I wonder if this priority reflected to some degree an understanding of ancient Africa of the value of blood as it was in many ancient cultures. The Jews, for example, knew that blood is life! Leviticus 17:11 talks about sacrifice and reads, “. . . the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” (King James Bible) Meat offerings are easily disposed of if the deity consumes them with fire. It is not to say that blood is the only sacrificial option.

It is why I am here. Could the priority of blood encapsulate scientific thought, gathered over millennia of careful observation, taken up into folklore and preserved in religious mythology? Does this hint at some of Africa’s earliest breakthroughs in its understanding of nutrition? I have been visiting shrines for almost 8 hours on Saturday in intense discourse about these matters and will leave it to Ọrunmila, the spirit or Orisha which is wisdom and knowledge to guide my thoughts and educational endeavours to understand this better and develop the concept.

The nature of sacrifice and the mechanisms it unlocks in Yoruba tradition has been the centre of discussion the entire day from the time we started at the palace, at every shrine we visited and king we interviewed, until my security detail and driver finally gave up on me when I was still discussing the exact same topic that the day began with at 16:46, with Owa Yekere, the king and custodian of the last shrine we visited, that of Moremi Ajasoro, daughter of the hunter-warrior, Lukugba, the woman who sacrificed everything for her people, including her only son, Oluorogbo. His official title is Oba Isoro Sunday Oluwagbemileke Obisanya Owa Yekere of the Ife kingdom. Owa, himself a masterful storyteller had us spellbound as I heard the story of Moremi Ajasoro for the first time. When he got to the part where Moremi offered her son as she promised, the entire group collectively gasped. The comparison to Christianity I immediately drew was what the Oòni (King) of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi also drew and solicited not a little controversy! I am, however, in full agreement with his majesty!

At the second site, we visited on Saturday, I was introduced to His Eminence, Aworeni Awodotun Owolabi. He is the chosen Araba Agbaye, taking over from his father as the “highest-ranking priest in the world” or “the leader of all priests worldwide.” The Araba Agbaye holds a position of great authority and responsibility within the Yoruba religious community. The Araba Agbaye serves as the leader and spiritual head of the organized Ifa/Orisha religious practitioners worldwide. They are responsible for overseeing and guiding the activities of Ifa/Orisha priests and devotees globally. The title of Araba Agbaye is not hereditary but is attained through a selection process by a council of elders. He acts as a custodian of Yoruba religious traditions and practices, including the Ifa divination system.

I was not briefed on who he was and was completely unprepared when, suddenly I was ushered into the room where he holds court and after the required formalities, was told that I could ask my question to his eminence. Fortunately, I recorded it and followed on in an exchange that can be described as the best of the African tradition of great storytelling! Again, the matter of sacrifice was front and centre stage in our discussion.

This experience would repeat itself over and over throughout the day as we visit one shrine after the other. I would enquire as to the story of the particular god or spirit and the king or caretaker would be only too delighted to retell the story to our great entertainment and be left every time in amazement at the majesty of the oratory. None was as brilliantly done as his eminence, and I am not just saying it because of his position. It was something to behold!

Following the discussion and my inquiry about sacrifice, there would be an offering made to the god, prayers would be said, divination would take place, and we would greet our host and off to the next shrine. It is said that there are 201 gods in Ile Ife. The shrines are the actual locations where, according to the traditions, the gods and kings lived and where notable events took place, unified by a single and consistent narrative.

The Experience was Exhilarating, Extremely Informative and Haunting

So, what is it that makes me sit wide awake at 1:44 Sunday morning when I am supposed to be exhausted and fast asleep that is keeping me up? The fact of the existence of Ile Ife. The ancient streets and buildings. That these stories have been told for thousands of years and the meetings with the kings and caretakers were with people in a direct line of descent from the earliest kings to be custodians of the shrines. The fact of the existence of the Oòni (King) of Ife!

At one site in the palace complex, I prayed where governors, heads of state and businesspeople like Aliko Dangote, the richest man in Africa prayed, performing the same rituals as they did. The moment was surreal!

