Ode to the Russian Sausage – a Technical Evaluation

Eben van Tonder

Easter Weekend, 2021


The history of the South African sausage called a Russian has been dealt with in great detail by myself in Origins of the South African Sausage, Called a Russian. This is a more technical evaluation.

I interpose after every technical consideration with photos from the last 18 months of work and some comments on the progression of our story. It serves as a repository of my private recollections of the project.

Between April 2018 and August 2019, I worked for the Johannesburg meat processor, Van Wyngaardt. I adjusted their pure meat block of Russians by adding soy. So started a quest to produce a high quality, low-cost Russian which consumed me for the past 18 months. I started thinking about Russians from scratch.” (VWG subsequently returned to a pure meat Russian)

The photo on the left is of my daughter Lauren and me at our Solheim home in Johannesburg. She joined me to provide impetus to VWG’s in-store work which she did with passion and excellence. The photos below are of Minette and Brussouw during the lockdown, the Johannesburg skyline seen on the last day I spend at VWG and a trolley of VWG Russians.

Fine Meat Mixes vs Course Mixes

The Russian sausage, similar to polony, developed as a way to work away unused scraps of leftover meat in the butchery. By “leftover meats” we do not mean inferior meat. It is inevitable that bits of meat are left after the meat was trimmed neatly and these scraps are of the highest quality. It was the practice in butcheries across the country in the 1800s and early 1900s to mince any leftover offal and discarded sausage meat very finely to be cooked in casings from animal intestines and to sell it as polony (The Origins of Polony). The reason for reducing various meat scraps to the same physical state was to create something that looks uniform. Larger and small bits of high-quality meat from all the species were combined into Russians.

The difference between polony and Russians was that polony would contain only finely ground meat but Russians would contain the same finely ground meat as a base but larger bits of meat would be added called “showpieces.” Russians would be viewed as of a higher quality than polony.

Over the years technology improved to chop the meat into smaller particles. Meat grinders have been generally available for many years and different plate sizes were made available to adjust the coarseness. The smallest plate size would be used for the fine meat base. Later bowl cutters were introduced being a rotating bowl with a set of knives chopping the meat into even smaller particles. This meant that some butchers had very smooth and finely chopped meat as the base for the Russians and those who could not afford the new equipment continued doing it all by hand or through a meat grinder. Some of these butchers could afford the new high-speed equipment but preferred to continue doing the mincing of the meat by hand as some still prefer to this day. Doing it by hand or only with a meat grinder yields understandably a less smooth meat base than if it’s done with more sophisticated equipment.

Two distinct styles of Russians developed. One with a very smooth texture for the meat base into which the large showpieces are embedded and another with an altogether courser meat base. Which one to prefer became completely a matter of taste and any perception that the Russian with a smoother base is inferior to a more course base is unfounded.

My personal quest to understand Russians better intensified during the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown. My good friend, Dr Francois Mellett helped me to understand the basics. An equally good friend from Canada, Robert Goodrick, arguably the best butcher on planet earth, schooled me in old-school butchers techniques and how to make Russians without bowl cutters. In between the help from Francois and Robert, the team from Deli Spices was a great inspiration opening my eyes to the power of proper mixing!”

Photo on the right is an iconic photo when Francois and I sneaked some seawater away for desperate fish. More I can not say. 😉 Bottom left is Robert Goodrick, the middle photo is me, Arno Pienaar and Tshepo Setshogoe, a legendary Russian maker! As I recall, the trials with Deli was done a week before lockdown in April. We tested the overall water-holding of fist-size trip pork trim pieces and a simple Russian recipe without a fine meat paste, using only the meat grinder. If we go out and over many beers, I will tell you the story of Francois and me when that photo was taken! 🙂

Firmness, Texture and Tradition

A Russian is not a pure fine meat past sausage and is, therefore, firmer than for example polony or a Vienna (which are pure fine meat past products). Here in Cape Town, a Russian which is made from fine meat past only is called a smoky or a penny polony (if it’s coloured pink). The finer a meat paste is made, the softer it is.

It has become convention to make Russians from mechanically deboned chicken meat in South Africa and many other parts of the continent. MDM is not inferior meat as many people think. It is simply chicken meat that has been removed and processed through mechanical means. (Poultry MDM: Notes on Composition and Functionality) Most large processors use micro-cutters in processing Russians and put the MDM through the process of micro-cutting also. A consequence of the production of MDM is unfortunately damage to the meat structure which results in a “softer” meat bind. Generally, how well the meat binds together after chopping depends very much on the character and quality of the starting material and if the structure of the meat is slightly damaged, micro-cutting does not help. If one puts MDM through a micro-cutter it leaves the resultant meat paste even softer. Due to this, various techniques are used to firm MDM up when producing Russians. The two most important ones are adding serials or legumes and adding meat trim or only fat. For a technical evaluation of this, I refer you to, Review of comminuted and cooked meat product properties from a sol, gel and polymer viewpoint.

There is a misconception among many that adding serials and legumes to Russians is not traditional. In my article, Origins of the South African Sausage, Called a Russian, I point out that it is the most traditional thing that can be added to the sausage and the origins of the practice come from Russia where emulsifiers and meat extenders evolved from meat stew technology which goes back millennia. In my article, Protein Functionality, the Bind Index and the Early History of Meat Extenders in America, I trace the introduction of this Russian technology into the Western world in some detail.

The legume of choice in the meat industry is soy and it is widely used as an ingredient of Russians to increase the firmness of the product. It is also convention to add either pork or beef trim with a good bit of fat to the mix which firms the product up substantially. Russians today are basically produced in the same way that it has been done for hundreds of years and it required a firmer texture than is not achieved from finely chopped meat pasts only.

During the lockdown, I got to know the work of Petr Pakhomov from St Petersburg who is not just a Master Butcher, but an artist and one of the best exponents of the art of fine meat pasts. He opened my eyes to what is possible with Russians. I continued to study every aspect of possible ingredients in meat pasts. A concept started forming from the need to use all the natural resources at our disposal in the creation of these products. I summarised this in Nose-to-Tail and Root-to-Tip: Re-Thinking Emulsions. This made me look long and hard at all the various bits available from the carcass.

The photo on the left is of Petr Pakhomov and below is a selection of his creations. Petr famously says that he “paints with meat.”

Best Quality at Lowest Price – Invitation to Creativity

From the earliest times in South Africa, Russians were intended to be quality nutrition at the lowest possible price. Its fame was secured when it became a favourite on the Johannesburg goldfields. Inspired by concepts I saw used by Urban Foods in Nepal (Kathmandu’s Urban Food) I set out with the support of Etlin International, to develop these and create various finely comminuted meat pasts and pasts from other protein sources to be used in conjunction with MDM, meat trim, soy and starch in Russian formulations. In reality, we are building on a long tradition of making quality food affordable. I anchored most of my work in taking the concept of finely comminuting meat particles to the next level through the application of revolutionary microparticle technology, pioneered by a Cape Town company.

If a finer and smoother meat past is created with smaller meat particles, microparticles will be the next frontier. It is simply the continuation along an age-old trajectory. At first, reducing meat to small bits was done by hand. Ancient humans started to stuff small meat scraps into intestines at the kill site along with blood in order to transport it back to the tribe. For our primitive forefathers, the cost of a kill would be too great for one morsel of meat to be wasted. Cutting the meat into smaller pieces continued at the village. The earliest humans realised that reducing the meat to small meat fractions made it easier to chew. This was also in all likelihood the reason why early people started frying, roasting and cooking their meat. Ease of consumption was a huge issue to overcome!

So, at first, we finely chopped meat by hand. When the meat grinder was invented humans used a fine mincer plate to create smaller meat particles. Smaller meat particles meant a softer bite and a more versatile batter. This was followed by the invention of the bowl chopper which could reduce the meat size even further and finally micro cutters (emulsifiers) were invented to achieve an even finer particle size. A South African company pioneered technology able to create sub 50 microparticle which results in an even smoother and softer bite than was ever before possible.

A hallmark of the production of a Russian has always been creativity and making the best of raw material available at any given time and place! Turning scraps of meat into a work of art and a culinary masterpiece!

Over the 18 months, numerous friends in meat processing with factories welcomed me to run trails. Thank you to every one of you! Many I can’t mention for a variety of reasons but you know who you are! Below are photos from some of the many trails we did, each getting us a bit closer to our goal. I finally started getting traction with a few regular testing sites and when our Food Science Team started taking shape with the appointment of Dr Jess, we achieved very positive momentum. It took many frustrating months before we started working out the best way to use this technology. We ended up learning to use new technology, creating old school mixes with new technology while we were re-discovering the basics of Russian making. Our final set of trails for this round we did at PB Juicy in Maitland. Sincere thanks to Graham, Lesley, Stanford and Shelton to mention just a few along with the amazing staff who helped me on Saturday; who packed our samples and helped us prepare and participated in the tasting.


The Easter Contest and Evaluation

Over 18 months we not only re-looked every aspect of making Russians but we also developed new ways of processing several sets of ingredients. The team was ready to put their new processes and ingredients to the test. Jess, Jan and Eben, the three parties working closest with the formulations of the new ingredients all came up with their own Russian recipes and the day before Easter 2021 we decided to put the ingredients we were working on and our own Russian formulations to the test. It was a fun way to showcase the power of our new sets of ingredients.

We each created our own Russian mix but we all included the new sets of raw materials which we developed. We used a mincer and a Kar Schnell Micro Cutter for the final cutting.

I smoked it for 40 minutes and then cooked it to an core temperature of 68 deg C.

The following day I returned for three sets of evaluation.

  • Pan-Fried
  • Braaied on an open fire
  • Deep-Fried in oil.

– Deep Fry Evaluation

For the Deep Fry Evaluation, we visited Marina’s Deli in Monte Vista where we were delighted to meet the Deli Owner who personally did the tasting for us. He immediately picked up that there was soy in the product and even though his clients will not buy a Russian if it is not pure meat, he personally gave us a thumbs up for both Jess and my formulations!

– Braai and Pan-Fried Evaluation

For the braai and pan-fried evaluation, we visited PB Juicy (Pty) Ltd. in Maitland, Cape Town where their amazing staff not only fried our Russians up but also assisted us in the evaluation.

– Loads of Fun and Valuable Insights

It was a huge success. Even though Jan’s recipe did not firm up as well as Eben and Jess’s recipes, we again learned bucket loads from the evaluation of all 3 Russians. Jan showed how well his formulation would work with luncheon meats and polony! Despite small differences, both the Jess and Eben formulation worked very well and I extend a hearty congratulations to Jess, my partner-in-crime for an excellent creation and to Jan for boldly going where we have not gone before! In the end, we proved the use of our new set of ingredients to reduce the production cost of Russians while maintaining a high-quality product!

Ode to the Russian Sausage

We finally come to the purpose of this post namely to celebrate the Russian! Having spent so much time with this sausage over so many months, it is only fitting to write a poem for it! 🙂 I believe all worthy endeavours in life should bring us to this point!

The Russian! What a universal delight!
Melting the refined with boldness; the smooth with firmness
Scraps of meat from its place of birth.;
Hunger-buster in deep-Johannesburg earth!

Chopping and grinding and micro-cutting!
Meat chunks and eastern legumes combining! 
Morsels of power from the butcher’s block
Satisfying nutrition in this hard land, it unlocks!

Filling in clean casings and to the oven, it goes!
Drying and smoking and drying and smoking! To cooking! 
Not sweating! Look, it’s firming out!
In the artisan’s hand is predetermined luck!

Invented by Russians of Jewish descent!
In its new African home, it is profitable appeasement! 
Salt and vinegar from the enemies table,
Russian and chips! Feuds and animosity it disable!

Well, maybe I should continue to focus on making the product and not trying to write poetry! 🙂 🙂 🙂

I am not the only one who gets lyrical when it comes to Russians. Kobus Botes, a South African friend, living in Australia sent me this recollection after reading this post.

“I remember in the mid-to-late ’60s in Vryburg, when I was walking past the local Greek café, I bought a russian and chips to treat myself occasionally. The russian was given slits to prevent it from bursting and was deep fried with the chips and it was also given salt and vinegar together with the chips. The texture and flavour is something that is still burned into my memory. The bite started off with the oily, vinagary and salty taste, then suddenly the skin burst under the pressure of the bite. Next is a flavour and texture sensation of garlic, meat, salt, fat with a vinegar undertone. The texture was firm, with large pieces of pork fat and other large pieces of meat with a darker colour. I suspect both beef (larger pieces) and pork (finer texture) was used. Over the years I have stopped buying processed sausages at all because they all became to have a similar texture and taste. Everything is becoming like polony with modern chemicals and emulsifiers being added. Nowadays, I mostly buy imported processed meat from Italy or I make it myself. All I need is to find the authentic recipe of the russians from my childhood.”

Another South African friend from Australia, Justin (Dave) Dwyer, writes, “this certainly brings back memories of being an apprentice in the late eighties early nineties at Zululand Baconry if I had a half-cent for every Russian made I would be a very rich man. Texture is key emulsion with showpieces was the trend, then upgrading to MDM from pork skin emulsion Wow never thought I would even use those words again living in Australia, thanks for the interesting article and memories!”

A fully functional Food Science Team was created comprising of Dr Jess Goble, Marco, Helena and me to give greater impetus to these developments. Helena, Jess and myself are featured in the photo to the left at a hotel in Johannesburg where we did a product evaluation.

The team is, in reality, much wider! It also included meat professionals around the country who continue to give us advice and direction to our efforts. The feat of finally producing a sausage with a combination of old school technology and new innovations was achieved through the collective participation of every person who worked with us from around the country and includes the staff of Van Wyngaardt, Etlin’s processing facility in Durban, PB Jucy, Roy Oliver and input we received from as far afield as Nigeria. A small number of these people are in the photos below. I even include my cousin, Marius Kok who introduced me to Hungarians from Zambia.

The Next Frontier

What we achieved over the last 18 months is only the beginning. There is still tonnes to learn! I feel like a child who has only been playing and the real discoveries and creations all lay in the future!

Some of the points on our agenda for the immediate future are:

  • Raw materials must be refined;
  • The taste profile must be further developed;
  • The latest innovations in ingredient technology such as modified starches, fibres, soy technology, preservation technology, etc. must be investigated and the best new sets of ingredients must be incorporated into our products and processes.
  • The experience we gained must be packaged and made available to the meat processing industry at large.
  • The role and importance of frozen meat ingredients and temperature control during processing must be elucidated and incorporated.

We are only beginning but on this Easter weekend, it is right to pause a bit and celebrate how far we have come with this project. Sincere thanks to Etienne Lotter who allows us to do this work, to my teammates both near and far, to customers who are always willing to try new ideas – a heartfelt “Thank You!”

Nitrite Free Bacon: The Quest Continues

Nitrite Free Bacon: The Quest Continues
By Eben van Tonder
15 February 2021


I started my career in meat curing in 2008 when I founded the South African bacon brand Woody’s and the company Woody’s Consumer Brands with Oscar and Anton. I never imagined that the most exciting journey on earth would follow which I chronicled in Bacon & the Art of Living. I wanted to know as much as possible about the world of curing and the chemical, biological and bacterial reactions fascinated me. One of the first books I consumed was Ronald Pegg and Fereidoon Shahidi’s work, Nitrite Curing of Meat: The N-Nitrosamine Problem and Nitrite Alternatives.

I delved into the matter with great interest. I discovered that nitrates are present in many vegetables but this is not the same as nitrites used in meat curing. The issue is not even the fact that it is far more toxic than nitrates but nitrites in products being fried and its reaction in the stomach is of particular concern. The argument that nitrites are the same as alcohol in the sense that in the high concentrations both will kill you does not hold.

What is the actual issue then and how did humans realise that there is a problem?

The Realization of Danger in the Direct Addition of Nitrites of Curing Brines and The Responses Since 1926

Nitrate was used as a curing agent for many thousands of years. The basic value initially related to the preventing of spoilage and in a world before refrigeration bacon soon became the staple meat source for the masses in a large part of the world. Curing with saltpere, the common name for nitrate salts, takes about a month and apart from retarding spoilage, it imparts into meat a characteristic pinkish/ reddish colour and a very agreeable cured meat taste. In the 1800s a new method of curing was invented which reduced the time to cure meat considerably. It was called tank curing on account of the tanks that were used to cure the meat in or mild curing due to a reduced need for salt. It was invented in Ireland. When our understanding of chemistry and bacteriology matured, we realised the reason why tank curing sped meat curing up. For curing to take place nitrate (saltpeter) must first be converted to nitrite through bacterial action before it can be changed into nitric oxide which, we discovered, is the real curing molecule. So, nitrate (saltpeter) to nitrite curtesy of microorganisms (bacteria) and nitrite to nitric oxide through is a chemical reaction.

What was achieved through tank curing was that the step of bacteria changing nitrate into nitrite is cut out. Still, we do not add the nitrite directly. It is “added” through fermentation. The old brine is re-used and in doing so, the liquid is replete with nitrite that was already converted from nitrate. This, naturally, speeds the process up by cutting a step out. Before the late 1800’s curers did not have a clue what caused curing apart from saltpeter. They arrived at the process of tank curing through experimentation and observation without any inkling to microorganisms changing nitrate to nitrite.

The curing reaction was being unraveled by scientists late in the 1800s and early in the 1900s. As we learned that going from nitrite to nitric oxide is much quicker than going from nitrate first to nitrite and then to nitric oxide. We also realized that nitrite forms a salt with sodium to create sodium nitrite. Late in the 1800s and early in the 1900s sodium nitrite was being used in the dey industry and chemists stocked it because it became an important medication to treat some blood disorders. Butchers used it as the source of nitrite. It is easier and “cleaner” than the indirect creation of nitrite through fermentation (tank curing or mild curing). Sodium nitrite can be dissolved directly in a brine and will immediately start penetrating the meat and change to nitric oxide.

Tank curing soon lost its place as the quickest way to cure meat in favour of the direct addition of nitrites to curing brines. There was an issue with nitrites though in that most people at this time knew that nitrite was a potent toxin. Understandably, from very early, humans who did not “see” the conversion of nitrate to nitrites and did not understand that nitrites were in any event present in cured meat grappled with the concept of a toxic substance being introduced in food preparations.

During the first world war, curing brines came onto the market which included nitrites. The days of tank curing were numbered and a controversy was born of how healthy this is. Several investigations were made into the matter. No sooner was the matter of the toxicity of nitrites settled through scientific investigation when another, far more dangerous issue came onto the scene in the 1970s of n-nitrosamines. Lets run through the chronology of some of the key studies and some of the important ways that governments around the world responded to it.

We pick the investigations into this matter up in 1926 which looked at the matter of nitrite as a toxin. If it was simply a matter of concentration, it would be easily settled because we regularly use substances if food which, in too high dosages can harm or even kill us. Alcohol as a very good example. The way to mitigate the risk is to determine the “safe” levels and to ensure that producers use the appropriate dosages.