The ability of such a system to hold ancient traditions and encapsulate careful observation by the ancients astounded me. At the same time, I was able to clearly see how powerful modern influences alter the narrative. Not regarding the essence of the faith, but the minutia which was the subject of my inquiry. Not only was I able to trace these through the day, but when we got back to the Researchers Lodge on the grounds of the Obafemi Awolowo University, our host in Ile Ife, Ikeola Aremu’s husband, Dr Bolaji Aremo, a professor in engineering, gave me some of the best summaries of how the narrative (in the minutia) changes especially in the light of health concerns related to the consumption of blood.

I am privileged to have these discussions at a time when these changes can still be traced, and it becomes a powerful set of data for the work I am committed to namely to uncover the advanced African culinary and nutritional tradition. Meat science has been the pursuit of my life and the subject of nutrition is therefore my chief field of interest in this new study.

All these things were swimming through my mind, and I could not sleep.

Expanding Discourse on Major World Religions

This should be the end of my summary of the day, but it is not. It is not just the exhilaration of uncovering small capsules of ancient observations and nutritional practices through the course of one day in one of the most ancient settings in Africa which are keeping me awake tonight. It is also the realisation that I have come face to face with a culture that tells, in many respects, the same story as Christianity, and Islam (as far as I understand the narrative of the last one). The difference is that where the narrative of these religions is coated in a romantic and acceptable form, the exact same logic within the traditional Yoruba faith is presented much more brutal and in unacceptable terms for the Western Mind. It allowed me to see these dominant world faiths through new eyes where the romance has been stripped away by the brute facts of the religious narrative. I see it so clearly but discussing it will be offensive to almost every practitioner of these faiths. So, I resolved tonight to limit my discussions on this subject to personal conversations with select people so that I do not make my work in the field of the African nutritional and culinary heritage irrelevant and limit my access to source material. Africa is, after all, broadly speaking, either Christian or Muslim, except here in the centre point of Yorubaland and the discussion will be so repulsive to Christians and Muslims that I will do damage to my core objective. Not just that, but many of my closest friends and my broader family will take extreme exception to the insights I gained.


So, the groundwork is being laid for one of the greatest adventures on earth and I have clarity on the research methodology to follow. The places where the richest source of information lies is being elucidated and Ile Ife and its faith system will remain a key focus.

What a day! I posted some of my photos below as well as a Youtube link I did on the Sunday following my visit to the city.

The YouTube link where I reflect on my day in the city is:

Notes from Ife and other sources

Introduction to the general subject

Main Menu Page

The menu page for work on ancient meat technology and nutrition is: “Meat: From Prehistory into the More Recent, but Still, Distant Past

Ife Photos


Frobenius, Leo. (Originally published: 1913)The Voice of Africa, Being an Account of the Travels of the German Inner African Exploration Expedition in the Years 1910-1912


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Bacon Curing Systems: From Antiquity till Now.

Bacon Curing Systems: From antiquity till Now.
Eben van Tonder
18 June 2021
(Revised 4 June 2023)


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 the fermentation of meat creating nitric oxide directly from L-Arginine without the use of nitrate or nitrite. In my book on the history of bacon curing technology, Bacon & the Art of Living, the following chapters are dedicated to these different systems of curing.

In my book, I presented the story in narrative form. This style may be annoying to some but it proved to be a very useful investigative technique as it forced me to think through every process in the 1st person and allowed me to see relationships between seemingly unconnected bits of technology in a completely new and holistic way. By, as it were, “living in the moment,” I gained insights I would never have seen if I simply reported the features of each system separately.

Bacon by Robert Goodrich. A man who inspires me more than he can imagine!

The Progression of Curing Systems

Here are different chapters that deal with the various stages in the progression of curing systems.

– Dry Cured Bacon

The bacon curing system existed for hundreds of years and included only dry ingredients and later dry ingredients with wet brine added.