A 1926 study by Kerr and co-workers was based on the general knowledge of nitrite’s toxicity and the publics very negative perceptions about it.  In the report, they state that public health was the primary motivation behind the study.  (Kerr, et al, 1926 : 543)  I quote from their report.  “The first experiment involving the direct use of nitrite was formally authorized January 19, 1923, as a result of an application by one of the large establishments operating under Federal meat inspection. Before that time other requests for permission to experiment with nitrite had been received but had not been granted. The authorization for the first experiment specified that the whole process was to be conducted under the supervision of bureau inspectors and that after the curing had been completed the meat was to be held subject to laboratory examination and final judgment and would be destroyed if found to contain an excessive quantity of nitrites or if in any way it was unwholesome or unfit for food. This principle was rigidly adhered to throughout the experimental period, no meat being passed for food until its freedom from excessive nitrites had been assured, either by laboratory examination or through definite knowledge from previous examinations, that the amount of nitrite used in the process would not lead to the presence of an excessive quantity of nitrites in the meat. By “excessive” is meant a quantity of nitrite materially in excess of that which may be expected to be present in similar meats cured by the usual process.”  (Kerr, et al, 1926 : 543)

The maximum nitrite content of any part of any nitrite-cured ham [was found to be] 200 parts per million. The hams cured with nitrate in the parallel experiment showed a maximum nitrite content of 45 parts per million.”  (Kerr, et al, 1926 : 543) The conclusion was that “hams and bacon could be successfully cured with sodium nitrite, and that nitrite curing need not involve the presence of as large quantities of nitrite in the product as sometimes are found in nitrate- cured meats.”  (Kerr, et al, 1926 : 545)

Related to the health concerns, the report concluded the following:

  1. The presence of nitrites in cured meats, was already sanctioned by the authoritative interpretation of the meat inspection and pure food and drugs acts sanctioning the use of saltpeter; as shown previously, meats cured with saltpeter and sodium nitrate regularly contain nitrites. (Wiley, H, et al, 1907) (Kerr, et al, 1926 : 550)
  2. The residual nitrites found in the nitrite-cured meats were less than are commonly present in nitrate-cured meats.  The maximum quantity of nitrite found in nitrite-cured meats, in particular, was much smaller than the maximum resulting from the use of nitrate.  (Kerr, et al, 1926 : 550)
  3. The nitrite-cured meats were also free from the residual nitrate which is commonly present in nitrate-cured meats.  (Kerr, et al, 1926 : 550)
  4. On the contrary, the more accurate control of the amount of “nitrite and the elimination of the residual or unconverted nitrate are definite advantages attained by the substitution.  (Kerr, et al, 1926 : 550)

Following further studies, the Bureau set the legal limit for nitrites in finished products at 200 parts per million.  (Bryan, N. S. et al, 2017: 86 – 90) Conventional wisdom that surfaced in the 1920s suggested that nitrate and nitrate should continue to be used in combination in curing brines  (Davidson, M. P. et al; 2005:  171) as was the case with the Irish curing method or the tank curing concept of the previous century. Nitrite gives the immediate quick cure and nitrate acts as a reservoir for future nitrite and therefore prolongs the supply of nitrite and ensures a longer curing action.  This concept remained with the curing industry until the matter of N-nitrosamines came up in the 1960s and ’70s, but remarkably enough, it still persists in places like South Africa where to this day, using the two in combination is allowed for bacon. More about this later.


The USDA progressed the ruling on nitrate and nitrites further in 1931 by stating that where both nitrites and nitrates are used, the limit for nitrite is 156 ppm nitrite and 1716 nitrate per 100lb of pumped, cured meat.  (Bryan, N. S. et al, 2017: 86 – 90)

1960’s – N-Nitrosamine

Up to the 1960’s the limit on the ingoing level of nitrites was based on its toxicity.  In the late 1950’s an incident occurred in Norway involving fish meal that would become a health scare rivaled by few in the past.  1960’s researchers noticed that domestic animals fed on a fodder containing fish meal prepared from nitrite preserved herring were dying from liver failure. Researchers identified a group of compounds called nitrosamines which formed by a chemical reaction between the naturally occurring amines in the fish and sodium nitrite.  Nitrosamines are potent cancer-causing agents and their potential presence in human foods became an immediate worry.  An examination of a wide variety of foods treated with nitrites revealed that nitrosamines could indeed form under certain conditions.  Fried bacon, especially when “done to a crisp,” consistently showed the presence of these compounds. (Schwarcz, J)  In bacon, the issue is not nitrates, but the nitrites which form N-nitrosamines.

This fundamentally sharpened the focus of the work of Kerr and co-workers of the 1920s in response to the general toxicity of nitrites to the specific issue of N-nitrosamine formation. Reviews from 1986 and 1991 reported that “90% of the more than 300 N-nitroso compounds that have been tested in animal species including higher primates causes cancer, but no known case of human cancer has ever been shown to result from exposure to N-nitroso compounds.”  However, despite this, there is an overwhelming body of indirect evidence that shows that a link exists and “the presence of N-nitroso compounds in food is regarded as an etiological risk factor.   It has been suggested that 35% of all cancers in humans are dietary related and this fact should not surprise us.  (Pegg and Shahidi, 2000)

Studies have been done showing that children who eat more than 12 nitrite-cured hot dogs per month have an increased risk of developing childhood leukemia.  The scientists responsible for the findings themselves cautioned that their findings are preliminary and that much more studies must be done.  It may nevertheless be a good approach for parents to reduce their own intake of such products along with that of their children in cases where intake is high.  (Pegg and Shahidi, 2000)

These studies must be balanced by the fact that an overwhelming amount of data has been emerging since the 1980’s that indicate that N-nitroso compounds are formed in the human body.  What is important is that we keep on doing further research on N-nitrosamines and the possible link to cancer in humans.  Not enough evidence exists to draw final conclusions.

1970 – The response to the N-Nitrosamine scare.

Back to the 1970s, so grave was the concern of the US Government about the issue that in the early 1970’s they seriously considered a total ban on the use of nitrites in foods. (Pegg and Sahidi, 2000)  The response to the N-nitrosamine issue was to go back to the approach that was implemented following the work of Kerr and co-workers in 1926.

The first response was to eliminate nitrate from almost all curing applications.  The reason for this is to ensure greater control over the curing. Meat processors continued to use nitrate in their curing brines from 1920 until the 1970s. One survey from 1930 reported that 54% of curers in the US still used nitrate in their curing operations.  17% used sodium nitrite and 30% used a combination of nitrate and nitrite.  By 1970, 50% of meat processors still used nitrate in canned, shelf-stable.  In 1974 all processors surveyed discontinued the use of nitrates in these products including in bacon, hams, canned sterile meats, and frankfurters.  One of the reasons given for this change is the concern that nitrate is a precursor for N-nitrosamine formation during processing and after consumption.  (Bryan, N. S. et al, 2017: 86 – 90)

The reason for the omission in bacon, in particular, is exactly the fact that the nitrates will, over time continue to be converted to nitrites which will result in continued higher levels of residual nitrites in the bacon compared to if only nitrite is used.  The N-nitrosamine formation from nitrites is a reaction that can happen in the bacon during frying or in the stomach after it has been ingested.  It will not happen from the more stable nitrates.

It has been discovered that nitrate continues to be present in cured meats.  Just as the view that if nitrate was added, no nitrite is present in the brine as was the thinking in the time before the early and mid-1800s, in exactly the same way it is wrong to think that by adding nitrite only to meat, that no nitrate is present.  “Moller (1971) found that approximately 20% of the nitrite added to a beef product was converted to nitrate within 2 hours of processing.  Nitrate formation was noted during incubation before thermal processing, whereas after cooking only slight nitrate formation was detected.  Upon storage, the conversion of nitrite to nitrate continued.  Herring (1973) found a conspicuous level of nitrate in bacon formulated only from nitrite.  As greater concentrations of nitrite were added to the belly, a higher content of nitrate was detected in the finished product.  They reported that 30% of the nitrite added to bacon was converted to nitrate in less than one week and the level of nitrate continued to increase to approximately 40% of the added nitrite until about 10 weeks of storage.  Moller (1974) suggested that when nitrite is added to meat, a simultaneous oxidation of nitrite to nitrate and the ferrous ion of CodeCogsEqn (5)  to the ferric ion of metMb occurs.” Adding ascorbate or erythorbate plays a key role in this conversion.  (Pegg and Shahidi, 2000)  The issue is not the nitrate itself, but the uncontrolled curing that results from nitrate and the higher residual nitrites.

Secondly, the levels of ingoing nitrite were reduced, especially for bacon.  The efficacy of these measures stems from the fact that the rate of N-nitrosamine formation depends on the square of the concentration of residual nitrites in meats and by reducing the ingoing nitrite, the residual nitrite is automatically reduced and therefore the amount of N-nitrosamines.  (Pegg and Sahidi, 2000)  Legal limits were updated in 1970 in response to the nitrosamine paranoia. A problem with this approach is however that no matter by how much the ingoing nitrite is reduced, the precursors of N-Nitrosamine still remain in the meat being nitrites, amines, and amino acids.

An N-nitrosamine blocking agent was introduced in the form of sodium ascorbate or erythorbate. “There are several scavengers of nitrite which aid in suppressing N-nitrosation; ascorbic acid, sodium ascorbate, and erythorbate have been the preferred compound to date.  Ascorbic acid inhibits N-Nitrosamine formation by reducing CodeCogsEqn (11)  to give dehydroascorbic acid and NO.  Because ascorbic acid competes with amines for CodeCogsEqn (11), N-Nitrosamine formation is reduced.  Ascorbate reacts with nitrite 240 times more rapidly than ascorbic acid and is, therefore, the preferred candidate of the two.  (Pegg and Sahidi, 2000)

More detailed studies identified the following factors to influence the level of N-nitrosamine formation in cured meats.  Residual and ingoing nitrite levels, preprocessing procedure and conditions, smoking, method of cooking, temperature and time, lean-to-adipose tissue ratio, and the presence of catalyst and/ or inhibitors.  It must be noted that in general, levels of N-nitrosamines formation have been minuscule small, in the billions of parts per million, and sporadic.  The one recurring problem item remained fried bacon.  In its raw state bacon is generally free from N-nitrosamines “but after high-heat frying, N-nitrosamines are found almost invariably.”  One report found that “all fried bacon samples and cooked-out bacon fats analyzed” were positive for N-nitrosamines although at reduced levels from earlier studies.  (Pegg and Sahidi, 2000)

Regulatory efforts since 1920 have shown a marked decrease in the level of N-nitrosamines in cured meats, even though it is still not possible to eliminate it completely.  “Cassens (1995) reported a marked decrease (approx 80%) in residual nitrite levels in of US prepared cured meat products from those determined 20 years earlier; levels in current retail products were 7 mg/kg from bacon.”  This and similar results have been attributed to lower nitrite addition levels and the increased use of ascorbate or erythorbate.  (Pegg and Sahidi, 2000)

Despite the actions of governments and the curing industry, consumer demand has grown over the years to eliminate nitrites in food. Evidence has started to emerge that links the prevalence of colon cancer, for example, not just to the use of nitrites but to the use of saltpeter or the far less toxic cousin of nitrite called nitrate. Much of the evidence is either anecdotal or indirect but it is sufficient to fuel public suspicion and legitimate industry concerns.

What is Nitrite Free Bacon?

What is clear from our survey above is that it is a technical and complex field. When we talk about nitrite-free bacon, it is important to know exactly what we are talking about. The term can imply a number of things.

– Is the Problem Synthetic Nitrites Only (I.e. Sodium Nitrite Added Into the Brine)?

Is it that no synthesized nitrite must be used in the curing of the meat? Tank curing or fermented nitrate containing plant juices would then be an appropriate curing procedure. Celery and other plants are filled with nitrates which is part of plant nutrition, absorbed from the soil through the roots. Certain spice companies started using these plant extracts and then through a process of fermentation, allowed microorganisms to reduce the nitrite to nitrate similar to what was done in tank curing using old brine and they sold the plant extracts to be added to the meat as an ingredient. They called it a “natural curing agent” but in my opinion, they were actually deceiving the public. After the bacterial fermentation, the plant juices were now filled with nitrates. They cleverly circumvented the requirement to declare the use of nitrites in the curing process and in reality, nitrites were still present, now in usually much larger quantities as was the case using sodium nitrite.

– Is the Problem All Nitrites in the Brine and Meat, Including Either Sodium Nitrite or Nitrite that Formed Through Bacterial Action, Either through Reduction or Oxidation or Chemically and Irrespective of the Source?

Nitrite-free bacon can mean that no nitrites should be used in the curing process added directly or generated indirectly. Indirectly it can be generated through fermentation but there are other sources of nitrite which forms as a result of the decomposition of meat. In long-term curing, for example, the same colour, even a better taste and longer shelf life is achieved by the use of salt only. I mention this because it introduces a very important issue. For curing to take place, you don’t actually need nitrate or nitrite. You need nitrogen. The nitrogen must then react with oxygen to create nitric oxide (NO) which is a gas! Nitrate and nitrite are only the nitrogen source! Once Nitric Oxide is created, it must react with the meat proteins, myoglobin.

As the proteins of a dead animal or other constituents of meat are being broken down, nitrogen is made available and in long term curing, certain processes are involved and one of them is the combination of the nitrogen molecule, made available through decomposition, with an oxygen molecule and curing takes place if the overall destruction of the meat is managed through the removal of water which retards (even stops) the action of microorganisms and favours the effect of enzymes.

So, this can be done completely without any outside source of nitrogen but the process is very slow and there is no way that the world demand for cured meat will be satisfied through this. It will also be extremely expensive due to the weight loss involved in removing the moisture. No matter how you look at it, nitrogen must be accessed somehow or it is not curing.

It is extremely important to know that curing is something that happens to the meat itself and it mimics a natural, biological process of nitric oxide being formed in our bodies. The meat protein in either its oxygenated state or with a nitric oxide molecule presents red. This is an extremely important concept to understand. Curing is a characteristic of meat itself and is a natural process. It is NOT the imposition upon the meat of a colouring agent. The fact that nitrogen is used in curing is completely consistent with natural biological processes. Even the reduction and interaction of nitrate and nitrite, including the chemical reduction to nitric oxide, is a biological process, essential to life!

I give one examples from a review article by Shiva (2013). I anticipate that very soon consumers may demand food with high nitrate (NO3-) in a swing in perceptions of these molecules which will in all likelihood be driven by people who regularly work out. Shiva summarizes this work as follows. “Nitrite dependent inhibition of ccox also potentially regulates responses to physiological hypoxia (the absence of enough oxygen in the muscles), such as that present in the muscle during exercise. Larsen and colleagues recently demonstrated that ingestion of NO3- (nitrate) decreased whole-body oxygen consumption during exercise without changing maximal attainable work rate in human subjects.” Directly as a result of this work, several booster supplements are currently on the market and sold in gyms and health shops around the world containing nitrates.

Shiva continues, “This increase in exercise efficiency, which was associated with augmented plasma NO2- levels, has now been corroborated by a number of studies in various exercise models. While the underlying mechanism of this beneficial effect is not completely elucidated, a decrease in the rate of oxygen consumption due to proton leak and state 4 respiration in the skeletal muscle of subjects receiving NO3- was reported.” (Shiva, 2013)

Right there, the entire matter is resolved and in a few short years the public will demand more nitrates in meat (and by implication, nitrite also)! 🙂 🙂

Furthermore, not only is the reaction of nitrite to nitric oxide not foreign in our physiology, the reaction of nitric oxide with myoglobin is an extremely important physiological reaction that is mimicked in curing. Jens Moller and Leif Skibsted write that “Nitrosylmyoglobin (MbFeIINO), the NO complex of iron (II) myoglobin, as formed in meat products, has now also been observed in vivo in rats. MbFeIINO thus seems important in controlling radical processes associated with oxidation”. (Møller and Skibsted, 2002)

The issue is that our best available source of nitrogen is through nitrite and nitrite itself but is both beneficial and problematic at the same time.

The fact that the recation of oxygen (O2) and Nitric Oxide are both matters that all butchers work with daily is important. None of these reactions are “unnatural!” This is seen in seen in the colour of fresh meat and cured meat. I dedicated a chapter to it in Bacon & the Art of Living, called Fresh Meat Colour vs Cooked Cured Colour.

I plan to do much more work about the physiological reason why nitric oxide fits onto the colouring site of a protein apart from the short quetes above, but I will deal with this separately and update this section with a link reference.

– If the Meat itself Does Not Change Colour (Curing), is the use of External Colourant Permitted/ Desirable?

There is another way of achieving a red colour in meat which we eluded to and that is through an artificial process that involves the use of an external colourant. Legally there are colourants that are allowed in meat, but how will consumer groups respond to this? This is not something natural and inherently part of meat itself. It is an external coularant which is brought to bear upon the meat matrix. This is even more objectionable to some than nitrite and the extreme objection against it goes back to the start of the meat trade where butchers used to disguise old and sometimes putrid meat as fresh by colouring it with an external colourant.

– Is the Real Issue Actually Residual Nitrite That We Must Eliminate? (I.e., Not Ingoing Nitrite but Nitrite Left In Meat After Curing)

Another possible meaning of nitrite-free bacon refers not to the fact that nitrite was somewhere involved in the supply of the nitrogen source to form nitric oxide, but the real meaning may refer to the question if any nitrite is left in the product when the consumer fries it in the pan. It is after all not the initial source of the nitrogen atom which is the real issue, but how much nitrite is left after the meat has been cured. This is what is referred to as residue nitrite. The other question which goes hand in hand with this is to what degree can the consumer be guaranteed that no appreciable amount of nitrite is left in the product he buys?

– Is The Objective To Eliminate All Manipulation of Colour (Natural or Artificial) and Resign Ourselves to Selling Brown Bacon and Hams (uncured, salted only)?

A final solution for some is to simply omit accessing nitrogen in any shape or form altogether and not be concerned about the brownish colour that develops. I have over a few years followed the work of a New Zealand company, interestingly enough also called Woody’s who follow this approach and I am amazed at the success they have had with their brand positioning. Good old strict hygiene is used to sort shelf-life issues out and they educate their customers that the browner bacon is actually a healthier bacon. The brown bacon they sell becomes a source of comfort for their clients. If this is advisable as a universal approach to bacon or ham is debatable in a world where not everybody shares the strict attention to detail of this company, but I applaud them for their honesty and the practical way in which they have dealt with this thorny issue (see Woody’s Free Range Farm) In the end, I feel much of the problems are self-inflicted in a world where bacon flitches are no longer wrapped in cloth, palletized and shipped any longer.

By William James Topley – This image is available from Library and Archives Canada under the reproduction reference number PA-026092 and under the MIKAN ID number 3424485

How to Explain it?

As you can see from this short overview, the matter is not simple but the fact that there is an issue to address is clear. For myself, I am satisfied that in the minuscule levels that nitrite is used and remains present in bacon and hams, these products are completely safe to eat. The consumer is, however, also not wrong to be concerned about the matter. The problem is that the explanation above is already so technical – who can follow this? Let alone a dissertation by Dr. Sebranek or Dr. Møller, two of the world authorities on the subject. If anybody must understand what they are saying before one can decide which bacon is healthy and not and which brine to use or not, only a handful of people will ever make a meaningful determination on the matter. This business of reduction and oxidation, bacterial, enzymatic reactions are all very confusing for people without an advanced degree in chemistry, like myself. The only way that I could make any sense of it was to follow the story right from the beginning. As it unfolded. And what a story it turned out to be!

I will tell the story, at least the parts that are pertinent to the discussion about nitrite, from a series of articles I did on the subject over a few years and from extracts of a book I wrote about the history of bacon called Bacon & the Art of Living. These I posted on Facebook and LinkedIn earlier this year.

Before we jump into the detail, lets establish a timeline. Broadly speaking the development of bacon curing to where we are with the direct addition of nitrite to curing brine can be divided into the following timeline.

  • The Prehistory of Bacon Curing experimenting with various salts (sodium chloride, sal ammoniac, nitrate also called saltpeter) From antiquity to the end of the 1500s.

  • Saltpeter gaining popularity as it becomes widely available as a vitalizer, an ingredient in gunpowder and as medication. 1600 to 1800.

  • William Oake invented Tank Curing/ Mild Curing around 1832 (aged 25) – an Indirect Addition of Nitrite to Curing Brines.

  • Dr. Ed Polenski’s Article on Nitrite in saltpeter brines, 1891.

  • The academic work of German and English researchers identifying Nitrate and Nitric Oxide as the curing agents. Notwang (1892), Lehmann (1899), Kiskalt (1899), Haldane (1901).

  • The work of Ladislav Nachmullner and the first curing brine containing sodium nitrite (1915).

  • The Impact of the First and Second World War in changing the indirect use of Nitrites to the direct addition of nitrites to curing brines.

  • The Griffith Laboratories as evangelists of the direct addition of nitrites to curing brines. Prague Salt (1925).

  • “Houston, we have a problem!” The n-nitrosamine problem and the response of the curing industry and world governments, late 1950s.

  • The quest for Nitrite Free meat curing.