– The Empress of Russia’s Brine

During the time of Catherine, the Great of Russia, salt was heavily taxed. She had a lively interest in the latest developments in food technology and the excessive cost of salt was a major concern for her. It was under her rule that she or someone in her court suggested that instead of discarding old used brine, the brine should be boiled, impurities removed, and it should be used repeatedly. Her brine, called the Empress of Russia’s Brine contained salt, sugar and saltpetre. Bacterial reduction of saltpetre (nitrates) to nitrites in the old brine would have caused the curing of subsequent batches to be sped up considerably.

Westphalia hams were famous for their use of the Empress of Russia’s brine from a time before it was introduced in Ireland and the cold smoking process which was unlike anything being done at the time when “chimney smoking” was the order of the day.

– Mild Cured Bacon

Mild Cured Bacon is the industrialisation of bacon production. Invented by William Oake in Northern Ireland some time before 1837, a key concept namely the re-use of the old brine was a progression of the Russian brine of Catherine.

William Oake’s main progression of Catherina the Great’s brine was “not to boil” the brine between batches and all that was required was to replenish the salt, sugar and nitrates (saltpetre) as was prescribed by Catherine the Great. Interestingly enough, he managed to eliminate curing from a technical perspective by adding sal prunella to the brine which contains sulphites. The result was preservation, but not through curing. The bacteria were impacted by the sulphites and nitrate was not reduced to nitrite. This reduction happens microbially or through enzymes in mammalian physiology. In curing, these enzymes are active in bacteria which reduces the amino acids in the meat protein. This is unfortunately a long process as is witnessed in dry-cured systems where only salt is used. So, in Oake’s system curing did not take place and his bacon was pale.

At the time (mid-1800s) in the UK, a lot of work was done to convince the public that “paled bacon is healthy bacon”. One of the biggest curers to have ever lived, Aron Vecht, described why this was seen as healthier in an interview which I publish in “Interview with Aron Vecht 1894.” He lived through these marketing campaigns as a child in London and he reflects on this in his interview.

Bacteriology was in its infancy and the dissemination of knowledge of them was not universal and in England, the mechanisms and chemistry in curing and the effect of bacteria on the process were poorly understood as you will see if you read Vechts interview. The result of all of this was, as impactful as Oake’s system was on industrialising bacon production, the result was pale bacon.

– Sweet Cured Bacon

Invented by Harris in Calne, early in the 1840s, the “sweet” in the name for the system and Oake’s “mild” refers to the same thing namely a less harsh salty taste. Both Harris and Oake, at around the same time addressed the same issue in two different ways. Harris did not reuse the old brine but a combination of smokehouse development, the inclusion of brine soaking in the curing process and the injection of meat allowed them to reduce the salt levels, yielding a “sweeter”, less salty brine.

– Pale Dried Bacon and Wiltshire Curing or Tank Cured Bacon

Pale dried bacon was invented under John Harris in Calne in the 1890s and without a doubt in response to the success of mild cured bacon by William Oake and the marketing campaigns which persuaded the public that pale bacon is healthier bacon. In pale dried bacon, the bacon is dried without smoking it. Over time the curers in Wiltshire with the help of work from the University of Bristol “corrected” the Oake system by removing the sulphites and further used the system almost completely unchanged which yielded what became known as Wiltshire curing or Tank curing in the closing years of the 1800s or early 1900s.

Wiltshire Cured and Ice-Cured Bacon

Before the Wiltshire cure was firmly established, the Harris operation launched Ice Cured bacon which incorporates refrigeration technology into meat curing.

– Auto Cured-, Rapid Cured- and Tank Cured Bacon

Auto curing was invented by William Harwood Oake, the son of William Oake from Limerick in Ireland who invented mild curing. William Harwood Oake brought mild curing to England when he opened a curing operation with two partners in Gillingham, Dorset. He invented auto curing which is a progression of Rapid Cure invented by Robert Davison, an Englishman working in America.

– The Vecht’s Curing Method and Mild Curing by Henry Denny

Henry Denny from Ireland invented a mechanical method of singeing pork and used refrigeration to achieve less salty bacon. His process was effectively copied by the Dutch Orthodox Jewish master curer, Aron Vecht, who incorporated this into the Oake’s system, retaining the use of sal prunella and yielding pale meat. His intention was not always to produce bacon as he was responsible for supplying what was called mess pork to the shipping industries. He used the system to create bacon also and established curing operations and bacon brands in New Zealand and Australia. He did not only copy but also made important progressions based on the use of refrigeration.