A. The Problem

A Modern Day Attempt at a Nitrite Free Brine

What sparked my review was when I looked at the curing brine offered by a Spanish company that claims that they cracked nitrite-free bacon. I am sure they did a thorough job but I did not like how they handled questions about their brine one little bit!

On 12 January 2020 I discussed their offering in The Quest for Nitrite Free Curing.

B. Curing with various Salts

An Ancient History

I decided to take the readers back to the earliest days of curing. Not just in ancient history, but when I first encountered curing salts as a small boy on a Freestate farm without even knowing it. In my web posts I wrote, “As a boy on a Free Sate Farm, we called the white sweat of horses, saltpeter. In meat curing, I learned that saltpeter is sodium or potassium nitrate. Later I discovered that it is exactly this sweat from horses which also cure meat, re-discovered by the old Boers in South Africa who hung the hunted game across the neck of the horses and, if they skinned it at the kill-site, it would start to cure on the journey back to the camp. Years of research later, I discovered that saltpeter was not our oldest curing salt. That honour goes to sal ammoniac. To test my theory about its ability to cure meat, I took one December and cured meat with it which became my first experience with an alternative curing salt. It outperformed nitrite salt in the micro department and was slightly less red than its counterpart. Over the next week, I will share my three articles that chronicle my journey of discovery! Since the time of the brilliant British physiologist and philosopher, John Scott Haldane (1860), we know that the curing molecule is Nitric Oxide. The story begins in antiquity!”

On 13 June 2017 I published Salt – 7000 years of meat-curing.

C. Nitrate (Saltpeter) Curing Spreads Around the World

An Oriental Priority

The epic story of nitrite takes us on an amazing journey: From Turfan in China, through Nepal to North India. It is one of the most riveting stories that exist. Fitting that the story of nitrite should flow through these mountains. It is a land where salt and spices abound with a depth of spirituality and taste that defies logic. The birthplace of the Buddha, it oozes with wisdom and taste. For these people, every single act is worship and every fragrance, holy! Spices hold part of the secret of finding an alternative way to prepare hams and bacon. Can it be done without nitrogen? Hmmm. . . . . There are so many “if”s that we twist reality. We have to understand why we do what we do. What is the fundamental question if we ask to replace nitrite? Do we want to shun what we perceive as unhealthy? Do we know what we ask? Are we correct in our assumptions? If we run away from, we also run towards. What? So the eternal cycles of life emerge and all arguments are settled through spices!

Nitrate Salts Epic Journey:  From Turfan in China, through Nepal to North India

A Careful Observation

I not only tell the story of meat curing, but of how I first started to realise the tight link with the Turfan depression in Western China. It’s the kind of look at life that changes one’s perspective of the past completely. Through better understanding, we are getting closer and closer to a time when nitrite curing will change shape.

And then the mummies spoke!

D. Tank Curing

The Indirect Addition of Nitrite to Curing Brines: The Invention of Tank Curing

Tank curing is the indirect addition of nitrite to Curing Brines. What I mean is that we do not add nitrite to the brines. We add saltpeter which changes into nitrite over time. We add nitrites indirectly! For years the origin of tank curing eluded me till I got interested in Australia through the invention of arterial injection and interaction with my friend, Tim. One night, I was browsing through the N’th copy of old Australian documents, and whalla!!! It happened in Ireland and from there the link with Denmark unfolded like a beautiful novel! My next few posts will be dedicated to tank curing, an indirect way of adding nitrites!

After years of research, I discovered the origins. Tank Curing Came from Ireland!

Tank Curing in the Context of Bacon & the Art of Living

Even industrial bacon production is an art and the one telling the story of its history for the first time ever should do so with flair and includes all the passions of life into such an account. All this went into writing the “artistic” version of the previous post with loads more historical information. More importantly for our theme. . . . no, I still will not make the obvious applications. Figure it out for yourself! 🙂 Alternatively, just enjoy the story! Oh, it is a magnificent story! So magnificent that it reminded me of Minette, my wife! It’s all in the story of the development of tank curing and instead of bacon photos I have photos of my wife because these are both passions of my life!

Here is the chapter about Tank Curing from Bacon & the Art of Living, Mild Cured Bacon

E. The Article that Changed the World

Dr Polenski: The Link Between Tank Curing and the Direct Addition of Nitrites

So, the world went from curing with saltpeter and salt to tank curing. After tank curing came curing with sodium nitrite by adding it directly. One monumental scientific article precipitated this change! It was an article by Dr. Polenski! No work is more pivotal! He was the first person to speculate that in curing, nitrate (salpeter) is reduced to nitrite through bacterial action. In so doing, he became the first Adamic to publish about the possible role of nitrite in curing. I have for years tried to access the only known copies of his work at three libraries around the world, to no avail. My only course of action was to travel to the libraries and access the work. However, snippet views of it were available through Google but copyright laws prohibited them from making the full article available. In 2017, I petitioned Google and asked, in the interest of research and due to the pivotal nature of the work, that they reconsider their position. They agreed and send me a copy of the full article in PDF. I wrote the following on it after I had it translated into English from High German and a meat scientist from South Africa who can read High German assisted me in working through the technical names used in his article which the translator was not familiar with. As an industry, it is one of our most valuable documents in existence!

In October 2016 I published by article, Saltpeter:  A Concise History and the Discovery of Dr. Ed Polenske

F. Sodium Nitrite

The Direct Addition of Nitrite (1)

In our consideration the history of nitrites for the purpose of thinking through the possible development of a nitrite-free bacon, we now get to one of the most interesting and important times in the development of the modern method of curing meat. Within this chapter of my book on the history of bacon curing, only in the last few weeks, I have read current publications on at least four historical considerations mentioned here, discounted at the time, which now re-emerged as likely methods of creating alternative systems of curing meat to adding sodium nitrite directly to curing brines. It reminds me of Holmes instructing Watson on the difference between seeing and observing: “You see, but you do not observe. The distinction is clear.” My challenge is the same, if you are interested in these matters, observe carefully! 🙂

We pick the story up in a chapter on my book on bacon, Bacon & the Art of Living. This chapter is entitled, The Direct Addition of Nitrites to Curing Brines – the Master Butcher from Prague

The Direct Addition of Nitrite (2)

The story of how sodium nitrite became the curing agent of choice is riveting! As I was reading through it again, the overwhelming sense I got was the same I had when reading again through the previous article. When considering the production of a curing brine with no nitrites, the complete and total answer is in the stories told in these two chapters along with the one before that about the curing reaction from my book on the history of bacon. It really is as simple and complex as that! And it is all there! All you need is the will to find it! Concepts dealt with here expose the charlatans and fuels the honest scientist!

I continue referring to my book on bacon curing and refer the reader to the next chapter, The Direct Addition of Nitrites to Curing Brines – the Spoils of War

Face to Face with the Chemistry

After an amazing day of trials in Johannesburg with a group of great friends and the most talented research partners I’ve ever had the privilege of working with, my mind wonders to the importance of not underestimating a challenge and understanding the fundamentals of what one tries to accomplish. Nitrite Free Bacon can never be considered without understanding how curing WITH nitrites is accomplished. Here is my feeble attempt to come to grips with a complex matter.

On 3 July 2017 I completed my article, Reaction Sequence: From nitrite (NO2-) to nitric oxide (NO) and the cooked cured colour.

G. Micro Considerations

Nitrite as a Key Antimicrobial Hurdle

In our quest to wonder about nitrite-free bacon, we’ve covered the important basics of curing – the reactions, the history of nitrate, the direct addition of nitrite, and the invention of tank curing. Its anti-microbial ability now becomes important, especially as it relates to C Botulinum. I wrote this article early in my journey. I later thought my views on acidification were foolish, just to discover very recently in work on fine emulsions that it was not that far-fetched. Preservative and anti-microbial options to replace nitrite have multiplied in recent years. Thoughts on nitrite as hurdle in botulinum prevention are still relevant. Much more can be said, but in the interest of proprietor information, I will leave it here. The field is fascinating and the quest achievable.

I looked at the most important microorganism in a 2015 article, Clostridium Botulinum – the priority organism

The Anti-Microbial Efficacy of Nitrite

In 2015 I had the privilege to interact with Dr. R. Bruce Tompkin on the issue of the antimicrobial efficacy of nitrate and nitrite. Dr Tompkin was one of the founders of the HACCP system. We had some correspondence about the possibility to replace nitrite as a hurdle and his insights are still helpful to this day. For this, I will be eternally grateful. It was written before I discovered that tank curing came from Ireland and there are other sections where my understanding evolved. I nevertheless share it with you as I wrote it five years ago. I am thankful for experts from around the world who continue taking the time to give input not just on the matter of nitrite replaces, but on a wide array of meat and processing-related subjects. I can honestly say that if you do not know in our trade you do not want to know! (or you have been so busy that there was no time to find out!) 🙈🙈 Which I fully understand!! 🤣🤣

I looked at this issue in 2015 in an article, Concerning Nitrate and Nitrite’s antimicrobial efficacy – chronology of scientific inquiry.

H. Overviews

A Survey of the History of Curing

So, we come to the end of our consideration of nitrite-free curing. There are numerous pathways to achieving the results and there are pros and cons to every approach! Some ingredients are so novel that only one or two labs in the world are producing the required ingredients some of which are done at costs of between $300 and $700 per g! This is not the place to review all the options. I will do this 10 years from now when I tell the story of what happened when it’s all common knowledge! The conversation I had with world experts over the past weeks not just informed me about the subject of nitrite-free bacon but the discussions permeate the work on fine emulsion sausages which is the bulk of my current focus! In the end, meat processing, as fragmented as it seems, is a wholistic discipline! I wish to thank every person who read and participated and even took the trouble to call me over the past few weeks to offer their insights. I will combine these posts into a short booklet or one page with all the different links with comments. Curing is a lifetime pursuit and a passion which I share with some of the most gifted people on earth.

A chapter in Bacon & the Art of Living is dedicated to a historical review of curing, Meat Curing – A Review

The Key Figured in the Direct Addition of Nitrites to Curing Brines

If we follow the trajectory of the direct addition of nitrite to curing brine, I did a fascinating study which I re-purposed to form part of Bacon & the Art of Living, The Fathers of Meat Curing

I. The Modern Trend of Anti-Oxidants

Aloys L Tappel: A Hint of the Solution

Lets take a short break from our discovery of the history of nitrogen in meat curing. Antioxidants emerged over the past few years as an essential inclusion into curing systems. Like nitrogen, it is part of our physiology and what I love is how its inclusion mimics natural systems, like our own bodies! Curing has always done that! Developments that made it healthier ended up being closer to our physiological processes! I LOVE it!! Since the time of Tappel, we should have been able to predict its inclusion in curing systems because its inclusion in our diets is so important to our own health! In referencing antioxidants, I want to honour the contribution of this monumental scientist, Aloys L. Tappel.

Discovering Aloys L. Tappel

J. Where to House New Inventions

Company Structure

In the background articles to our consideration of nitrite-free bacon, we can not skip the importance of the company structure required to bring this to the world. The relevance of what I am about to share will escape most people, but the story is interesting enough for broad consumption. The importance of corporate structure is not only confined to nitrite-free curing. It is a key consideration for any innovation to be taken to market! The most brilliant innovation, in the wrong corporate structure, will end on the shelve! Underpinning corporate structure is the availability of funds! Cash is required to drive any innovation! I am an avid hiker. We have a saying: “It’s always further. It’s always higher.” The same applies to innovation. Great innovations take more cash to get to market, not less! It’s far easier (and cheaper) launching a “me to” than something novel and will take a lot more energy than one ever imagines!

This chapter in Bacon & the Art of Living dealt with saltpeter again, but primarily with corporate structure which is my main point here. Not every company will be able to capitalize on the initial opportunities to offer nitrite-free bacon to consumers. The chapter is The Danish Cooperatives and Saltpeter

Where from Here?

I offer the following roadmap.

a. A thorough review of the latest research from around the world is required for anybody who wants to seriously tackle this issue.

b. A thorough review will have to be made related to the various functions and pathways of nitric oxide in humans, plants, and animals.

c. A review will have to be done of our current understanding of nitrosamines.

d. Antioxidants and the natural colour of fruit, spices and vegetables must be understood.

I have always been a thorough believer in a combination of old school and novel technology. All the information gleaned from the various reviews will have to be brought together and blended with old-school and novel approaches.

We must ask the very important question of which of the various definitions of nitrite-free bacon is mostly meant by the consumer. I suspect that a fair amount of confusion may exist in the minds of consumers and marketing will probably be required to “steer them to the right questions.” I am convinced that from this, a strategy will naturally develop which will in all likelihood be a combination of:

i. Scientific work – making the most productive option a reality.

ii. Education work – aligning various consumer perceptions on the most productive definition.

iii. Marketing – telling the story and endearing consumers.


I have no doubt in that this matter can be resolved scientifically. In terms of marketing, this can be done in a way that the consumer will be fully in-step, all the way and is taken along, not left behind or feel that half-baked ideas are thrust down his/her throat. This work is important, not just for the uncompromising drive to better and healthier food, but for the overall quest to be better in every way! To offer safe and delicious food should be the desire of every food producer on earth. Anything less both in terms of taste, quality, and safety is a crime! In this work, I can end with a quote from no finer man than Nelson Mandela who said that “what counts in life is not the mere fact that we lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead!”


Jens K. S. Møller and Leif H. Skibsted. 2002. Nitric Oxide and Myoglobins. Chemical Reviews 2002102 (4), 1167-1178DOI: 10.1021/cr000078y

The Quest for Nitrite Free Curing

The Quest for Nitrite Free Curing

18 January 2020


I have been involved in the curing industry for almost 15 years now and during this time I fell in love with one of the most enigmatic salts from antiquity called nitrites. Over the years I have written extensively on the development of meat curing (Bacon Curing – a Historical Review). I tracked its development from millennia ago in Salt – 7000 years of meat-curing and Nitrate salt’s epic journey: From Turfan in China, through Nepal to North India. Ancient developments came together for me in the article And then the mummies spoke!.

Despite the fact that I am convinced that current processing methods of hams and bacon do not pose any health rish for consumers, the demand for nitrite free bacon is not going away. Bacon and ham have always been a product for the people and whatever our personal views on the matter, the clear and growing consumer demand must be catered for.

Over the years I have seen spice companies acting with great dishonesty. They develop curing mixes that they claim accomplish meat curing without nitrites. The way they did this was by using plant extracts which are naturally replete with nitrate. Through bacterial reduction, they achieved the conversion of nitrates to nitrites which was then sold as a “natural” curing agent due to the fact that no synthetic ntirite was added. They circumvented food labeling legislation by not adding synthetic nitrite. In reality they still add nitrites to curing brines.

I have friends from around the world who build their brands on the claim that it is nitrite free and having investigated those claims, I can confidently say that they definitely add nitrites to curing of meat. It is an embarrassment just waiting to be exposed!

The Spanish Case

A Spanish producer launched a new curing system in the early part of the 2010s. They claim great results and that only plant and fruit extracts are being used. Despite this being a step in the right direction, several aspects of the development did not sit well with me, in particular the fanatical secrecy surrounding the product.

We were preparing for sausage trails today and the interview with the CEO milled through my mind. I do not understand the secrecy! Certainly there is a place for protecting proprietary information, but when the way it is being done goes against the food legislation governing all of us, it does not sit well with me. If the entire commercial viability of the approach is based upon complete secrecy, how do they expect to win the hearts and minds of the very consumers they are trying to rich out to by its nitrite-free curing brine. How will “trust me, I’m a doctor” in terms of this product be different from “trust me when I say that nitrites is not really bad for you?”

In the absence of information, people speculate and since the company is creating an enviroemt where people will speculate, let me also “speculate”. I asked the question how I would have done it if I had to copy what they did. For starters, remember that my approach is predicated on science. I have extensively looked at the curing reaction in Reaction Sequence: From nitrite (NO2-) to nitric oxide (NO) and the cooked cured colour and the colour of fresh meat in Difference between Fresh Cured and Cooked Cured Colour of Meat. There is a fundamental reason why the world works the way it works and understanding nitrite curing is intimae associated with our most fundamental understanding of the universe. In Fathers of Meat Curing I review some of the key developments.

– What they get right.

The company claims that they address Listeria spp (broad spectrum), Listeria
monocytogenes, E Coli H157, and Clostridium spp (broad spectrum). The organism responsible for the existence of the meat curing industry is Clostridium Botulinum. (Clostridium Botulinum – the priority organism) and the fact they address it in their research is significant. The curing brine is effective against Clostridium Botulinum is very important. Personally I would like to know how effective it is against damaging the spore and preventing its viability. I am not sure if the study looked at that. If not, I would ask for that detail.

– Questions about antimicrobial efficacy

Challenge tests were performed where the brines efficacy was tested against sodium nitrite and compounds such as sodium nitrite plus sodium erythorbate, and a control with no antimicrobial. They claim to have demonstrated that their product performs equally well against listeria mono and Clostridium botulinum. Still, my reservations will stand.

In reviewing references to the brine, I found a claim that it its anti-microbial activity is especially effective if used with dehydrated lactic acid. Dehydrated lactic acid will itself be effective against amongst other, Listeria Monosytogenes. The one that worries me is still the efficacy against Clostridium. The claim is that its efficacy is due to traditionally processed Mediterranean fruit and spice extracts. What bothers me is that through the ages of meat processing, the producer claim that extracts were used which until now has been hidden from science. There is a lack of understanding of the experimental character of the meat curer who would, over thousands of years, if not millennia, certainly have stumbled upon these miracle substances and have incorporated it into his or her processing techniques long ago.

A further claim is made that these extracts are high in naturally occurring compounds with antimicrobial and antioxidative capacities. There are indeed a number of extracts who claim exactly this. However, what is the role of these antioxidative agents in meat curing. The context of the claims seems to point to pathogen eradication when in actual fact its role is in the prevention of fat rancidity and the development of off flavours.

– Questions about colour

The claim is made that it is these extracts are responsible for the meat flavor as well as its typical reddish color and pathogen protection, without the risk of nitrosamine formation. It is the claims about antimicrobial efficacy of the compound that is the most worrying and second to this, is the claim about the fact that it imparts a cured colour to the meat.

The most fundamental question will be this – is it causing the meat to change colour or is it imparting a colour to the meat. Is it an external colour which is imposed upon the meat or is the meat itself changing colour as it does in the case of nitrite curing?

Identifying which one it is is very simple. Let me walk you through it. For the meat to change colour, it is a reversible reaction. During curing, meat often turns brown due to oxidation, just to turn the regular pinkish/ redish colour of cured meat. It the meat is able to go from brown to pinkish/ redish, back to brown and again back to pinkish redish, you are dealing with the meat changing colour.

Secondly, look at the fat. If the fat inside the meat change colour (to pink for example), it is an external colourant applied to the meat and whether this is a plant extract or not, it must be approved as a meat colourant by the relative legislative body.

Look for an accumulation of brine. Especially in pork belly (streaky bacon) this will be noticeable where the injected brines are often trapped between the horizontal layers of fat and connective collagen. If an external colour is used, the brine pockets will display a brighter colour than in the meat surrounding it. It is one of the many reasons why it is not advisable to use a colourant in ham or bacon injection.

No plant extract without nitrogen will cause the meat itself to change colour. This is one of the laws of nature. There are colours imparted to long term cured meats which forms a purplish colour, but as far as my knowledge goes, the exact mechanism is not well understood and despite a considerable effort, scientists have not been able to replicate this effect in short cured hams and bacon.

The molecule responsible for the cured colour of meat is Nitric Oxide. Without Nitric Oxide being produced somehow by the magical concoction of spice extracts, the meat itself will not change colour and a colourant will be used. The fact that this may be a natural colourant is then a matter for consumers to decide whether they are satisfied with this, but that the meat is not “cured” in the traditional sense of the word is a fact. At best you can call it fresh and coloured meat.

– Questions about flavour

If the plant extracts impart flavour to the meat and it is not natural, does this mean that meat prepared in this way is “flavoured meat?”

How Would I have Done it?

I did not speak to anybody about the production of this product, but as an interesting question, while I was working today on sausages, I wondered how I would have done it. For background to this, read my article, Regulations of Nitrate and Nitrite post-1920’s: the problem of residual nitrite.

For starters it would have been very easy if one used nitrates. I see no mention of it in their literature. If I had to guess how the cure is made, I would say they possibly could be using reduced amount of nitrates but my guess would be that if this is used, residue nitrites are disposed of during the curing process. How to convert the nitrate quickly to nitrite would have been the challenge. I would have used techniques developed through the celery and beetroot juice developments where nitrates in plant extracts were converted to nitrite. In salami manufacturing, the use of starter cultures have become so commonplace that it will be easy to impregnate the brine with bacterial cultures who can achieve the conversion quickly. I would have elevated the levels of ascorbic acid, to ensure that nitrites are rapidly converted to nitric oxide which achieves the cure. I would add plant extracts to bolster the reduction to NO, to add flavour, to assist in the colour and to confuse the issue. Paprika, red chili’s, red pepper, etc are good colour enhancers especially for a darker, reddish colour. In terms of micro I would rely on nitrite, nitrate and the anti microbial action of the plant extracts which I would add. I would set out a tight schedule in terms of how long the product must be cured before the important test is done for nitrites.

From correspondence with the company, I learned that they say that the meat itself does not change colour which means that they are not using nitrate, but in the absence of full disclosure, how do we know? Who says that the statement is not purposefully vague? However, lets take them at their word. Lets assume that nitrates are not used. Like them, I would reply on plant extracts.

Supporting Correspondence

Remember that I have no knowledge if this is actually how the curing brine is being made. I discovered one bit of information that I can use to get some idea if I am on the right track or not.

I looked at mail communication that was made public related to the product under the access to information law. In this communication, regulators are asking questions which I echo.

The company has to make known the materials used (more detail than edible spice and fruit extracts) and if they claim that the meat colour is changed itself, show how by which mechanism this is achieved. Failing which, it is an external colourant and must comply with colouring legislation. Failing such disclosure is against the letter and spirit of our food laws. (Refer to my article Concerning Chemical Synthesis and Food Additives)

The question is asked as to “what kind of processes are being used e.g. physical, chemical or microbiological for the extracts? How many steps are there in the extraction process?”

Another good question that came up was for a “simple flowchart”. The company claimed, I assume, that “simple ethanol water extraction, using traditional methods of extraction and no selective physical or chemical extraction of constituents” are used. The legislature ask for “further detail, for example, is the extract a standardized product? How do you prevent variation?” These questions would be asked from us who use the product in processing and the company has to comply.

The all important question is then asked related to the “active component or components that are being used as a substitute for nitrite/nitrate preservatives to prevent the growth of harmful microorganisms and/or increase shelf-life? If this is considered commercially sensitive information can you describe how it kills or prevents the growth of microorganisms? These are the same questions I have raised above. Meat science is not an isolated discipline being pursued in dark corners any longer. It is done at almost every university and high profile meat institutes and if another product was available for curing meat apart from nitric oxide, television programs would have been made about the discovery and every scientist on earth would have known about it.

Related to the colour of the meat, it seems as if the company stated that the meat does not actually change colour. The legislator asks, “Does any component impart a colour change in the pork meat?” The statement is then made that the company has said that “no component used imparts a colour change in the pork meat.” This being the case, the follow up question is then “Does any component prevent colour change?”

In terms of flavour, using the plant extracts will certainly qualify the products as flavoured bacon? How does the plant extracts not impart their flavour to the meat and how is the flavouring natural?

A Better Way

I am of the opinion that the use of pant extracts is warranted. I am working on a completely new direction which may or may not include plant extracts. Even if I opt for plant extracts, I have an ongoing problem with current extraction processes and prefer the products to be used in the form in which it is found in nature. The discussion from the legislator with the Spanish company bears this preference up. Resent equipment developments make a better raw material possible. Another key lesson to learn from the Spanish example is the importance of taking the consumer and industry along in the process. A man walking too far ahead of the people he is trying to lead is a man out for a walk and not a leader. He will achieve nothing! Bacon and ham and health – they all belong to all of us!

For an alternative (better) way to process plant extracts, visit The Power of Microparticles: DCD Technology

(c) eben van tonder

A list of my complete work on Nitrite

Bacon & the Art of Living -> Chapter 06: Drums of Despair

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.

Drums of Despair

Johannesburg, December 1889

The Battle for Land

In 1889 my life was carefree! I was fully fascinated by the world I was born into. Riding transport between the Colony and Johannesburg allowed me to see a land in change. The old being destroyed by the new. I realised that this life would soon end and I had to look for a new way of earning a living.

Inquisitiveness was in my blood and more than anything else I wanted to know what forces are crafting a different world. Africa was changing in front of my eyes and it was not for the better. War and uncertainty would plague this breathtaking land for centuries. I was looking at the past to create a different life for my present and future.

Powerful European demons were doing their work on the hearts and minds of the people of Africa. I could see it and mesmerised by Africa’s beauty I could not abandon the land of my birth. Africa, I am! Daniel Jacobs whom I had the pleasure to host at my campsite was himself a dedicated student of history.  He told me about the early years of the Cape Colony from the perspective of the Dutch Reformed Church. I later learned that he always travelled with his books. To him, they were his closest companions. The night when we camped together, he read me some of his own poetry and when we spoke about the early history of the Colony, he fetched a book on the Dutch Reformed Church and read me sections from it. I was fascinated by an entry from 1795.

The DRC recorded how it saw the history, that “the colonists had been gradually spreading over the lands occupied by the Hottentot (1) and Bushman(1) tribes. These, too weak to make resistance, looked with no satisfaction on the arrival of the whites in their midst. As the latter were taking their lands, they retaliated by driving off cattle, and the Boers, taking up their long-barrelled hunting-guns, exacted bloody and cruel revenge. The colonists ground down and oppressed by those in authority, spread themselves thus, heedless of the threats and admonitions of their government. That they did not spread more widely to the north and east was owing to the fact, that along their northern line the arid deserts skirting the Orange River offered little temptation to transgress the boundary, while at the eastern extremity they were fronted by the warlike and independent Amakoze Kaffirs (1), who, far from allowing any inroad into their territory, commenced a system of aggression upon the colonists.” The “matter-of-fact” commentary by the Dutch church in Africa startled me. It was the stories about this eastern frontier which my dad would later tell me about in great detail, that convinced me that the Dutch church was wrong in their account of this part of the Colony and that the real aggressor was the white people, as he was in the rest of the land. Through the haze of history, I started to understand the thinking that drove the actions of people on both sides of the conflict which fermenting in the soil of this ancient land.

“The farms, particularly in the east, lay very remote from one another, and between them lived the Hottentots (1) in their miserable kraals and smoky huts,” Daniel continued. “They still went unclothed, only covered with a kaross. The governor had forbidden, under pain of severe punishment, that any Hottentot (1) should be enslaved. Still, it was frequently done, as slaves proper were dear to purchase. Many Hottentots (1) and slaves ran away from their masters, particularly if badly used, and formed themselves into bands to rob and murder, and make the outlying farms unsafe.” (M’Cater, 1869)

My own experience informed me that the church was right. So completely devoid of respect were the colonists of the African people that hunters could, in later years apply on hunting permits to kill Khoi Bushman on the same documents they applied for hunting wild animals. The level of brutality by invading Europeans towards the people, beasts and places of this land is hard to fathom or put in words. Not only the Dutch Boers, but the English too partook heartily in the orgy of violence. They shared in the most savage treatment of the Southern African tribes. My dad told me about the wars in the Eastern Frontier. The savagery of the English knew no bounds! I always stop myself when I say this to add that many English were fierce opponents of slavery and brutality towards indigenous peoples, motivated by the English Church. Oom Stefanus Jordaan on who’s farm I once visited told me that the continuation of the practice of slavery in the Transvaal was the spiritual motivation for the English to annex it and for the Anglo-Boer war of 1880 and 1881. (2) From the same Parliament in London terminated good as well as unspeakable evil!

Even in my lifetime, visiting Boer farms in the Transvaal left me with a bitter-sweet taste in my mouth and I could certainly see that the attitudes of the farmers were steeped in a long tradition of oppression and destruction.  On the one hand, these people were the warmest and heartiest people I knew. Rugged, industrious and hard working with a faith that almost moved mountains. On the other hand, I was angry to see the little black kids, indentured by people like the Jordaan’s on account of the fact that they were caught on their farms or captured when the Boers raided native villages or bought as “black ivory” on auctions like you would trade cattle. Slavery was alive and well in the independent Boer republics even after the Anglo Boer War and the treatment of black people in this way was a source of great anguish for me. It was and could never be right that any person treats any other with such cruelty and disdain. This knowledge was one of my earliest childhood memories, the horror I felt when I saw people being mistreated.

The Reply of the amaXhosa

It would be the stories of the frontier wars in the East of the Colony that would provide me with the clearest picture of what the invasion by the colonists did to the pshyci of the locals. Back in Cape Town, I spoke to my dad about the Jordaans’ and what I learned from Daniel. He told me that the Boers religion gave them the justification in their eyes to “leave” the Colony where they felt marginalised and treated unfairly and trek to the promised lands where they had, according to the belief of many, the right to dispossess the heathens (as they saw them) who occupy it. Their actions caused the development of a theology among native tribes which does not bode well for the future. Like the Jews developed their Messianic theology in slavery and the Apostle John penned the book of Revelations under intense persecution by the Romans, so the soul of the black African, desperately trying to make sense of the rape of his culture and the persistent onslaught upon his existence, found solace in their deep spirituality which was progressed to bring hope. In so doing, the drums desperation and dispair would be heard for generations to come in this magnificent land.

A theology evolved among the amaXhosa in direct response to the brutality of the English and the Boer. It was then when he told me about one of the many Frontier War in the Eastern districts of the Colony which he knew as Makhanda’s war which took place between 1819 and 1820, long before I was born.

The Cruelty of the English and the Faith of the amaXhosa

My dad loved telling stories. A good story, as I learned, must have a goood beginning, middle and end. My dad’s story began with the arrival of a new leader for the Colony at the Cape of Good Hope in Lord Charles Somerset, the second son of the fifth Duke of Beaufort, a direct descendant of King Edward III of England. He arrived in Cape Town on 6 April 1814 as the new governor. Emotions ran high on the eastern front of the Colony preceded by 4 bloody wars with the amaXhosa as the Colony expanded and continued to dispossess their land. As Summerset arrived, war was again looming on the eastern front.  To stabilise it, he first sorted out matters with the Boers. After a small Boer uprising was put down and the ringleaders dealt with, believing that he firmly entrenched English supremacy and their new rule over the Dutch, by 1816 he turned his attention to the amaXhosa.

In Summerset’s estimation, he had two options in dealing with them. He could either completely conquer the amaXhosa and rule over them as subjects being part of the Colony or they had to be driven out beyond its borders.  The amaXhosa continued to raid farms into areas that previously belong to them.  Somerset, from his English- and Eurocentric perspective, believed he could “civilize” them. He looked towards the missionaries to teach them improved agriculture and more peaceful Christian existence. My dad told me that Somerset said to Earl Bathurst that through these interactions “civilization and its consequences may be introduced into countries hitherto barbarous and unexplored.” My dad, as a follower of Alexander von Humboldt, did not share Somerset’s English and Euro-centric view of the superiority of their culture or and had great respect for the sophistication of the indigenous peoples of the land and their technology which, according to him, was above all, in balance with the natural laws governing our world.

In the end, Somerset chose intimidation as his first direct engagement with the amaXhosa as he tried to end their cross border raids. He arranged an audience with the chiefs who ruled to the east of the Kei River, Ngqika and Ndlambe with some minor chiefs. So I introduced to two iconic figures in the life of the amaXhosa. Somerset incorrectly assumed that they speak for the entire amaXhosa nation who were ruled by two houses since the time of Phalo, the son of Tshiwo, the son of Ngconde, son of Sikhomo, son of Nkosiyamutu, son of king Xhosa. Since the time of Phalo, there has been a Great House under his son Gcaleka and a right-hand house under his son Rharabe.  It was Rharhabe who crossed the Kei River with a number of followers who fought a bitter war against the Khoi in the area over land and cattle and eventually killed their king Hinsati. He negotiated the sale of land for his tribe from the Queen, Hobo between the Keiskamma and Buffalo rivers.

My dad’s story was my first introduction to Ngqika and Ndlambe and the story of these chiefs and their spiritual advisors would become the bedrock of a profound breakthrough in understanding the underlying forces at work in the Colony and even across the southern African region. It had a direct impact on my decision to embark on the adventure of bacon curing and to turn my back on riding transport.

Ngqika was the grandson of Rahrabe or the son of his great house. Since he was a minor when his father died, Mlawu, the son of Rharabe, was placed under the oversight of Ndlambe who was appointed as the ruler of the Right Hand House after the death of Cebo, the Right Hand son of Rahrhabe who died without children, but who was actually the brother of Mlawu and therefore the uncle of Ngqika. Somerset was completely oblivious to any of this.

Like a complete fool, he staged the meeting with Ngqika and Ndlambe as a theatre-like-production intended to intimidate. He sat on a chair with his soldiers in full arms present while the chiefs had to leave their soldiers behind. Somerset sat on a chair while the amaXhosas had to squad on the floor. Ngqika was the senior chief present, but could not make binding agreements on behalf of the other amaRharhabe chiefs. Ngqika explained to him that in their culture, this was not possible. Somerset wanted none of it. He lost his temper and with gifts and threats coerced Ngqika into an agreement which the chief could not enforce. Confident that he solved the problems of the Eastern Frontier, the foolish Somerset returned to Cape Town.

Despite the seniority that Ngqika should have had, he attached the great house of Gcaleka to the east of the Kei River in 1795. Hintsa, who was only 5 when his father died in 1794 was imprisoned by Ngqika, had by this time come of age and turned out to be a good and popular leader. Under his leadership, the Great House of the amaXhosa reestablished itself and was now intent on asserting control over the chiefdoms east of the Kei. Of course, this meant settling a score he had with Ngqika and he naturally supported Ndlambe as the chief of the amaRharhabe. This support from Hintsa and new support he received from his powerful son, Mdushane gave him great courage. The other factor and the actual point I want to make is the support he received from a powerful war-doctor, Nxele.

The story of Nxele would become one of my favourite tales of this great land as it speaks to deep spirituality, creativity and courage, distilled in a truly remarkable man! Nxele was “spiritual”, even as a child. The great scholar, Tisani, a friend of my dad, says about Nxele that he “was a solitary, mysterious child, often wandering off by himself. When he grew older Nxele went to live in the bush for extended periods. He fasted there and on occasional visits home he refused food because, he claimed, it had become unclean during preparation through the sins of his people.” (Tisani, 1987) Early on in his life, he was already recognised as a diviner who called out the sin of his people.

He led the mourning ceremony after Chief Rharhabe and his son Mlawu passed away. Long before he learned about Christianity, he was spiritual leader, at least in the same league as the Missionaries he would later encounter. His creativity would prove him to be not only on the same level but superior to them in his natural ability and perception of the divine narrative.

He started to meet the men whom Somerset so relied on to bring about a peaceful British takeover, the English missionaries. He stayed with Chief Ngquika at Joseph Williams’s mission station for a week where he was exposed to elements of Christianity and its messengers. Williams mentions that there was tension between them and we know that Nxele later used concepts he was exposed to here and in other settings since he started preaching against witchcraft, theft, adultery and blood-shedding. He was able to take from Christianity that which he felt was enhancing his own spirituality. These were concepts which resonated with him and his culture and were in his view as well expressed by the Christians. At one point, for example, he chastised Chief Ndlambe for having more than one wife. He was not opposed to the total teachings of the missionaries and as a result of his influence, the missionaries were accepted among the amaXhosa.

Chief Maqoma. South African History Online. March 7, 2013.

Nxele was, however able to take what he saw as good in the message and not be blind to the deceit of many of the messengers in their own failure to live up to their own beliefs. At the heart of the missions of the whites was a belief that they were “better”. Their message, their God, their culture, their language, their music, their laws were in their mind “better” and in their view, the African was inherently inferior.

It disappointed Nxele greatly! Where he respected them for their spirituality and their pursuit of the good in humans, they did not reciprocate. The missionaries saw him as inferior to them. The “we alone are right” and “we are better” attitude of many Christians is something that I find odd to this day and at odds with the heart of their own messages. Nxele’s respect for the Christian message and his disappointment in the messengers is something that I would experience myself in the years to follow and his disappointment resonates with me.

He correctly saw the Missionaries as equally zealous to proselytise the amaXhosa to the English culture and customs as much as to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Missionary saw Europeans as inherently superior to the amaXhosa, socially, politically and spiritually and Nxele saw it! In an astonishing demonstration of his creativity and spiritual sensitivity, Nxele expanded on the belief system of the amaXhosa. He developed a theology where two Gods exist, Thixo and Ndaliphu. According to his teachings, Thixo is the God of the Whites and Mdalidiphu, the God of Blacks. Mdalidiphu is superior to Thixo and the world was the battleground between the two – the age-old struggle between good and evil.

Nxele’s theology taught that Mdalidiphu would prevail against Thixo and punish him and his sinful followers. Nxele’s next progression reminds me of the sermon on the mount of Jesus when he said, “you have heard it taught in of old, but I say to you. . .” In other words, I now give a new law thereby becoming a lawgiver myself as the son of God. Nxele did something similar when he said to the amaXhosa, “you have heard it said of old, but I say to you. . .” He too became a lawgiver. According to him, Tayi was the son of God and in an extraordinary move, like Jesus, he proclaimed himself as the son of God when te taught that he is the brother of Tayi. According to him, Tayi was killed by the white people and for this, they were thrown into the sea. They emerged from the sea in search of land, the abantu abasemanzi. Nxele was, therefore, the agent of Mdalidiphu and his son and it was he who would drive the white man back into the sea. His teachings were remarkable and powerful to a nation where the fabric of its society was being assailed on all sides.

One can see the comfort that this message brought to people, dispossessed from their lands and brutalised in every way possible. The hope that it inspired in the hearts of young and old reminds me of the hope the Messianic prophecies brought to Israel in exile in the land of Babylon. The fact that one people could inflict such suffering on another to precipitate a shift in theology stands as a testament to the cruelty of humans and at the same time, the resilience of the human spirit which is able to carve out hope amidst the most desperate situations! It speaks to the brilliance of Nxele! It also speaks to a cultural device that oppressed people have used, probably from the time the first cognitive and conscious humans roamed Africa, in which the human mind develops mythology to gives hope amid desperate circumstances. It connects us with the universal consciousness and allows us to look beyond our immediate circumstances. This is the exact same device which sprang Christianity itself.

My dad’s point is that if we now juxtapose the position of Pretorius and the fundamental Calvinism of the Boers who saw the land before them as a gift of God to be taken and from who all who do not serve their God must be driven with the teachings of Nxele, the clouds of war which I saw from the actions of the Boer and the Brit, becomes drums of war which declare the certainty of a bloody struggle. Locked up in the beating of the drums was a plea for recognition and humanity. On the one hand, I marvel at the teachings of Nxele and at the same time, fearful for the future. It was, after all, a theological development directly in response to the aggression and relentless persecution by the Colonists which now painted white people with a brush which calls for push back and annihilation.

My dad did not have contact with tribes from the north and could not know their theological leanings, but he told me that he would not be surprised if the same fundamental religious developments were taking place in the black consciousness across the region as proud owners of the land, setting them up, in the most fundamental way against the colonial people and their drive to disposes the African tribes politically, culturally and in terms of land. Whenever I brought up the history of brutal attacks of Voortrekkers venturing into the interior by local tribes, my dad’s response was always the same. “What did they expect? How would they respond to invaders into their own lands?” My dad had only harsh words to Voortrekker icons, but reserved his harshest criticism for people like Summerseat and later Rhodes as the enemy of humanity itself and examples of the most wicked of humans.