– The Direct Addition of Nitrite

The work thus far was focussing on an “indirect” formation of nitrite. Ladislav NACHMÜLLNER invented the first curing brine legally sold containing sodium nitrites directly in 1915 in Prague. The system was made popular around the globe by the Griffiths Laboratories. The direct addition of nitrites to curing Brines is covered in two chapters namely:

– Grid Bacon

A system pioneered in Germany in the early 2000s. This final article of interest is not part of Bacon & the Art of Living, but it fits here because it represents the latest thinking about the most modern curing system.

– Bacterial Fermentation of Meat

Where nitrite was previously accessed in England through brine fermentation, it has been discovered in recent years that bacteria are able to ferment the meat itself and create Nitric Oxide from the proteins in the meat to effect curing. I dealt with this probably the most extensively in Chapter 02.00: The Curing Molecule.

Doing this summary made me realise that I need to add the following chapters.

  • A chapter dealing with the quest to “commercialise” a brine system using bacterial fermentation. Together with Richard Bosman in a South African company we appropriately called Oake Woods (Pty) Ltd, we are actively involved in this pursuit.
  • I realise that I also must do a chapter dealing with plant-based curing where nitrate is accessed through bacteria to produce nitrite and thus cure meat. There are major benefits to this system, but Richard and I are not satisfied with it but seek to provide nitrite-free bacon through continued bacterial action. Like the fermentation brine, our work is housed in Oake Woods. We commercialise this through BeetBacon.

From Antiquity Till Now: Health Considerations and History

The final chapters of Bacon & the Art of Living put the health considerations and the future development of bacon in perspective. Even though Richard and I are heavily involved in creating nitrite-free bacon, the fact is that nitrite itself is not something to be frowned upon under all circumstances. In the closing chapters, I deal head-on with this matter and provide the vision and road map to changing bacon into a super-food.

The Story of Bacon

I summarise the development of curing in one chapter in Bacon &the Art of Living:

Generally, what you have in Bacon & the Art of Living is the most complete work on the history of bacon in existence! I have to say something about the plotline. The story 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. The characters are modern people, most of whom are based on real people and they interact with old historical figures with all the historical and cultural bias that goes with this. As the title indicates, it is far more than only the history of bacon as it relates these events to a personal quest to find purpose in life through the pursuit of bacon. In the process family, friends and concepts such as nationalism and faith are examined in a way relevant to the pursuit of excellence.

The index page to Bacon & the Art of Living: Bacon & the Art of Living

“Canadian Bacon” by Kevin Clees. A master at the art and a true inspiration!

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Any contributions or comments can be directed to me at:

Phone Number and Whatsapp: +27 71 545 3029
Cape Town
South Africa

The complete history of bacon.

African Processed Meats: West African Roots

African Processed Meats: West African Roots
9 April 2023
Eben van Tonder


Food is one of the most intimate cultural expressions, on par with religion. Methods of preparation and spices are pillars of the study of food and one of the oldest foods we consumed is meat. Europeans and Americans refer to one class of meat sausages as emulsion sausages. Examples include frankfurter-style sausages and mortadella luncheon meats. In South Africa russians, viennas and polony fall into this category. The origins of emulsion-style sausages are definitely not restricted to Europe. I traced the origins of this style of meats to antiquity when mortar and pestle grinding was used to create a meat paste and here in West Africa I encounter another example.

The two most important spices are salt and pepper. Salt fascinates me and I have a special section in the EarthwormExpress dedicated to its role in history, The Salt Bridge, celebrating its role in connecting societies and facilitating the transfer of culinary innovation since antiquity. In 2018 I did an article, Salt and the Ancient People of Southern Africa elucidating some of the important elements of the key role salt played in the lives of the ancient people of Southern Africa, particularly in relation to producing dried meat.

It is the link between dried meat, spices and grinding or pulverising meat that became a powerful telescope back into history when I had a fascinating meeting with three businessmen in Lagos, Hassan and his brother Hussaini Guruna and Saleh Buba, a business partner, friend and economist by training.