The supernatural world had failed to deliver and the amaXhosa was faced with two options. Either they had to rise up against the white invaders with the help of the divine or they had to submit themselves to the new order as preached by the missionaries who laboured among them. In the world of the amaXhosa, Ndlambe was recognised as the leader of the chiefs to the East of the Kai River and he had the support of the powerful Nxele. Each Rharhabe chief, however, had the freedom to choose his own spiritual counsellors and in reality, they did not all agree with Nxele. Chiefs chose councillors who mirrored what path they themselves favoured. This was nothing sinister or to be frowned upon. It was custom, and truth be told, in line with how these matters were being handled in Europe. Not that this matter as some kind of a higher standard, but it must be said for Europeans who would frown on this, forgetting their own history! It was the practice that the spiritual counsellor would limit his dialogue between the chief and the supernatural to what the chief was willing to accept.

King Sandile, Nienaber, C and Hutten, (2008) L. The Grave of King Mgolombane Sandile Ngqika: Revisiting the legend, The South African Archaeological Bulletin

The two rivals Ngqika and Ndlambe represented two opposing choices to the nation. Ngqika appointed Ntsikana as counsellor who was a Christian convert. His message was one of peaceful coexistence with Europeans through submission. Ndlambe, on the other hand, had the independent-minded Nxele who did not see himself as subservient to the Christian Missionaries; who was longing to see the awakening of black identity and prophesied that the amaXhosa would prevail against the white man. These notions were fundamentally part of the being of Nxele as we have seen from the theology he preached.

Nxele, patronised by Ndlambe grew in political power and wealth. He encouraged his adherents to, as it were, “go forth, multiply and fill the earth.” He taught that he would bring back to life the black people who had died and their cattle. He had a large and prosperous future for his people in mind, built upon resisting the invaders of their land!

Nxele served a useful purpose to Ndlambe in building support from other chiefs against Ngqika. Ngqika was married to Thuthula, Ndlambe’s wife whom he abducted and Nxele preached against him as an adulterer and their marriage as an incestuous relationship. This served the purpose of Ndlambe well.

In contrast to this was the theology of Ntsikana’s. He was driven by a vision he had to preach the Christian message to the isiXhosa using Xhosa imagery and traditional forms of music. He used the image of God as a cloak which protects all true believers and the way to peace was submitting to his will. Initially, he approached Ndlambe to be his patron, who wanted none of it. It was after this that he turned to Ngqika. Ngqika never converted to Christianity and never had a sizable following. Still, Ngqika saw his teachings in line with his own view of cooperation with the white colonists and appointed him as a counsellor. Ntsikana, in line with his theology, encouraged him to seek an alliance with the British. Ntsikana passed away in 1821 and his small group of followers were entrusted to the care of the British Missionaries.

This was the setting for another bitter war on the eastern frontier, the first where Somerset would be involved. I discovered that not all good stories need to have a beginning, middle and end. That it really depends on what you want from the story and if you have what you wanted, sometimes its good to leave it there. So it is with this story. My intention is not to re-tell the story of the war. It is the development of the Black contentiousness in response to the colonial aggression which was the point my dad wanted to convey and the fact which informed my decisions about my future. In the mind of the colonial invaders was a deeply entrenched view of the native African which was religious in nature and their mythology represented their world view! They completely confused nationalism, lust, pride, laziness and culture for religion and excused every sin they committed by a complete misuse of the Old Testament of the Christian bible. Or, one can say that they used religion as it is always used as an expression of the hopes and beliefs and aspirations of a people. The mental view of the European was after all the result of bitter struggle and immense suffering of their own at the hands of leaders and invading forces, poverty and disease. Their religion, inextricably connected to their culture; what was once the source of comfort and faith to keep going on against all odds had become the instruments of terror they unleashed upon people from around the globe.

They justified their treatment of the African peoples through their religion and what developed in the African consciousness of the time was a reaction to the treatment they received which was, in the end, also entrenched through religion. Thinking drives action and thinking which denies the other a rightful place in this world would be a basic tenant in the belief system of both groups for years to come. I looked at this and prayed to God that He will be merciful upon us and our descendants for bringing this about!

Seeds of war were germinating in the soil of Africa. The exploits of the invader and the resister alike were being calcified through their religious belief systems and in a world where neither the white colonists nor the black people would disappear or annihilate the other, it signalled a long and bitter future of deep mistrust, hatred and bloodshed. I projected that true peace would not come as long as the traditional Afrikaans church represented the majority of the white population. That the time would have to come where a new religion must take hold which is not focussed on annihilating and dispossessing and killing, but where a positive message of hope and possibilities would prevail. I could well imagine a time when many will turn their back on a religion based on differences and what it is “against”. When others will not be demonised for being different and when respect would be mutual. This would signal the start of a true reconciled future where both black and white would live together as humans and will recognise the power in unity and freedom for all, represented by a new faith!

Years later, the second Anglo Boer War would prove that I was right. Friends sent me a photo from a POW camp in India where many of the Boer POW’s were sent which angers me. Even though I could not be sure of everything that is happening in the photo, it showed me that the Anglo-Boer war did nothing for the feeling of superiority of the European, including the Boer, over other peoples. Sickening superiority oozes out of the picture!

Umballa POW camp, India. Photo supplied by Elria Wessels.

I knew my time was up to criss-cross this vast land and I had to seek out other opportunities. As I always do when I think about this, I again remind myself that not all people think with one heart and mind. Among the English, there are people who support the Boer and have compassion for his course despite many Boers refusing to acknowledge this and it is true, many English would rather see the Boer disappear from the earth. In the same way, there are many Boers who support slavery and have no respect for the native African but it must be recognised that no matter how small the group, there are some Boers who oppose slavery and who respect the black nations, just like some of the British.  Not all people are the same.

Ideas of moderation, later, became powerful currents in the black consciousness despite the fact that it would be many generations before the same ideas would take root in mainstream white thinking. Truth be told, despite small pockets of white descent against the majority treatment and view of black people, attitudes would only start to change many years later when the white man’s views threatened his own continued prosperity and existence on earth. In the context of the time when I had to choose a future I had many things to consider and on the one hand was the evil and destruction of Colonialism which I saw so clearly but on the other was my love for my own people and the culture that I grew up in which is not in itself against any nation or group of people. I could, by the grace of God, hate what was being done by white Colonial forces in Africa and at the same time still love!

One of the things I loved was science because, as I saw it, all science runs down many different hills towards one ocean of truth. African, Chinese, American and European science approached the matter of truth differently, but ultimately, it could all agree when techniques and results were better. In my mind, it formed a new religion which more and more people converted to.

On the other hand, I love people and one of the supreme cultural expressions we can all unite around is food. Different food from different regions always inspire people and even the staunchest cultural purist would effortlessly migrate between dishes from various cultures. The one dish that beautifully combined science and taste was to me, even from my childhood days, bacon! I did, however, not stumble into the world of bacon as thoughtful as I reflect upon it here in hindsight. It was far more dramatic and less “planned”.

This is how it happened. One day I embarked on another trip to the Transvaal from Cape Town. This would be the trip where a most fortuitous event would occur.  A problem that would lead to a meeting that would lead to a plan that would result in the rest of my life. On this trip, I met the most interesting Boer from Potchefstroom, Oscar Klynveld.  This trip became the transition into the greatest adventure, ever, born from the seeds of war. While the beating drums of despair would always echo in my ears, I embarked on a journey where I could dedicate my life to a new pursuit which I completely fell in love with!

Photo Credit:  Hilton, T., Flickr


  1. The words “Hottentot”, “Bushaman” and “Kaffirs” were used in the original publication and is repeated for the sake of accuracy. Today they are recognized as derogatory terms and the use of the term Kaffir are prohibited by legislation.
  2. An article, setting out the case for the First Anglo-Boer War of 1880/ 1881 and the continued annexation of the Transvaal; published in The Times (London, Greater London, England), 22 Feb 1881, page 9.


Laband, J. 2020. The Land Wars. The Dispossession of the Khoisan and AmaXhosa in the Cape Colony. Penguin Randon House.

M’Cater, J..  1869. Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa. With Notice of the other Denominations. A historical Sketch.  Ladysmith, Natal. W & C Inglis.


(c) eben van tonder

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Bacon & the Art of Living ->Chapter 5: Seeds of War

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.

Seeds of War

Johannesburg, December 1889

FB_IMG_1565200618111 (2)
First house in Johannesburg

My Career Choice – Riding Transport

My dad was a magistrate in the district of Woodstock in Cape Town.  He was my best friend in the entire world and when I told him that I did not desire to study further, as he did after school, but rather choose to ride transport between Cape Town and Johannesburg, he did not like it, but he supported me.  He saw why I had to do it.

I did not follow any particular passion other than a general quest for adventure.  Ancient ways were disappearing and wanted to get up close and personal with it before it was gone.  There was the almost wholesale slaughter by hunters for sport and food; the discovery of diamonds at Kimberley and gold on the Rand brought people from around the world with strange new customs with no regard for the land. Apart from the adventure, riding transport was a very lucrative undertaking.  In those days there were only two ways to make money quickly.  One was to join the diggings in Kimberley and take your chances there and the other was to ride transport between either the harbour cities of Cape Town and the interior or Durban to the interior.  (1)

When I told my dad my plans he did not immediately reply.  Not for days. I could tell he was thinking about it.  At night I heard my bedroom door in the old house open; watching me as I lay half asleep. Later I would know how it is when you look at your kids and you see their total lifespan in one glance.  A few days later, when I came home from the mountain with Minette, he called me to the stables.  There was a mare, light brown with a white mark on her forehead.  I never saw her before.  My dad handed me the rains. “Her name is Lady!” he said. “You will need a good horse.  The road between the Colony and the Rand is long!” We never spoke about it again.

The Route Between Johannesburg and the Cape Colony

The morning of my first expedition to Johannesburg came.  The three wagons left at 2:00 in the morning.  The plan was that I would follow later and catch up with them outside town. I heard the driver call the name of the oxen and cracking the whip as they moved down the hill from our house towards the main road out of Cape Town, past the Shambles abattoir where David de Villiers Graaff now ran Combrink & Co. and the new city railway station was being constructed. I was too excited to go back to sleep.  At 5:00 a.m. my mom called me.  The coffee and rusks were ready.

CT 4
Greenmarket Square, photo supplied by Michael Fortune.

The coal stove warmed the kitchen.  My dad poured the coffee into the saucer and slurped it up.  That’s how he drank it – every morning before the sun was up.  He walked over to the hat rack where he fetched his felt hat and cravats and said to me, “Come, I ride with you till you catch up with the wagons.”  When we got to the wagons my dad stopped and I rode up next to him.  We shook hands.  Firm and warm.  As if we would never see each other again.  “Look after yourself!  Be careful!  Be vigilant! Bring back great stories and when you are back – tell me everything!”

This became our routine.  My dad would ride out with me until I got to the wagons.  He would greet me in almost the exact same way every time.  Months later upon my return, my dad would be waiting for me at the Durbanville hills and we would ride back together the last few hours.  He would tell me about my brothers and how their studies are progressing and the health of my mom. He would have me recount in the greatest detail every event of my trip, always spurring me on to “leave out nothing!”  Even though he did not formally approve of how I chose to occupy myself, I knew that he was vicariously living every moment through me.  When I heard him re-tell my stories to Uncle Jacobus, sitting under the big trees next to his enormous home by large wooden tables, eating the finest bacon imported from C & T Harris in Wiltshire, England, I knew that he was proud of me and did not care that people frowned upon the choices I made.

We all knew that Johannesburg would soon be reached from Cape Town by a two-day train ride. (3) The advantage for the businessman and the material development of the continent was clear, but a deep sadness came over me every time I think of it, knowing that I was part of the last generation to see this land unspoiled.  My dad also knew this and when I told him one day how few elephants I saw between Cape Town and Worcester, he remarked that we came to build a new land but in reality, we were destroying it.  “Soon,” he said, “the great beasts of the field who made the roads we travel on and who sustained life here for untold generations would be gone and having destroyed nature – on what will we pray then?”

Plain Street, Johannesburg. Supplied by Michael Fortune.

My dad was a great fan of Alexander von Humboldt, the Prussian naturalist who explored South America. He learned many of Von Humboldt’s books off by heart. Von Humboldt wrote eloquently on the destruction of South America by colonization, and my dad often pointing out the same progression in our land.

It was indeed the giant elephants who created the network of connecting roads across Africa.  No other animal has the ability to clear a road through rugged terrain like a herd of them.  Ancient elephant migration paths across Africa have been used by other animals since the dawn of time.  They were the arteries that distributed humanity across this vast land acting as human migration routes.  African tribes travelled it, to trade salt and copper.  European settlers with their ox wagons used these paths to connect territories.  Dutch farmers, disgruntled by the abolition of slavery and in general revolt against the Cape Government, trecked along with them out of the Colony into the interior to form a new people, the Boers.  Along these ancient roads, I now transport material and supplies to small rural settlements.

Danie Jacobs

Besides disappearing nature, I was hungry to meet “real people.”  Take Daniel Jacobs as a good example.  One night at a dry riverbed outside Kimberly, a slightly older Boer asked if we could camp together for the night.  He was travelling alone and our transport party provided him with the security in numbers for the night which lone travellers lack.  He was on his way to Johannesburg on government business.  No sooner did he introduce himself when I realised that he was one of those “real people” I always hoped to meet on my travels.

market street jhb
Market Street, Jh., c. 1890.  Courtesy of Nico Moolman

Daniel Jacobs was an impressive man.  His stature was tall and astute, and his mannerism was enduring and kind.  His mind was keen and alert.  He had a love for history and a keen intellect.  I liked him and I liked what he likes!  We spoke till late in the night.  Despite his energy, Daniel had a sadness about him which I did not fully understand.  Was it a sadness or a realism about life?  I was unsure.

I told him stories of our adventures on Table Mountain.  He knew Cape Town well but has not been on Table Mountain as often as Minette, Achmat, Taahir, and I.  Despite this, we had the same experience that in nature we meet God.  In the simplest interaction with animals; the witnessing of grand vistas; breathtaking sunsets; stormy highveld afternoons; Cape winter winds – for us, these were the heavenly choruses praising the Creator.

We spoke about all these matters.  Later that night he took out a notebook from the pocket of his black jacket.  He opened it and angled it against the fire to read.  Of course, he knew his words, and as he read he dropped his hands, holding his notebook and reciting it from memory. A poem.  He penned it, one of his many travels to Johannesburg from the Colony.  In Afrikaans.  The simple words and phrases mixed and precipitated a word image that I later often recalled when I would see vast herds of game on the Highveld or feel the rain in my face as I crossed the salt lakes on the other side of Kimberly. Of spiritual barnes – the reservoir of the words of God contained in our experience of nature.

Bloemfontein district, 1890s; Courtesy of Nico Moolman

He titled it GEESTESKUUR                                        Spiritual Barn

Kom kinders van Suid-Afrika                                  Come, Children of South Africa,
Kom luister na die stem van God                            Come and listen to the voice of God
Wat die wind daar buite dra                                    Carried by the wind out there
Die sang van die duif in die dennebos                   The song of the dove in the pine grove
Die geskarrel van die veldmuis op soek na kos   The felt mouse running and looking                                                                                             for food
O Here u natuur                                                          Oh, Lord, your nature
Is vir ons ‘n geesteskuur.                                          For us, it is a spiritual barn

Kom kinders van Suid-Afrika                                  Come, Children of South Africa,
Kom luister na die stem van God                           Come and listen to the voice of God
Wat die wind daar buite dra                                   Carried by the wind out there
Die breek van die branders teen die kus             The breaking of the waves against the                                                                                          coast
Die gekras van die seemeeu op soek na vis         Noisy seagulls looking for food
O Here u natuur                                                        Oh LORD, your nature
Is vir ons ‘n geesteskuur                                         For us, it is a spiritual barn  (2)

We parted the next day and I knew that a friendship was struck for life.  It is these encounters with real people that inspire me.

Daniel Jacobs

The Jordaan’s and the Theology of Andries Pretorius

I don’t just marvel when it happens – no, I actively seek out those who will make an impact on me.  To me, people like Daniel Jacobs are like wild animals and nature.  They define this land and yet, people like them are disappearing.

The rugged Boers of the interior with their stubbornness, coffee, beskuit and biltong. They farm this desolate land and live semi-pastoral, semi-hunter existences.  For all their striving for independence, they are becoming completely subjected to European laws and customs.  Soon, the only features that will set them apart from European trends will be their almost universal disdain for the English, their strict Calvinist religion, and their language (and of course moerkoffie, beskuit, and biltong).

I heard stories, no doubt exaggerated, as these tales are, of Englishmen who lost their way, and when they happened upon a Boer homestead, being turned away without food or water only to die in the wilderness.  I wonder if these stories were fact or fables intended as a warning for English would-be travellers to these lands.

Theologically, they remained isolated and free from the softening that took place in Europe and England of the harsh positions following the reformation.  In a way, it was much on account of their faith that they were able to endure the hardships of the frontier, as was the case in countries like America.

In any event, I wanted to travel through their lands and experience their warm culture, their openness to strangers (as long as you don’t speak English), the perseverance of their faith and their dedication to their own family and kind, before their way of life as frontiersmen change forever.

I once stayed on a farm in the district of Potchefstroom, owned by Petrus Jordaan. His father knew the legendary Boer leader after whom Pretoria was named, Andries Pretorius, personally.  The Jordaan family was a traditional Boer family who lived exactly the kind of life that I wanted to observe up-close.  The immediate and extended family all lived together.  There was strength in numbers, something that was very useful in a frontier situation.

Everybody had their work each day.  There was no time to be idle, except on a Sunday, which was the Lord’s Day.  Mealtimes were very important. Everybody gathered for breakfast, lunch, and supper around Petrus Jordaan’s big dining room table.  A bowl of water was poured and passed from one person to the next and everybody washed their hands in it.  The water was never changed during the washing and the visitor always washed last.  Only then was the water thrown out.

Each meal was an elaborate affair with food that people from the city could only dream of.  At night, after supper, one of the kids would run to fetch the big family bible.  It was handed down from generation to generation, translated into old Dutch.  Petrus would read a passage and pray.  After bible reading, the family lingered at the table and shared stories from the day until either Petrus or his dad, Stefanus, would get up and announce that it was a hard day and time to retire to bed.

One such evening, Petrus’ father, Oom Stefanus Jordaan told me about Andries Pretorius.  Under his leadership, a group of Boers tried to set up a republic south of the Vaal River.  A struggle for independence followed lasting seven or eight years until the British won a decisive battle at Boomplaats and Pretorius fled across the Vaal with a group of his followers to set up the Republic of the Transvaal (“Trans,” as in “across” and “Vaal,” as in “the Vaal river”).

The Khoi and the San had their beliefs which shaped their actions.  I had mine and Pretorius had his.  I wanted to understand why a faction of the Boers seemed so preoccupied with enslaving the people of this land.  Oom Stefanus did not mind when I asked him about it.  He explained that for Pretorius and some of his follower’s slavery is an inherent right and duty of the white man in this savage land.  One of Pretorius’ favourite scriptures was from the Old Testament, where Israel was commanded to either slay or enslave the surrounding nations.  To him, the natives were the people of the cities who were “far off,” and he had the Divine command to enslave them.  His was the nation of God, the chosen, who would bring God’s light into a savage, godless land. The Boers had a God-given right to occupy the lands of these people.  They were to him the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites whom the Lord had commanded to destroy. (4)

The policy has been carried out in a cruel and relentless way.  Entire tribes were massacred.  Adults were killed and children carried off and indentured on farms.  Indenture was a savage replacement for slavery where the indentured person could be sold as a tradable commodity.  They sometimes received a small allowance for their labour and sometimes not. The big supposed advantage over slavery was that the period of indenture had a definite end-date when they would be freed and when they would sometimes receive additional compensation for their labour, or sometimes not.  They would, sometimes, be given land from the farmer to settle permanently on at the end of the indenture, and, sometimes, nothing. Oom Stefanus told me how even leaders like Paul Kruger participated in these schemes and that the policy was almost universal in the Transvaal Republic. (5)

Indignation rose up in my heart against this cruelest of practices when I heard things like Petrus Jordaan’s wife say that after a few years, these young ones accept their fate and become accustomed to their new life, as the memories of their parents fade.  They become so loyal to the Boer family that they are prepared to fight against the English with the Boers. When I hear stories like these, my mind wanders back to the Cape and the many black friends I grew up with and call my friends to this day.