The Southern African Context

I first set the context from a Southern African perspective. Here, a long tradition exists of drying meat which started in antiquity past by the indigenous inhabitants predating the creation of Biltong by the Boer farmers (Saltpeter, Horse Sweat, and Biltong: The origins of our national food).

Meat was dried by hanging it in trees. Salt was indirectly used by rolling the strips of meat in ash before hanging it. The ash had the function of keeping the flies away but also added to the taste. William Ramwell sent me a comment earlier this year to my article on biltong I mentioned above, “I was working in the bush in Namibia in 1978 doing geological exploration. We were late and had to camp by the roadside. I had a team of 17 Ovambo tribesmen who proceeded to make a fire and slice up their meat into long, ragged strips which they then put on the wood fire. The ash-coated meat was absolutely delicious.” In a 2019 interview, I did with a guide at Echo Caves in the Mpumalanga region in South Africa whose memory through his father and grandfather goes back at least 170 years, told me that if the meat had a slight “off-taint”, they would roll it in the ash again before consuming it which would mask the unpleasant taste. I never forgot the statement which came back to me and was elucidated by William’s contribution that the ash indeed served a “spicing” role and positively contributed to the organoleptic characteristics of the product.

The dried meat was pulverised and used in soup dishes. The tradition is ancient and I found reports of ancient mortars and pestles, discovered in Southwest Asia dating back to approximately 35000 BC where it was applied to amongst other, meat. I examine this in The Origins of Polony.

The pulverised meat was often used with ground nuts. Elanor Muller, Marketing Manager at Transfrontier Parks and a student of culinary history provided me with the following detailed information regarding the practice of drying meat and then rehydrating it in a stew and its combination with ground nuts in Southern Africa. “The Zimbabwean Ndebele people have a traditional dish which they call Ewomileyo. Modern-day people add peanut butter to the dish. This is no doubt done in accordance with an old practice of adding nuts to the meat dish. It is also called Umhwabha or the Zulu name for it is Umqayiba. In Venda, it is done in two ways. Dried meat is placed on a braai or they grill it and stump it. It is then cooked, or dried meat is recooked and mixed with peanuts. All vegetables and meat, mixed with peanuts are called Dovhi.”

West Africa – Incubator of African Innovation and Technology

This week Hassan and his brother Hussaini Guruna and Saleh Buba visit us at our offices in Lagos. The first lesson they had for me related to descriptions of cattle. It is important for me to be able to make a clear distinction between cattle that are fat and healthy – ready for slaughter and gaunt, sick animals. Two Hausa words are used.

Gamba – the word used to describe gaunt cattle; and

Koshi – the word used to describe fat cattle (can also be referred to as Bujimi).

They then told me about the Yolo cattle market in Mubi. Cattle are driven in huge herds from Chad to the Northern Nigerian City of Mubi where cattle traders like the Guruna family, load them in trucks and transport them to Lagos where they are fattened and sold.

The cattle market in Mubi, photo from Northeast Reporters

The discussion quickly turned to dried meat. In the Hausa tradition salt and spices are used to make the dried meat, but never sugar. The local variety known as biltong in South Africa and Jerky in America is called Kilishi. A bit of heat is sometimes employed to speed up the drying process.

Kilishi is, however not the only product made from dehydrated meat. One such progression of the basic concept is Dambu Nama.

Dambu Nama

To make this, all fat and connective tissue is removed from the meat after which it is rinsed and cooked with bell peppers, stock, onions and salt to taste. The meat is cooked till it is soft. All the water is cooked off and if need be, add more water and cook till dry. Traditionally, a mortar and pestle were used to grind the meat down but these days chefs prefer using two forks to shred the meat. The role of mortar and pestle is the key link for me. The tradition is ancient!

Suya spice, pepper, ginger powder and stock are added. Mix and taste to ensure the spices are to satisfaction. Now, fry on medium heat in a bit of oil, pressing down on the meat with your spachelor while stirring to ensure the meat remains fluffy. When the colour of the meat change to deep brown, it’s done and time to cool it down.

For the complete recipe of Dambu Nama, see Chef Lola’s Kitchen. I used her video in my description of the process.

One of the other traditional ways that it is made is by adding groundnut cake. This piqued my interest as it connected to the Southern African inclusion of groundnuts into pulverised dried meat.

Groundnut cake is made as the byproduct of extracting oil from it, and yes, the process is also ancient and is still practised in households and small industries by Nigerian Northerners.

My mind goes back to the weeks and days I spend hiking the old indigenous ruins across the Johannesburg highveld area. I chronicled these experiences in The Stories of Salt. All we have left today are the ruins. Western colonisation destroyed the rich oral tradition of the indigenous tribes. It was always interesting to me that when I was amongst the ruins a calm came upon my mind and I knew that the truth about the rich history of these people would one day be told again. The height of their technology was in ways that Europeans did not perceive as valuable. For most of the inhabitants of the region (sadly, not all) technology was chiefly directed at communal living and not building vast empires. One of my projects is to rediscover this technology and particularly as it relates to meat and other foods.

It was with the greatest excitement that I learned the full details of the processing of dried meat and the way that groundnuts were added to meats. The ancestral spirit-guardians of the stone ruins of Southern Africa guided me to Nigeria and set an appointment with Hassan Guruna, Hussaini Guruna and Saleh Buba who would finally tell me what happened in the ancient mega-cities of Southern Africa, not by telling me what happened down South, but what is done here in West Africa where most of the ancestors of the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa hail from.

Oil Extraction from Groundnuts

The groundnuts are first roasted. In the roasting process, the nuts are stirred repeatedly to prevent burning. After roasting it is removed from the fire and cooled down. The red coating is now removed either by hand or by lightly stirring it in a mortar and pestle. The red coating is removed by blowing it away. The remaining groundnuts, now without the coating is grind into a paste in the mortar and pestle.

The container for roasting is now returned to the fire and the paste is transferred to it. You can add water. Stir the paste. Add more water and keep stirring to avoid burning the paste. Stir it till the oil starts coming out. Bring it down from the fire and allow it to cool. The oil separates out. Wrap the paste in a cloth sieve and press the oil out with a heavy stone by placing the stone on top of the paste.

After collecting the oil, let it stand in a container to settle down and clear oil is now separated from solid bits that made their way through the sieve. What remains is the oil, used for frying and the groundnut cake which can be used in many different ways, for several dishes. One of the ways is in combination with shredded and pulverised meat that was either dried in the sun or dried over a slow fire or both.

The ancient method of extracting the oil is beautifully done by Sunshine Resources and I used their video and description above. Credit goes to them and their excellent video is posted below.

Saleh gave me another way that oil extraction can be done without the use of direct heat. Apply a small amount of boiled salt water to the paste and keep turning it without applying direct heat. A pure oil will start coming out. The process is, however, described as “stressful.” The role of salt is interesting and will require further investigation.


I will return from West Africa, armed with a truckload of specific sets of technology to investigate and find evidence that they were practised. West Africa has always been one of the areas in the world with the greatest technological advances. The existence of hundreds of languages and different writing styles, completely unique in their structure is a testament to this. It opens an avenue to discover technology that disappeared and was never recorded, filling in cultural and heritage gaps that exist in the rich indigenous culture of the South.

It contributed to my own quest to discover the specifics of the enormous meat culture of Africa. I am here to produce sausages and hams and various meat delicacies, but I am not interested in the European, English and American style of food only. My compatriots and I are fascinated to bring to the mass market, African delicacies and processed meats.

Finally, as a meat scientist, it solidifies my view that meat recipes with meat extenders (soy, starch, flour, etc.) are by no way inferior to pure meat recipes and that it is not somehow a modern invention. The tradition is ancient and the delicacies delicious!

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Bacon & the Art of Living

The Story

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.

My sincere thanks to each and every one of you!

Eben van Tonder
Cape Town



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Follow the “Next” button at the bottom of every chapter to advance to the next.