Oom Pieter Rademan

I have family who lives close to Johannesburg where I love visiting when we camp out at the Vaal river before we cross. I would leave my wagons in the care of a foreman and undertake the 12 hours ride to his farm. Oom Pieter Jacobus Rademan (born 13 September 1838) grew up in Swellendam in the Cape Colony and moved north to the Orange Free State where he met and married Susanna Maria Geldenhuys from Kroonstad.  He settled at Rooiwal in 1872 where they now live with their 10 children. Oom Piet represents everything that I respect and love about the Boer people.

When I started the transport company, I would camp on his farm and bring him building material from the Cape.  These days, his barns and homestead are all built, and I carry only tobacco for Oom Piet that my dad sends him and spices for Aunt Santjie in my saddlebag.  The trip to Rooiwal is a short and pleasant detour.  Sometimes I will take Aunt Santjie thread from my mom or recipe books from a dealer in Adderley Street. (6)

Oom Piet lived to the ripe old age of 99.  I was, in later years, told the story that when Oom Piet was advanced in years, he thought that his dominie (pastor) did not visit him often enough (home visitation by the pastor was very important to the Boers). He instructed his workers to harness the horses and prepare the carriage.  He rode to Vredefort where he stopped in front of the pastor’s house.  Ds. Van Vuuren invited him to get down and come in, but he refused.  He told Ds. Van Vuuren he is an old man and may pass away any day now.  He is scared that he will die and when he gets to heaven, the Lord will ask him how it’s going with his servant in Vredefort and that he will have to tell the Lord that he does not know because Ds. Van Vuuren no longer visits him at his home! (7)

Oom Piet Rademan (99)
Oom Piet Rademan at his horse buggy, which he rode till his death at 99.

Oom Piet’s faith is of a milder nature than some of the extreme positions of the Transvaal Boers. He was a kind and gentle man. His is a sincere faith similar to that of my uncle, Dominie Jan (my mother’s brother), Oom Sybrand and Oom Giel.  These are all family members who became dominies in the NG Kerk.

Oom Piet was a simple man who tended his Afrikaner cattle and planted his mielies on the rocky hills surrounding his simple but functional home.  His children are the backbone of his workforce and the small number of natives who work for them are treated in fairness and allowed to live in the way that they have been accustomed to for hundreds of years, receiving a wage at the end of every week. (5) There are, for sure, stories doing the rounds in the family of him and his wife, who could be hard taskmasters if the workers did not perform their duties up to standard, but of the practice of indenture there was no sign and they desired nothing else but the peaceful existence of all peoples.

Oom Piet’s farm became a place where I would have some of my happiest times in the interior.  I visited there as often as I could.  In later years my grandfather, Oupa Eben, and grandmother, Ouma Susan, obtained the farm next to him, Stillehoogte. (7) The northern Free State became my second home and from their farm, I could see the herds of wild animals starting to dwindle, even during the short time I rode transport.

Clocolan district; Courtesy of Nico Moolman

The African Peoples

What is true for the Boers was true for the indigenous African tribes. Their cultures have been in decline since the Dutch, German, French and the English arrived at the Cape of Good Hope and ventured into their lands.  I grew up with the boys from all the different peoples of this land but often wondered about their beliefs and stories and language before they came to the Cape.  Now they are Christian and Muslim and they speak English or Dutch, as I do.  I wondered what their language was in Malaysia or India, in Madagascar and in Mozambique.  What were the names of their gods and what stories did their parents tell them of their ancestors? What games did their people play, which they don’t even know?

I have seen the Khoi burial sites at the foot of Signal Hill.  I heard the stories of how they danced when the full moon appeared and how the mountain was sacred to them.  It saddened me that I could not find a single Khoi boy who could teach me their songs or who knew their legends of Table Mountain.  Did their warriors and hunters ever climb to the top?  What did they call this breathtaking rock planted at the tip of the great African land?

I knew the caves where escaped slaves hid out on the mountain; I heard from the old people how one could see their fires burn at night against the mountain slopes from town; but these were sad stories, testimony to the cruelty of humans.  Even as a child when I first heard these accounts, I wondered who they were and what stories they could tell.  Likewise, I wondered about the stories of the Khoi.  Lost stories.  Of a spirit world that existed in the dreams and trances of their Sharma’s and old people.  These spurred me on to find and tell the stories of Africa which I still hear before they disappear forever.


Career Choices

I knew I had to find another career. This was not to say that riding transport was not financially rewarding or insanely exciting. Some years I was able to come home with as much as GBP4000 ($20 000) in my pocket, every 6 months.  Without knowing it, I was receiving a better education than any university could offer and that while I was building up cash reserves for a much bigger adventure.  Still, my repertoire of remarkable stories grew ever larger.

Above all, I wanted to understand why things are happening in our beautiful land which was taking place. What was the thinking at the heart of so much hatred I could see? And then again, if I spend time with my Boer family on their own or with my black friends alone, these are some of the heartiest people on earth and I have the time of my life. Each person is unique and teaches me about life and about our natural world. Different peoples have different cultures and yet, I could see the value of each people and how they did things were beautiful!

Still, my career choices, I was certain, would be impacted by the gathering clouds of war!


Many years later, when I looked back at these notes I wrote years earlier, with the hindsight of the South African War, fought between the Boers and Britain, I realised how right we were in our evaluation of events.  I saw darker days ahead as the diabolical policies of Apartheid start to take hold of this beautiful land and is bent on stripping our black fellow countrymen of their dignity and will surely lead to unspeakable atrocities.

I started collecting photos from the Anglo-Boer War, featured in Chapter 17: The Boers (Our Lives and Wars).  These photos serve to remind me and my descendants not only of what the Brit did to the Boers, but how the Afrikaner did the same thing to the black South African, of all tribes.  Likewise, it serves as a powerful monument to the foolishness of the British government in their lust for power, money and domination. Irrespective of faith or creed, it is true that the heart of man is more deceptive than all else and that all humanity has within its soul the propensity to perform unspeakable evil.  The art of living is, as the skill of making bacon, something which does not come naturally to us.  To embrace all that is good in life, to be tolerant, to give, expecting nothing in return and to know that our time on earth is short and is best lived by compassion and caring for everyone around us is something we have to nurture in our children and in our own hearts, every day.


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(1) The exact same options were identified by the Moor brothers in the late 1800s living in Natal, sons of English (Irish?) immigrants.  1872, the oldest of the Moor brothers, FR Moor, went to Kimberly to make his fortune.  His brother, JW Moor, later became important in the history of bacon in South Africa when he along with other farmers from the Estcourt area created the First Farmers Cooperative Bacon Company in 1917.  JW was the chairman.  This company later changed its name to Eskort, the iconic South African bacon producer.

(2) The railway linking Johannesburg and Cape Town were completed in 1892.

(3)  Daniel Jacobs write: “Nadat ek my Nasionale Diensplig voltooi het, was ek nog vir ongeveer ag jaar betrokke by Stellenbosch Kommando met die hou van o.a. jeugkampe vir veral Kleurlingkinders. Ek dink dit was hier by die laat 1980’s toe ons vir ‘n week lank ‘n tipe Weerbaarheidskursus van die Weermag by die Voortrekkers se Wemmershoek-terrein naby Franscchoek bygewoon het. Ons moes elke oggend alleen iewers gaan sit en stiltetyd hou. Ek het toe die een oggend in ‘n denenbos gesit. Terwyl ek daar sit het ek baie bewus geraak van God se teenwoordigheid. Ek het toe die eerste strofe van die gediggie geskryf na aanleiding van wat ek daar beleef het. Alles wat ek hier skryf – geluid van die wind – duiwe se sang en die geskarrel van die veldmuis het ek waargeneem terwyl ek daar gesit het. As ek my oë toemaak kan ek nog in my geestesoog die veldmuis sien wegskarrel. Ek het later jare (seker so 4-5 jaar gelede) die tweede versie bygevoeg tydens ‘n Mannekamp by die Mooihawens Kampterrein in Bettiesbaai.

(4)  Recorded by Trollop in his history of South Africa; cited in a newspaper article about slavery in the Transvaal.  Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago, Illinois), 30 December 1880, page 4, “The Revolt of the Pro-Slavery Boers.”

(5)  From an article, setting out the case for the First Anglo-Boer war of 1880/ 1881 and the continued annexation of the Transvaal; published in The Times (London, Greater London, England), 22 Feb 1881, page 9.

(6)  Information supplied by Nerine Rademan Leonard and Jan Kok.

(7)  The story was told by Oom Jan Kok, my mother’s oldest brother.  Oom Pieter was their grandfather on their mother’s side, which makes him my great-grandfather.  My grandmother, Ouma Susan, was taking care of Oom Piet till his death and was only allowed to marry my grandfather, Oupa Eben after Oom Piet passed away.  On the day of his death, his pipe was still warm.  He smoked till the day of his death.

(8)  Stillehoogte was the farm of my grandparents, Oupa Eben and Ouma Susan.  Every long-weekend and every school holiday we spent on the farm in the Northern Free State.

Stillehoogte belonged to Oom Piet Rademan and Ouma Santjie inherited it from her father.  My Ouma Susan Kok inherited the farm since she had the Rademan (Geldenhuys name – Susanna Maria).

Aunt Meraai (Oom Sybrand and Oom Michiel Straus’s mom) had inherited the farm Leeuspruit because she had her Grandmom Uys’ name and Leeuspruit belonged to  Oom Giel Uys.

As far as Oom Jan knows, the farm Stillehoogte was a farm on its own and not part of Rooiwal. The other Rademan children also inherited land in this area. Oom Jan is also not sure if this was part of Rooiwal. Oom Freek got the farm Rosebank. Oom Attie got the farm Goudinie , Oom Lourence the farm Windhoek. All these could have been one farm because they border each other.


M’Cater, J..  1869. Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa. With Notice of the other Denominations. A historical Sketch.  Ladysmith, Natal. W & C Inglis.

Tisani, E. V. “Nxele and Ntsikana” (MA diss., University of Cape Town, 1987), p107

Photo Credit

The Cincinnati Enquirer (Cincinnati, Ohio), 1 November 1908, Page 31.

Meat-on-Meat Injection for Bacon and Ham Production: Injection for Profit and Taste

Meat-on-Meat Bacon and Ham:  Injection for Profit and Taste
Eben van Tonder
December 2020


After many years in the bacon industry, and working on sausage technology, I was able to conceptualise a complete bacon line, almost fully automated, exploiting a selection of different equipment and sets of technoligy, and in cooperation with a few key players in the industry, to design a bacon line which will deliver volume, at a cost never achieved before.

The new technology will, for example, make vastly reduced nitrite and possibly nitrite free bacon a reality which is not based on smoking-mirrors, as is currently wide spread in offerings to consumers. Plant based brines are used where nitrites are produced by the plants in large concentrations due to how the plants are cultivated and by exploiting loopholes in legislagion, producers are not declaring the nitrites since they did not add chemical nitrites. They only declare the plant juices but do not have to say that by adding these, the also added extraordinary additional quantities of nitrites.

New technology we are working with makes it possible to produce bacon with either very low nitrite levels or, possibly even, removing it completely. (Removal of Nitrite from Meat Curing Systems)

The fact that the system we are conceptualising is continus with minimal handling becomes a powerful hurdle against clostridium and botulinum poisoning which is the reason why nitrites is allowed in meat.

The main contribution I want to focus on here is, however, the possibility for meat-on-meat injection with a scope of application that has not been possible before. Further, I want to put it in the context of the best bacon system on earth since it is only one additional building block to a complete system.

Much of the thinking was inspired by sausage technology.

From Sausage Technology – Back to Bacon

I have been working most of 2020 on fine meat emulsions (Nose-to-Tail and Root-to-Tip: Re-Thinking Emulsions). Most of my work was on re-working the formulation. I started by grouping the different chemical reactions together along with ingredients which links to the reactions. From this I produce a number of emulsions (emulsions is an old and incorrect industry term – meat paste is more accurate). The different pastes are created seperate using the new super emulsification system. The different pastes are then combined through a mixing step, where spices and showpieces are also added. It was during this phase of trails, creating the different meat pasts, when I bacame aware of the possibility to apply the technology to reduced nitrite or even nitrite free curing systems.

After blending, we move to filling through a filler and a hanging line into a continuous smoking system. No trollys required. The sausages goes in on the one end, are dried, smoked and schillied in one continuas system and comes out on the other end at 4 deg C and packed immediately. It easily adds another hour production time, reduce staff cost and handling and improves product quality, consistency and safety! On the back end, we are looking at continuous and automated packing solution and a man who designed and implemented one of the largest of these lines in the world will be assisting me.

The Relevance to Bacon

I started my career in meat processing as a bacon man and as I was working today, I thought about BACON! The applications of what I learned this year are enormous.

  • Meat-on-Meat Injection, through the use of the super emulsifier, becomes the most obvious application in brine injection. Inject lower cost trim with spices added into whole meat muscles. Around the world, super quality meats are produced using the general concept of injecting meat into meat. It has, however, never been this easy or commercially viable! The list of possible raw materials used for such injection is also tremendously expanded.
  • In formulating the brine, we are able to use components such as tendon and rinds which for the first time is now injectable! Other systems exist, but not one as simple, clean and wide in application as this one.

Below I introduce you to the equipment which will produce the brine. This innovation may very well be the biggest breakthrough in brine technology over the past 100 years since the direct addition of nitrites to curing brines. (Best Bacon and Rib System on Earth)


We can now continue to place the new technology in the context of the broader bacon system.

  • The injected bacon logs are rested and loaded into bacon grids which we designed (Best Bacon and Rib System on Earth). We opted for individual baskets which are filled and pressed individually after which the entire log with the basket can be loaded into the smoking/ cooking/ freezing chamber. It will be easy to see how it works if you study the baskets and the pressing system shown in Best Bacon and Rib System on Earth. The fact that the baskets are ONLY removed at the end of the line, after freezing, speeds the smoking and freezing process up due to the effect of the stainless steel and its thermal properties.
  • The same approach to the continues drying, smoking, cooling of the sausages has been adapted with a freezing step at the back. It is envisaged that bacon logs will be de-gritted at slicing temperatures or slightly above if manual Treif-type slicers are used. An automated de-grid system is being designed that must allow the grids to slide into the system which removes the lid from the basket, tips the basket over for the bacon log to fall out from where it moves directly to the slicer or, alternatively, to a boxing station where they are boxed and palletised before storage in a freezer for later slicing.
  • The basket are then either sent to the manual cleaning station or into an automated high pressure spray cleaning system.
  • Slicing/ packing solutions have been developed over the years which makes automated slicing and packing possible with minimal human handling. Several very good system is available commercially.


The one major issue I don’t have clarity on is Pasteurisation. High-Pressure Pasteurisation, for all its claims, does not seem to add up to a viable investment compared to heating systems (PPP) which can be constructed in-house or at much lower cost by contractors. This is the consensus opinion of production managers from around the world whom I consulted on the matter. I have had no time to look in more detail into the matter myself. The fact is that some form of eliminating contamination during packing should be part of the total system. The effectiveness vs total cost of ownership of the different systems must be thoroughly understood. Systems working with light and ultrasound should also be considered and combination systems. I would love to receive comments and input on this matter especially from production managers. In South Africa, there seems to be a wholesale rush to HPP, but I am not convinced. It may be, but I would love to see the data for myself and get more input from production managers and business owners with first hand experience.


I feature new technology in terms of brine preparation, but set out new thinking about drying, smoking, chilling and freezing through one of the most advanced Smokehouse producers in Europe. We developed a bacon grid system which fully integrates into this drying, smoking, chilling and freezing system and skilled designers are completing the work by focussing on an automated offloading and de-gritting system from where the bacon will either be sliced or stored.

The possibility exist to use the new brine preparation technology featured here, to create vastly reduces nitrite or even, possibly, nitrite free curing systems.

All-in-all, claiming that this is the most advanced system on earth is not an exaggeration!

Continue reading

Origins of the South African Sausage, Called a Russian

Origins of the South African Sausage, Called a Russian
Eben van Tonder
November 2020


I have long tried to reconstruct the history of the South African sausage delicacy called a Russian. Due to a complete lack of information, I never did. Earlier this month I decided to give it another go as an introduction to a groundbreaking article by Dr RA LaBudde on fine emulsion sausages. (Review of comminuted and cooked meat product properties from a sol, gel and polymer viewpoint) I posted a short essay on social media and immediately started receiving high-quality input.

The Russian Connection

The first clue I had to work with is the name – a Russian. Clearly referring to a Russian origin. In its composition, it is similar to the Russian Kolbasa. The Russian word kolbasa, as well as its variations in the Slavic languages (for, example kielbasa in Polish), originated in what is now Turkey. It literally means “pressed by the hand.” (Though some researchers stick to the Hebrew origin of the word – the word combination kol basar used to mean “all flesh”).” (Russiapedia)

There are several options for its introduction to South Africa and in the final analysis, it was probably a gradual introduction over many generations. There are also other very plausible contenders for the original sausage which I prefer to relate back to the Russian kolbasa. Other contenders are the Slovenian kransky or the Polish kielbasa. The same basic sausage had many names in many countries, but I prefer the straight-line connection between its name and the closest Russian contender.

Early Russian Imigrants

In terms of who the Russians were who brought it to our shores, if we take the original sausage as being kolbasa, it could have been introduced by very early Russian immigrants but since they were mostly Russian Jews, and since the product in South Africa contains pork, I was sceptical.

From the earliest history of Johannesburg, there was a large Russian community who dominated the grocery trade. Cripps (2012) quotes a 1905 complaint from the Commercial and Industrial Transvaal which read: “Perhaps in no branch has the keen edge of competition reduced the retailers’ margin of profit to such a minimum as in the grocery line. This is due in a great measure to the number of Celestials, Greeks and Russians who have got a hold of the Transvaal trade, and whose nominal expenses and cost of living enable them to curtail the ordinary profits.”

Cripps (2012) writes that “the 1896 Census showed a total of 102,078 inhabitants in Johannesburg… Of these 50,907 were Europeans or whites, 952 Malays, 11 4,807 Asiatics, 12 2,879 mixed or other races, and 42,533 ‘natives.” Of the 24,489 whites who had been born in Europe, 12,389 were from England and Wales, 3,335 “ Russia, 2,879 “ Scotland, 2,262 “ Germany, 997 “ Ireland, 819 “ Holland, 402 “ France, 311 “ Sweden & Norway, 206 “ Italy, 139 “ Switzerland and 750 Others. (Cripps, 2012) Apart from a direct reference to their involvement in dominating the grocery trade, it also means that Russians were the seconds largest group of white foreigners in Johannesburg. These immigrants were, however, also mostly Jewish which again diminish their role in establishing the Russian sausage if we relate the sausage back to the Russian kolbasa and if we assume that it contained pork as is almost always the case today.

Cripps (2012) shows how each nationality was eager to develop and sell their traditional food and even though she does not mention Russians (the sausage), one can be certain that Russian immigrants sold their sausages, kolbasa or another variety, to the general public.

I was still looking for a non-Jewish Russian connection to make the reference to Kolbasa stick (and I assumed the old recipes would have contained pork, as is the case today). My next option was Russians who participated in the Anglo-Boer War.

There was a sizable Russian contingent who fought on the side of the Boers. Leaving the exact definition of who these Russians would have been aside for a moment, one wonders where they got the equipment to produce it but at that time, people were capable of producing complex meat formulations in their kitchen before breakfast (as is still the case in rural households across Russia, East and Central Europe). Several prominent ethnic Russians joined the Russian effort and it is very likely that the sausage could have been produced for them during the campaign by fellow Russians.

Davidson and Filatova, in their book, The Russians and the Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902, mentions several such high ranking Russian aristocrats and leaders who participated in the war. One such person was the Georgian Prince Nikolai Bagration, a descendant of the Marshal Bagration who had fought against Napoleon, who was a well-connected aristocrat who once represented Georgia at the Tsar’s coronation. He was nicknamed, Niko the Boer.  Others were people like Prince Mikhail Yengalychev, Ivan Zabolotny and Alexander Essen. “Zabolotny became a leader of the Trudoviks and a member of the First Duma. Essen was already a member of the Social Democrats when he arrived in Pretoria and was to play an active role in the 1905 Revolution – his underground alias was ‘the Boer’. He went on to become a leading Bolshevik and in the Twenties was appointed deputy chairman of the Russian State Planning Committee.” (quoted from an online review of Davidson and Filatova)

A few hundred Russian volunteers participated and it is likely that they prepared Kolbasa for the Russian men of note and possibly for their own consumption and even for Boer commandos whom they fought alongside. In further support of the possibility that they produced in during the campaign, there is photographic evidence of meat grinders being available and used in the field by the British and therefore possibly the Russians also (see under “Meat of War” in The Boers (Our Lives and Wars)). If the Russians shared their kolbasa with the Boers, it would have cemented the reputation of the Russian sausage and would have endured it to the Boers.

Hans de Kramer, however, correctly pointed out that “very few of the 200 or so Russians who fought with the Boers in the ABW came directly from Russia. They were Jewish rather than ethnic Russians who had come to the ZAR by the thousands since the middle of the 1890s. In the Boer War the neutral Russians (they were mainly neutral but about 3000 joined the British army) suffered with the Boers during the British scorched earth phase because many of their shops were on farmland owned by Boers and their shops were burned down because they were suspected of supplying the Boers during the guerilla phase. After the war the Russian Jewish shopkeepers claimed compensation from the British for burning down their shops, saying that they did not supply the Boers but that the Boers just arrived at their shops and commandeered food and other goods which they supplied out of fear. They described themselves as general dealers and storekeepers who were dairymen, BUTCHERS, tailors, hawkers, booksellers, a blacksmith, a printer, a hairdresser and a handful of farmers.”

Could the Original Sausage have been Kishka?

It is clear that there was not enough ethnic Russians in South Africa for the original sausage to have been Kalbasa (assuming that Kalbasa always contained pork). If the original sausage was Kishka and not Kilbasa, everything would fit because we know that kishka is a well known Jewish sausage, containing offal.

As I thought about this, I realise that such a strict definition is not necessary. For starters, there is a strong tie between a Kalbasa and a Jewish origin as we saw from the origins of the word. “Some researchers stick to the Hebrew origin of the word – the word combination kol basar used to mean “all flesh”) (Russiapedia) There are historic records of Kosher butchers making Kalbasa.

The Russian is not just like the Kolbasa, but also other Central and East European sausages. The Australian, Vic Nicholas, with his strong South African ties, pointed out that the South African Russian is very similar to the Slovenian Kransky (Krainer in German). East European and Russian peoples all made a similar, very basic sausage referred to by various names. A similar sausage is found in Germany, Slovenia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia’s neighbour, Croatia who probably took their version of the same basic sausage to Australia where it is called a Kransky. Different peoples, therefore, made a similar sausage and called it by different names and it would be natural for the Jewish butchers to have done the same and simply omitted the non Kosher components such as the blood and pork.

Kishka or kishke connection is still intriguing to me. For starters, I know that Russians are very similar to polony in terms of its ingredients and polony definitely included offal in its initial recipe (The Origins of Polony). The second fascinating fact is that Kishke is a sausage stuffed with intestines and made from a combination of meat and grain. The fact that it contained grain, often soy, makes Kishka very similar to a South African Russian than most people may realise, as it very often (mostly) contains a combination of meat and soy. If this was the case when Russian Jews introduced it to South Africa, I do not know, but that it certainly contains both meat and grain or legumes today is certain. Even if it did contain legumes early on in South Africa, the fact that it does so today has more to do with the economic imperative to make expensive meat affordable than any historical reasons.

Jewish-Russian Immigrants and Kishke/ Kalbasa

Even though I could not find any reference of the Russian sausage and its consumption during the Anglo Boer war or on the mines in the Transvaal, Hans de Kramer says that he “seen a source stating that the Boers developed a taste for Russian sausages through obtaining them from the Jewish Russians during the ABWII.” Most interestingly, he also states that “Russian sausages were popular in Johannesburg amongst the very cosmopolitan mining community since a decade before ABWII.” I have learned to trust statements like these on cultural matters where there would be no reason one way or the other to embellish and I take Hans completely at his word. This is, after all, the nature of recording tradition.

The suggestion that I made earlier that ordinary Russian soldiers fighting on the side of the Boers probably made Kolbasa, albeit that being kosher, for the ethnic Russians of note who participated in the war is very likely, as is the possibility for them to have consumed it themselves and to have shared it with the burgers who fought with them. Still, with the Russian corps never being very large during the war, how big an impact could have been possible?

Reaching Far and Wide

Not just the Russians, but the people from the Balkans and Eastern Europe (such as Germany, Slovenia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenians) specialised in it and it was the Russians and East Europeans who brought this technology to America following World War One. There are records in Russia of even kolbasa being produced with fillers and extenders due to meat shortages in Russia (Russiaperia).

People from the Russian steppe and surrounding regions pioneered the use of meat extenders and supplements as emulsifiers and fillers which probably developed from their millennia-old soup technology. Fine emulsion sausages became important in America, after the war during severe meat shortages. In central Africa, the same sausage sold in South Africa as a Russian is called a Hungarian after the people who brought them the technology. They produce it minus the showpieces, but omitting these may be a later adaptation.

In Sausage Making – It is best not to be too Dogmatic

It is the Russian Mater Butcher and acclaimed chef, Petr Pakhomov, who taught me not to be too dogmatic when it comes to sausage recipes. These terms we would like to give very specific definitions to like Kolbasa, were often used as generic terms referring to a certain class of sausage. Different regions and countries used their own creativity to give their own interpretation of the sausage and used as ingredients, whatever was available and allowed in their community to be used. Petr is a great example of a man who continues to re-interpret tradition by coming up with new and creative ideas all the time. (Review of comminuted and cooked meat product properties from a sol, gel and polymer viewpoint)


It is probable that the popularizing of the South African sausage called a Russian was a gradual process that started when the first Jewish-Russian immigrants arrived at the Cape of Good Hope; made an appearance during the ABW and probably gained its greatest following on the South African goldfields.

The original sausage in South Africa, introduced by Russian immigrants, almost exclusively Jewish, could even back then have been made with soy and other gains included as was the tradition at some point in history. It certainly is the case today. The most widely used recipe in South Africa today contains almost exclusively chicken, beef or pork trim, some soy and a bit of starch, filled into either a hog casing or into a sheep or beef casing if religious rules preclude the use of pork. Some butchers may add some cooked pork rind to give flavour and body. It is always cooked by the butcher to at least 69 deg C and most butchers smoke it. In recent years, some butchers have opted for beef collagen casings but this remains challenging when you deep fry the Russian as is often done.

Further Reading

Review of comminuted and cooked meat product properties from a sol, gel and polymer viewpoint


Cripps, E. A. 2012. Provisioning Johannesburg, 1886 – 1906. Unisahttps://russiapedia.rt.com/of-russian-origin/kolbasa/#:~:text=Russian%20sausage,originally%20made%20of%20animal%20intestines.&text=The%20Russian%20word%20kolbasa%20as,in%20what%20is%20now%20Turkey

Davidson and Filatova, in their book, The Russians and the Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902. Also, see the online review of Davidson and Filatova.

Mavor, J. 1914. An Economic History of Russia.

Mendelsohn, R. 2019. Uprooted and uncompensated: the mistreatment of ‘Russian’ Jews by Perfidious Albion during and after the Anglo-Boer war

Russia’s Footprint on Africa

Review of comminuted and cooked meat product properties from a sol, gel and polymer viewpoint.

November 1992
R. A. LaBudde


Dr RA LaBudde does a great treatment of fine emulsions. There are of course many other excellent works on the subject but the language LaBudde used, I can understand!

I give the work of Dr LaBudde on the subject here in its entirety. It is important to remember that this is only one half of the equation. Meat processing is an art as much as it is a science. For the “art” we will feature the work of the Master Butcher from Saint Petersburg, from Russia, who gave the world fine meat emulsions, Petr Pakhomov.

The fact that we call the most famous fine emulsion sausage in South Africa, a Russian, comes from its Russian origin and was either introduced to South Africa by early immigrants or, more likely, by Russian volunteer who fought on the side of the Boers in the Anglo Boer War. Not just the Russians, but the people from the Balkans and Eastern Europe specialised in this and it was the Russians and East Europeans who brought this technology to America following World War One. People from the Russian steppe and surrounding regions pioneered the use of meat extenders and emulsifiers and fillers which probably developed from their milennia old soup technology. Fine emulsion sausages became important in America, after the war during sivere meat shortages. In central Africa the same sausage sold in South Africa as a Russian is called an Hungarian after the people who brough them the technology and traded it across the region. They produce it minus the showpieces and omitting these may be a later adaptation.

Petr Pakhomov is not just a Master Butcher, he is an artist and one of the best exponents of the art of fine meat emulsion. In a 2020 book he published on the subject, he writes: “This publication includes recipes for sausages from offal – an undervalued and rarely used raw material by sausages. On the counters of butcher shops there are hearts, liver, tongues – only these offal are well known to the townspeople and are in demand with them. The rumen, kidneys, brains, lungs, udders, properly prepared and cooked, are sometimes a discovery for people far from rural life. By-products allow you to create unusual in texture, very tasty, with a beautiful pattern on the cut, brawn, jellied, pate. A readily available and easy-to-use raw material is poultry meat. It serves as an excellent base for sausages and sausages, allowing you to play with taste thanks to the addition of various spice mixtures. The pale pink minced meat is a great backdrop for unusual cut patterns.”

“Of course, I have not ignored pork and beef products. My credo can be expressed by the words: “I paint with meat!” To make the sausage original, standing out on the counter among the usual – this task fascinates me. The appearance of the sausage product, the drawing on the cut should catch the eye of the buyer. Then comes the turn of consistency and taste, a successful combination of textures and spices.”

In this Petr strikes every single cord close to my hear and so, in celebration of his art and the science of Dr LaBudde I feature Petr’s work throughout the work of Dr LaBudde.


Comminuted and cooked meat products are viewed as water-plasticized, filled cell mixed-composite thermosetting plastic bio-polymer. This theoretical model is used to explain many factors influencing finished product quality attributes and to conjecture possible interactions between materials used in formulation. The relation between product texture and “bind” and “gel-strength” is described.


  1. Introduction
  2. Meat Process Control Concepts
  3. Meat Product Non-Chemical Properties
  4. Meat as a Polymer System
  5. Testing General Polymer Strength
  6. Testing Meat Product Gel Strength Properties
  7. Effects of Materials and Processing on Gel Strength
  8. Skin vs Bulk Strength
  9. Sensory Properties Influenced by Gel Strength
  10. Typical Lot-to-Lot Variation in a Frankfurter’s Texture

Exhibit 1: Process Control Logic
Exhibit 2: Force-Deformation Curve for Brittle Plastics
Exhibit 3: Force-Deformation Curve for Ductile Rubbers
Exhibit 4: Stress-Strain Relationship for Meats
Exhibit 5: Typical Lot-to-Lot Variation in Stress for a Frank

Appendix 1: Glossary
Appendix 2: Bibliography


Comminuted meat products include a wide range of consumable sausages: frankfurters, bologna, luncheon meats, smoked sausage, bratwursts, fresh sausage, ground meat, dry sausages and many others. We shall be principally concerned with cooked sausage which is intended to be bound together with some degree of strength in its manufacture. This is not intended to mean that this discussion is limited in applicability to these types of products, or even meat products in general, but to provide an example set of products for which the concepts described provide critical insight.

Most of the time we will be even more specific: the most frequent product examples used will be a frankfurter (cooked, fine-cut, eaten hot), a bologna (cooked, fine-cut, eaten cold) and a smoked sausage (cooked, ground, eaten hot). These particular products are sensitive to consumer perception of texture, represent a large volume of North American production and exemplify broad ranges of product categories.

Cooked sausage production of the frankfurter, bologna or smoked sausage types occurs in the following sequence of typical steps:

  1. The raw meats to be used are first ground to medium fineness. For lean meats (< 30% fat) this means to 3/16″ (5 mm) and for fat meats (> 30% fat) to 3/8″ (10 mm) or larger.
  2. The bulk of the meats used, together with 15% water and 2.5% salt and possibly sodium nitrite, are mixed together for 5 to 15 minutes at slow speed and dumped into vats.
  3. The “preblended” meats of Step 2 are left to age for 8 to 24 hours.
  4. A “final blend” is performed by mixing the “preblend” plus additional water together with sweeteners, spices and flavorings for 3 to 5 minutes.
  5. The “final blend” is dumped into an emulsification mill(s) or a fine grinder (< 1/8″ or 3mm).
  6. The fine-cut meat batter is stuffed into casings.
  7. The stuffed product is showered with liquid smoke and 2 – 4 % acetic acid.
  8. The product is cooked in a humidity and temperature controlled oven. A typical cook schedule might be: 30 min. @ 130 F (54 C), 30 min. @ 190 F (88 C). The humidity is low in the first stage, allowing the product to “shrink” and form a “skin”. The second stage will have a controlled humidity of at least 40% to promote rapid heat transfer. The product center temperature will be 160 to 170 F (71 to 77 C) leaving the oven.
  9. The cooked product is showered with cold water or brine for 15 to 30 minutes to bring its temperature to 35 F (2 C).
  10. The casings, if inedible, are removed by slitting and peeling.
  11. The product is packaged under vacuum or modified atmosphere.
    Cooked meat products are composed of a variety of basic substances: moisture, fat and protein (comprising some 94% of the weight), salts (2 – 3%) and carbohydrates (3 – 4%). The carbohydrates include starches, sugars and fiber. These constituents are the real raw materials used in making meat products: the raw meats are simply variable “preblends” of moisture, fat, protein, etc.


Process control is composed of five basic steps (see Exhibit 1):
1) Measurement,
2) Standards or Targets,
3) Comparison of Measured to Standards,
4) Plan of Action, and
5) Implementation of the Indicated Action.

Obviously no control will be exerted if no observations of the process output are made (“open loop”). Similarly, measurements by themselves would supply little value if there were not a desired target to compare to, and if this comparison is not made, the size, if any, of the correction needed would be indeterminate. A pre-defined plan of action is essential to avoid “human-in-the-loop” over- and under-correction. The selection of which, if any, corrective action is needed must be based on the objective size of the difference from targets or standards.

It is very important to realize that proper control requires not only the measurements of the process average and its deviation from target, but also the process variation and its deviation from its standard operating range. Only after the process variation is brought under control is the process average a meaningful quantity.

Process control on cooked sausage involves measurement of average values and variation on basic analytical, nutritional, microbiological and sensory properties.

Generally by government regulation or company-imposed standards, the moisture, fat, protein, salt and nutritional content (calories, type of fat, cholesterol, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates) and microbiological content of the product will be constrained to at least onesided limits.

Process planning and control on such analytical attributes is based on the following typical steps:

  1. Each raw material used (meats, flavorings, etc.) is characterized by laboratory analysis of successive lot samples. The frequency of sampling and accuracy of analysis is tailored to be sufficiently predictive without excess expense.
  2. Each product batch is formulated to obtain a desired target value on each attribute. The target is designed to provide protection against process and material variability causing the actual production lot value from violating the outgoing specification requirement.
  3. For easily measured attributes (moisture, fat, protein), a laboratory analysis of the production blend may be performed, and the error in target reduced by addition of “correction” materials in the final blend.
  4. Samples of production lots are taken as packaged and subjected to quality assurance testing to verify compliance with outgoing specifications.

In addition to analyte attribute control, consumer acceptance of a product requires sufficient consistency in certain sensory properties of the cooked sausage. The attributes of most importance include:

  1. Skin Texture
  2. Bulk Texture or “Bind”
  3. Skin Color
  4. Bulk Color
  5. Saltiness
  6. Sweetness
  7. Flavor (from spice, etc.)
  8. Purge loss
  9. Net Weight
  10. Shrinkage (Moisture loss in processing)

With the exception of net weight, these attributes are subject to only internally-imposed limits. Consequently the means of their control require development of methods not required or sponsored by regulatory organizations. The development of methods of measurement and control has therefore been left to company or university research and has lagged behind the other attributes non-specific to meat products.


The cooked sausage non-analytical properties mentioned above (texture, color, etc.), although not determinable by chemical analysis, are still important to monitor and control.

Skin texture is the chief component of the “bite” of a product. The skin is “tougher” than the product interior provides an initial “snap” during eating. Products with edible (natural or collagen) casings can be manufactured as tough as desired. Skinless products only retain a softer protein-based skin due to smoke, acid and initial oven treatments. A proper balance between skin and internal texture is necessary. Too tough a skin will create the sensation of a “mushy” interior, which may be squeezed out of the skin during biting. Too soft a skin will cause the product to be uniform in texture with little “snap”.

Skin color is principally determined by smoke and acid treatments, and secondarily by the initial oven stage (temperature and humidity) and meat pigment content. Skin color is of importance only in small diameter product, and its darkness is a matter of taste. In products where skin color is important, consistency from batch-to-batch and within-batch is the primary issue.

Bulk texture is the chief component of the “chew” or intermediate and final texture on eating. Too weak a bulk texture and the product will seem “mushy”, too tough and the product will seem “rubbery”. Bulk texture is of critical importance in sliced product, or product with special strength needs, such as corn dogs.

Similarly, bulk color is of importance only in sliced products. Bulk color is determined almost entirely by nitrite level, meat pigment content and the final cook stage time and temperature. Preblend holding time is also a factor.

Saltiness, sweetness and flavor are normally controlled by set addition levels of salt, sweeteners and flavorings in the blend. No measurement normally occurs, with the exception of routine taste tests.

Purge loss or “syneresis” is a serious issue in vacuum packaged products. Significant liquid in the package creates the impression of defective or spoiled product. This liquid is an inconvenience to the consumer (drainage from package after opening) and encourages bacterial growth. Purge loss in bulk-packaged products may cause container damage or contamination, and will affect the net weight per unit of the product at the time of use.

Net weight per package or per unit is a function of stuffing level, process shrink and purge loss. Variation in stuffing level or cook shrink will cause variation in the net weight at the time of packaging. Excessive net weight variation will directly increase product weight “giveaway”. Product used in further processing, such as “corn dogs”, may have problems meeting its final combined product labeling requirements.


Meat products have long been subject to mis-classification by researchers using inappropriate technical terms.

In the 1960’s and 1970’s the uncooked meat batter was described as an “emulsion” and the “emulsifying” properties of the meat proteins were thought to dominate the development of cooked product textural attributes. This led to flawed arguments regarding causal relationships between processing, materials used and final product properties.

From the late 1980’s to the 1990’s, researchers discarded the “emulsion” concept for a different viewpoint of a meat “sol” converting to a “gel” upon cooking. These terms are, however, still misnomers since “sol” and “gel” are applicable only to dilute (< 10%) colloidal dispersions.

Technically the uncooked meat mixture is a “paste”, not an “emulsion” or “sol”, since solids content is 40% or more. Upon cooking to a high enough temperature, the “paste” sets to hardened “plastic” material.

Because of these misclassifications, there is considerable confusion in the use of colloid science terms to describe meat systems. To avoid creating an entirely new vocabulary, we will use the current terminology of “gelling” or “gelation” synonymously for “setting” or “hardening”.

“Meat” is the protein-rich flesh of animals. For our purposes here, fish and poultry flesh are “meat”. As stated before, cooked sausage products are a mix of water, fat, protein, salts and carbohydrates gelled and set into a solid mass by the application of heat.