Themes in Bacon & the Art of Living

The greatest themes are dealt with. Below I give title pages listing the different themes from Bacon & the Art of Living.

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 Boer War chapters are:


(c) eben van tonder

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Chapter 16.08: Finally – Bacon, the Superfood

Introduction to Bacon & the Art of Living

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steps Towards a Superfood

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

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

Plant Based Sourced on Nitrate

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

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

Phenols with Antioxidant Properties

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

An Ever-Evolving Science and Art

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

(c) Eben van Tonder


(c) eben van tonder

Changing Perspectives on Nitrate, Nitrite and Nitric Oxide

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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

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.”

Nitric Oxide Chart

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 CircO2 is 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.

Beet Root

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.

CircO2 Supplement Facts

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!

CircO2 Time Chart

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!

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Bryan NS. Application of nitric oxide in drug discovery and development. Expert Opin Drug Discov. 2011 Nov;6(11):1139-54. doi: 10.1517/17460441.2011.613933. Epub 2011 Aug 25. PMID: 22646983.

Cullen, C, Lo, V..  2005.  Medieval Chinese Medicine: The Dunhuang Medical Manuscripts.  Routledge Curzon.

Mirvish SS. Blocking the formation of N-nitroso compounds with ascorbic acid in vitro and in vivo. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1975 Sep 30;258:175-80. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1975.tb29277.x. PMID: 1106296.

Full text from CircO2 literature was from Advancedbionutritionals.

Bacterial Migration Into Meat

By Eben van Tonder 
4 December 2022


In an update I recently did to my review of curing systems, Bacon Curing – a Historical Review, I expanded the section on salt-only curing. Due to its relevance in terms of the recent emergence of “no nitrite” bacon that appeared on retail shelves around the world, including South Africa from the high-end retailer Woolworths, I also posted it as a stand-alone article, Evaluation of Woolworths “contain no nitrites” Bacon.

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.”

Preliminary Thoughts

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.

Further Reading

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.

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Bosse, R., Gibis, M., Schmidt, H., Jochen Weiss, J. (2015) Kinetics of migration of colloidal particles in meat muscles in the absence and presence of a proteolytic enzyme to simulate non-motile bacteria penetration. Food Research International, Volume 75, 2015, Pages 79-88, ISSN 0963-9969, (

CALLOW EH. The action of salts and other substances used in the curing of bacon and ham. Br J Nutr. 1947;1(2-3):269-74. doi: 10.1079/bjn19470037. PMID: 18907930.

Gill CO, Penney N. Penetration of bacteria into meat. Appl Environ Microbiol. 1977 Jun;33(6):1284-6. doi: 10.1128/aem.33.6.1284-1286.1977. PMID: 406846; PMCID: PMC170872.

Gill C. O.. (1979) A Review Intrinsic Bacteria in Meat. Journal ofApplied Bacteriology 1979, 47,367-318

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,

Shirai, H., Datta, A. K., Oshita, S.. (2017) Penetration of aerobic bacteria into meat: A mechanistic understanding,
Journal of Food Engineering, Volume 196, 2017, Pages 193-207, ISSN 0260-8774,

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 Chemistry126(1), 109-115.

Evaluation of Woolworths “contain no nitrites” Bacon

by Eben van Tonder
23 November 2022


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.


Extract from Bacon Curing – a Historical Review.

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Starter Cultures in Processed Meat


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.

From Richard Bosman Quality Cured Meats

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

Antagonistic Properties

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.).

Future Research

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).

Financial Aid

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.

International Cooperation

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.

In Conclusion

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.

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Leistner, L. 1987. Perspectives of fermented meats. International Congress of Meat Science and Technology. Helsinki. pp. 323-

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Niinivaara, F.P.; 1964. Bacterial pure cultures in the manufacture of fermented sausages. Food Technology 18, 2:25-31.

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Nurmi, E. 1966. Effect of bacterial inoculations on characteristics and microbial flora of dry sausage. Acta Agralia Fennica. Nr. 108. p. 7-73.

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The Lecture Published

E F. Niinivaara, Reciprocal Meat Conference Proceedings, Volume 44, 1991, American Meat Science Association.