The principal functionality in forming the gelled and set mass comes from the long-chain proteins present and to a lesser extent from the long-chain carbohydrates (starches and gums). When the meat paste is heated above the set-point temperature, the long-chain molecules, supported in solution or at least hydrated by water, are forced to partially uncoil and form irreversiblez cross-linkages. The result is a three-dimensional crosslinked matrix which incorporates the water, fats, salts and fillers within its structure.

A simple paradigm for the mechanism involved is the hard-boiling of a common hen’s egg. The egg is initially liquid and is composed mostly of protein and water with a small amount of fat. When heat is applied above the “set-point” temperature, the protein unfolds and aggregates, forming the rubbery hard-boiled egg consistency. As is obvious, the water component is just as essential as the protein component: dried eggs do not hard boil! The water hydrates the protein molecules and allows mobility for unfolding and crosslinking.

The salts present in the water phase help ionically stabilize the unfolded protein molecules so that its structure can be more easily exposed. The function of salt may be easily seen by adding it to the water used to hard-boil an egg. If the shell is cracked so that a streamer of egg-white is forced out by internal pressure on heating, the presence of salt in the water will cause it to instantly coagulate and seal the crack.

To some extent fats also stabilize hydrophobic protein exposure. They also serve, with other water-insoluble components, simply to fill space and stiffen the protein matrix formed.

Starches and gums will hydrogen-bond and crosslink similar to proteins, and bind appreciable amounts of water. Generally the gelling temperature for such compounds is 90 C or higher, which is seldom obtained in meat processing. Non-gelling or insoluble carbohydrates principally act as mild water binders and matrix fillers. The strength of water-binding is moderate and due to capillary action and hydrogen-bonding, as opposed to irreversible crosslinking. The crystalline nature of a cooled starch gel results in a brittle texture which has little strength after fracture.

Non-meat proteins which are soy- or milk-based (soy flour, soy protein concentrate, soy protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate, casein) have gel-points of 90 C or more, and function similar to starches in hydrogen-bonding with water to form weak gels at low temperatures.

Since meat’s texture is due to its property of heat-induced long-chain gelling or setting, cooked meat is classifiable as a water-plasticized, filled-cell mixed-composite thermosetting plastic biopolymer.

The word “polymer” denotes long-chain macromolecules which are crosslinked, such as proteins or starches.

The word “plasticizer” indicates that water is the filling solvent that hydrates the polymer and supports its “plastic” behavior.

The word “mixed” denotes possible crosslinking between different polymers, such as different proteins or proteins and cross-linked gums or starches.

The “fillers” present in meat products are fat or insolubles: in rubber tires, it is the carbon that makes the rubber black. Fillers normally will “stiffen” a plastic or rubber, making it harder and less stretchable. Sometimes fillers are active (such as the carbon in rubber tires) and actually bind to the setting polymers present. In this case the filler may increase strength dramatically (ten times or more), and out of proportion to its relative presence on a formula basis.

Additional plasticizer will soften and make more stretchable the polymer matrix. Removal of plasticizer will make the plastic harder and more “brittle” (i.e., less stretchable).

Skin texture in casingless product is formed in a more complicated manner. The proteins are gelled not only through the heat of cooking, but also through the mechanisms of water loss (shrinkage), pH (acid rinse) and smoke application. Therefore only proteins and carbohydrates which gel under these conditions will reinforce “skin” formation. Other materials will in general weaken skin strength by dilution or formation of flaw points.


In order to understand the significance of tests performed on meat products, it is necessary to first review the mechanical strength principles of the general polymer system.

There is an extensive literature associated with the theory and testing of the mechanical strength or plastics, rubbers and composites. (See Appendix 2.)

The terminology of mechanical properties is vague and confusing, since it has developed to describe the results of very specific test techniques. Appendix 1 gives a glossary of definitions of most common terms.

A typical experiment consists of applying a changing force needed to maintain a constant rate of deformation of a test specimen of specific shape (cross-section and length). The fraction deformation in the direction of force is called the “strain” and the force per unit cross-sectional area is called the “stress”. In experiments where theory is not easily applied, the force and deformation are reported. Where geometry can be analyzed properly, the stress and strain are reported. Force is usually measured in Newtons (N) or kilograms-force (kgf). Deformation is reported as % change. Stress has units of Pascals (usually megapascals, MPa). Strain is dimensionless.

Tests may be performed by compressing, stretching (tension) or twisting (torsion) the specimen. For brittle materials, different strengths are obtained for each mode of testing. For ductile materials, the results from different modes are close.

Measurements of stress and strain for very small deformations allow characterization of the elastic properties of a material, chiefly the Modulus of Elasticity (compression/tension) or Rigidity (torsion).

Large deformations (more than a few %) lead to plastic behavior where the material starts to yield under stress. In this case the quantities of interest are the Maximum Stress and Strain at Maximum Stress. Most tests do not strain the material to more than 25% of its original length, because of unusually behavior occurring when the geometry undergoes large changes.

Viscoelastic and viscoplastic materials are sensitive to the strain rates used in testing: fast rates require higher stresses. As a consequence tests are done at an accepted or specified strain rate, or must be repeated at various strain rates.

Testing done on general polymers falls into three categories:

  1. ELASTIC TESTING: Done at low levels of deformation, usually by oscillatory stressing to determine dynamical properties of the modulus at various strain rates.
  2. FAILURE TESTING: Done at large levels of deformation, usually at a constant strain rate, until the specimen breaks. The reported values are Break Stress and Break Strain.
  3. MODULUS TESTING: Done at fixed levels of strain, such as 90% or 75% (greater than 75% is not recommended). The stress required to achieve this level of deformation is reported.

The dynamical Elastic Testing is normally done only in research. Failure testing is done in research, where usually the whole stress-strain curve is reported, or as an engineering test to quantify the strength at failure. Modulus testing is routinely used in quality control on polymers with important mechanical properties.

Exhibit 2 shows a typical stress-strain curve for a brittle material, such as concrete or styrofoam. Note that at a particular level of strain the material fractures suddenly and the stress required drops to zero.

Exhibit 3 shows a typical stress-strain curve for a ductile or rubbery material, such as polyurethane. Note that after a certain stress or strain occurs, the material starts to yield (become plastic) and the stress drops and appears to fail to a nearly constant value while the material creeps. Once a certain strain occurs, the material becomes harder again (all the “give” used up) and the stress increases to another maximum before the material breaks.

In both Exhibits 2 and 3 you will notice that the initial portions of the stress-strain curves are straight lines (with a slope of the Modulus): this is the Proportional Region. Before the material starts to yield in Exhibit 3, the material would return to nearly its original shape if the stress were removed: this is the Elastic Region. In the testing of rubber-like materials, it is not infrequent to find an absence of the linear Elastic Region. These materials “strain-harden” continuously to a new material whose Elastic Region is approached after noticeable elongation.

In order to specify the mechanical properties of a general plastic, it is usually sufficient to report the Modulus of Elasticity (compression), Modulus of Elasticity (tension), Modulus of Rigidity (shear) and Maximum Stress and Strain for each mode.


The importance of texture has led to a variety of measurement methods in the last three decades. They fall into the raw material and outgoing product test categories.


The dominant effect of meat salt-soluble proteins on the resulting texture of the product led in the 1960’s and 1970’s to the “Georgia Bind” test of Saffle and co-workers (see Appendix 2 for references).

This test involves the extraction of salt-soluble protein from raw meat samples in a standard way, and then determination of a relative functionality of this salt-soluble protein by an oilemulsification test. The amount of oil sustained in a blender at a particular speed for a particular (10 mg/ml) concentration of salt-soluble protein defines the functionality of that protein. Combining the two effects of % protein salt-solubility and oil-functionality gives the “Bind Constant” or “Bind Index” for the meat.

The “Bind Constants” determined are then used to formulate a product to a specified level of texture, usually specified as the average of

Bind Constant x Protein x 100 %

on a finished weight basis. The resulting “BIND” levels formulated to are typically 200 – 220 % FW for beef products, 180 – 190 for 30% beef and 30% pork products, and 170 – 180 for pork dominant products. Poultry products vary from limits set to 170 – 180 (similar to pork) for products formulated to tighter specifications, to 250+ for chicken franks that are low fat and not adjusted to maximum water content.

The “BIND” values for raw meats are seldom actually measured. Instead, the tabulated results of the Saffle workers are used, possibly adjusted for proximate analysis variations (via the QC Assistanttm of Least Cost Formulations). The presumption is that the “Bind Constants” for the actual meat lots are not too far from the tabulated values, particularly when adjusted for proximate analysis differences.

This “BIND” concept has worked fairly well in practice over the last two decades. Change of the formulated “BIND” of 10 to 15 units will usually result in a sensible change in texture. The standard deviation of measurement of the original “Bind Constants” was approximately 5 to 7%, about the same as the 10 to 15 units is to the 170 to 220 unit limit.

The principal difficulties with the “BIND” concept are:

  1. The concept is inapplicable to many fillers and binders.
  2. The test is not easily repeatable between laboratories because the methodology is sensitive to equipment used.
  3. The effects of processing are not considered and assumed constant.
  4. The effects of fat and moisture are not determinable, other than of dilution, and modern meat products have shifted from 30% fat to 10% fat and lower.

The Saffle “BIND” concept has, whatever its limits, revolutionized meat product formulation accuracy and has provided a basic solution to texture control in cooked sausage.


The few large meat companies which can afford pilot plants in their R & D facilities will usually also include a Universal Tester system (such as Instron, Chatillon or others).

These testers can perform vertical compression or tension tests at constant strain rates in a heavyduty test stand with a chuck to contain a test probe and a force gauge (of at least 1% full-scale accuracy) to measure the stress applied. The tester provide chart recorder output which indicates force vs time (which gives deformation via the constant strain rate) for the entire crosshead movement.

Because of the design of the machine and the properties of the meat samples being tested, usually a compression test is performed using either a cylindrical, flat probe of 5 to 12.5 mm diameter, or a spherical probe of 5 to 10 mm diameter. The spherical probe test with a 10 mm ball is routinely performed on all lots of surimi.

Universal Testing Machines cost from $5,000 to $20,000 or more, depending on features.

The most reliable compressive test is measurement of the peak force required to puncture the sample. As deformation occurs, the stress rises rapidly and linearly to a first maximum, then undergoes a complex pattern, followed by a second maximum and then failure. Unfortunately there is little consensus as to the shape of the probe (flat vs ball) or which point on the force vs deformation curve to use as the measurement. Some investigators report the first maximum, others the second. It appears that only the first maximum is a reliable predictor of the material properties, since the curve after initial puncture is subject to side friction. In addition, the test results are influenced by the rate of cross-head speed and the diameter of the probe used, all of which vary between investigators.

Other labs report the results of compression to a fixed deformation, such as 90% of height, 80% of height or 75% of height and sometimes even 50%. These tests are particularly difficult to reproduce, since these fixed deformations are not extrema in the force vs deformation curves but instead are on a side slope of rapid change. Consequently slight changes in mounting, deformation or material or cross-head speed may result in significantly different forces being measured.

In the best of circumstances, the precision of the measurement between replicates is 5 to 10%, chiefly due to the incomplete homogeneity of the meat product structure (4 to 6%) and its response to the compressive deformation. Tests are usually run on 5 to 10 replicates to average out within product and instrument variation.

Only the surimi industry has standardized the probe and cross-head speed for the compression test to failure: a 10 mm diameter spherical ball. No standard of any time seems to exist for this type of test in the meat industry.

Because of the inability to apply theory to the complex deformations and unknown contact surfaces involved in the vertical compression test, the results are normally reported as force and deformation rather than stress and strain. A nominal stress of doubtful validity could be obtained by dividing the flat and spherical probe forces by p r2.


A recent and increasingly popular method of meat product texture measurement is the torsional “gelometer” developed by Lanier and Hamann at North Carolina State University (see Appendix 2 for references).

This system twists a standard hourglass-shaped specimen at a constant angular rate (2.5 rpm = 15 degrees/s) until it fails. The entire stress-strain curve is available, with the maximum stress and strain reported.

The specimen is cut to a standard length (about 20 mm) and plastic plates are glued to each end.

The standard hourglass shape is obtained by chipping a specimen to shape using a special knifetoothed lathe wheel. The sample is necked to 10 mm + 0.2 mm.

The specimen in mounted in a specially modified Brookfield viscometer with a 1% full-scale accuracy digital head. The specimen is rotated by turning the top plastic plate while the bottom plate is held fixed.

This test is relatively well-designed, with the geometry of the specimen chosen to be amenable to theoretical analysis. The force and rotational deformation are easily converted to nominal stress and true strain by the application of formulas incorporating the specimen geometry, rotational speed and effect of twisting.

The stress and strain measured in the NCSU torsional gelometer are statistically independent measurables. The reproducibility of strain is about 4 to 6% standard deviation, and of stress about 5 to 10%. The stress error is inflated by the 5% typical instrument error at the 20% of fullscale encountered on meat products. From 5 to 20 replicates are usually run to average out between specimen and instrument errors.

Because of its sound theoretical basis, the NCSU gelometer is the instrument of choice for research, providing a detailed stress-strain curve for each test. It is, however, much more laborintensive than other test methods, due to milling of the specimen.

The NCSU torsional gelometer is available at a cost of about $15,000 from Drs. Lanier and Hamann (Gel Technology, Raleigh, NC).


Cooked meat products, such as frankfurters or bologna, are, as mentioned before, filled cellular plastics where a three-dimensional cross-linked protein structure encapsulates water, fat and fillers.

Time of chopping or mastication will affect final strength, due to development of active ends of severed protein molecules. In addition chopping reduces fat particle size, breaks the containing fat cell layers, and melts fat droplets allowing surface smearing to take place.

Because meat products are composed of protein macromolecules which retain some alignment of the direction of stuffing, they exhibit “anisotropy” or directionality of strength. The stress and strain to failure will in general differ longitudinally and laterally to the stuffing axis. The effect of stuffing is to pre-stress and pre-strain the product in the direction of stuffing, reducing the longitudinal strain possible and stiffening the gel.

As a product ages in the package after production, it will gradually relax the embedded strain which has been “cooked” into the gel, increasing the strain and decreasing the stress needed for failure.

Filled composites generally exhibit increased strength in compression and decreased strength in tension. Consequently it would generally be expected that adding inert or insoluble materials (and displacing moisture) will stiffen the structure to compression and lower the strain needed for failure. However both stress and strain would be lowered in tension.

As a consequence, adding such fillers not bound to the stronger protein structure would be expected to lower skin strength, where the test condition is perpendicular to the skin, resulting in failure by shear or tension. Such fillers include non-gelling proteins, fats and carbohydrates.

Since moisture functions as a plasticizer, increasing moisture content would imply increased ability to strain, and a softer product (due to displacement of non-liquid ingredients).

Strength and strain at failure will be directly related to protein content: under ideal circumstances proportional to the active protein.

The effect of moisture loss through shrinkage is twofold: a drop in the plasticizer percentage and an increase in the percentage of other materials, including protein. Consequently the strength of a “shrunk” product will be larger than that of the “unshrunk” product by at least the percentage shrink [ 1/(1-s) ], and the strain to failure lower by approximately the shrink [ 1-s ].

Fillers with high water-holding capacity will effectively de-plasticize the system, resulting in ower strains to failure and higher stresses.

The time and temperature the product is cooked at will have a modest influence on the gel strength. Product cooked to 5 C or 10 C higher temperature or for 10 minutes longer will generally gel more fully, resulting in both increased stress and strain at failure. Since the gel process is analogous to the microbiological “kill” effect of cooking (bacteria are proteins too!), it is easy to see that cooking has a natural completion, where nearly 100% conversion occurs. Therefore very short cook cycles the lowest final temperatures will exhibit the greatest sensitivity to these variables.

The effects of salt level are to shift the pH sensitivity of the proteins and stabilize functional groups to the surrounding water. Higher salt levels generally will increase strength due to greater protein mechanical extraction, greater unfolding (resulting in increased cross-linkages) and lower the gel point temperature (resulting in more complete gelling in the cook cycle).

The effects of phosphate or lactate include:

1) increase in ionic strength (salt effect),

2) increase in pH and

3) special interactions to stabilize unfolded proteins.

Skin formation is generally due only to the meat myofibrillar proteins. The higher shrink losses from the skin areas mean the structure is pre-strained and stressed. Displacement of the moisture plasticizer by any non-bonding materials will generally decrease the strain to failure, making the skin more brittle. Since the skin properties of interest are normally tensile or shear strengths, such fillers will generally also decrease the skin strength, or at best leave it unchanged.

The mechanism for meat product deformation of 100% to 150% before failure is due to the protein chain length. The long protein molecules may be visualized as springy coils which are crosslinked to neighboring coils in random patterns. When strain occurs in a specific direction, the protein molecules uncoil into a more linear conformation. This requires free space (solvated by plasticizer) and mobility to accomplish. Clearly there is only so much “uncoiling” that can occur: if pre-stretching is accomplished by volume compression due to cook shrink or by stuffing distortion, less deformation will be available during testing or eating.

The protein content of cooked meat products is usually between 10 and 20% of the composition, or a minor constituent compared to moisture and fat. Consequently the stress and strain observed for a product will increase at least linearly with protein, and quadratically for low levels of protein.

Collagen protein contracts by 10% or more upon reaching its gel-point of 60 C, and therefore has the effect of straining the entire thermoset product.

Fat generally expands by 10% or more upon melting, and therefore stresses and strains the product before complete setting has taken place. It is essential that the fat droplets be coated with a closed-cell protein structure or embedded in a strainable gel to protect the structure against fracture by fat expansion with concomitant leakage of liquid fat along these fractures to relieve the stress imposed.

It is an interesting fact that most cooked muscle foods exhibit a modulus of rigidity between 10 and 20 kPa (see Exhibit 4).

The ultimate stress needed for a particular product will change substantially with the temperature at time of test. The viscosity of the fat present will change markedly below room temperature as the fat congeals and becomes crystalline. The stress needed at 35 F may be twice that at 70 F. The ultimate stress above room temperature should drop at least linearly with increasing temperature up to the gel-point at a rate of 0.1 – 0.3% per degree C.


As mentioned in the last sections, there is a fundamental difference in the mechanical properties of interest of the skin and of the bulk product:

  1. PROCESSING: Skin properties are primarily and directly affected by processing steps such as smoke treatment, acid treatment and early cook stages. Bulk properties are, however, primarily affected only by the final cook stage.
  2. TENSION vs COMPRESSION: The skin is bitten through perpendicular to its surface, so strength in tension and shear are the quantities of interest. The bulk interior is masticated by chewing, which means that strength in compression and shear are the quantities of interest.
  3. FILLERS: Fillers, such as fats, carbohydrates, non-meat proteins, etc., generally will decrease skin strength, even though the meat protein level stays the same, but will generally increase the bulk strength, even if the moisture level is unchanged.
  4. MECHANICAL SUPPORT: Testing of specimens for skin strength involve imposition of perpendicular loads to a thin layer, drawing upon mechanical support from the product surface large distances away. On the other hand, bulk compression or shearing remains local, so long as the test probe used is small in invasive volume. As a consequence, independent measures of skin strength and bulk strength should be made.


The “+” in the above table indicates the parameter is positively highly correlated with the factor (e.g., increasing maximum stress increases hardness). A “-” indicates the parameter is negatively correlated with the factor (e.g., increasing maximum stress lowers ease-of-swallow). No entry in the table indicates no significant direct correlation.

As mentioned before, skin and bulk texture need to be considered separately. A “good” frank, for example, should have enough skin strength to provide a noticeable “snap”, but not so strong that it is difficult to bite or so that the frank “bursts” on eating. The bulk texture should be strong enough to be “chewy”, but not so strong as to appear “rubbery”. Some markets (e.g., Far East) or some products (e.g., canned Vienna sausage) may require a “mushier” product standard than North American franks.


Exhibit 5 shows an actual record the ultimate stress (as determined by the NCSU torsional gelometer) of successive batches of a frankfurter over days of production.