Chapter 17.05: Finally – Bacon, the Superfood

Introduction to Bacon & the Art of Living

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steps Towards a Superfood

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

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

Plant Based Sourced on Nitrate

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

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

Phenols with Antioxidant Properties

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

An Ever-Evolving Science and Art

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

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

The Lost Tradition of Plant Curing

Why did I give the Plant Based Sourced on Nitrate and the Phenols with Antioxidant Properties above? Why did I give the Plant-Based Reduction of NO2 to NO in the previous chapter? So that we can create, not something new, but a very old tradition of fusing meat and plants.

I have been studying the history of meat curing and ham/ bacon processing for a very long time. Over the years I looked at the use of saltpetre and the older curing salt from antiquity, sal ammoniac. I considered long-term salt curing. I searched the world for natural nitrite and sal ammoniac deposits and scratched around in remote parts of the globe for signs of an ancient meat-curing culture.

You see, the food we eat is not always the thing that makes the headlines or what historians love writing about. Yet, the precise nature of recipes and the uninterrupted mother-to-children transmission of culinary history, the way that the food we grew up with sticks and transmits our culture and becomes as important to us as our language makes food and recipes one of our best glimpses into the past, even to a time when writing did not exist or was not universally known.

I started to suspect that nitrate curing of meat from plant matter played just as important a role in establishing meat curing as nitrate and ammonia salts. The subject was so vast and so many clues came to me from so many angles over so many years that I was uncertain where to start the story. The task was daunting!

In Lagos, I met Doğan Genç and Ayhan Yilmaz from Turkey on a business trip from the ancient city of Bursa, on behalf of their refrigeration company, Kaplanar. Unknown to them, the one morning they spent with me in a small boardroom at Spar Head Office in Nigeria would be the event that gave me the courage to dive into the subject. They introduced me to an ancient Turkish dish, Pastrma or Salt Cured Beef. It has a rich and relevant history. It became the point where I take a deep breath and launch into the subject of the ancient origins of the plant curing of meat! Let’s begin the story by looking at the history of Pastrima and immediately branching out to the general geographical and important region of the Black Sea and another famous method of curing meat, namely with horse sweat!

History of Pastırma

Pastirma from THE HISTORY OF BASTA by Mustafa CINGIL

“The nomad Turks of Central Asia have developed many methods to preserve their surplus food. Some of these methods and the foodstuff discovered based on these methods have survived until the current times. “Pastırma” the salt-cured, air-dried beef is one of these foodstuffs that is inherited from the Central Asian Turks.” (TFC)

Cingil (2019) reports that the Turks used an area’s suitability for drying meat as a criterion for settlement. They would hang meat in a tree and observe how long it takes to dry or if it decays. If it remains in good condition for a long time, they will settle there. It is reported that Emir Timur selected Samarkand using this method.

“The Turkic tribes, who lived in the steps of Central Asia, before 11th Century A.D., have salted and air-dried their leftover meats to preserve them. Due to their nomadic nature, the dried meat was stored in leather bags and consumed, as necessary.” Weber Baldamus, in his world history book, mentions an unusual method of treating meat, based on the information obtained from Amiadus of Antioch” or Amiadus of Antakya who lived between 273-375. He writes, “Hun Turks eat dried meat and the meat that they crushed between the horse’s saddle and calf, along with fresh game animals, together with various herbs.” (Cingil, 2019) According to Cingil (2019), this is also the earliest reference to pastirma.

Jean, sire de Joinville, the great chronicler of medieval France who wrote in the 1200s, mentions “steak tartare” as “a Mongol culinary technique of placing the steak between the saddle and the saddle blanket, and eaten raw once all the blood has been beaten out.” (Turnbull, 2003) This is a famous Western reference and one that people love to use to show that de Joinville probably got the report wrong, but after a thorough investigation of the matter I believe the critics got it wrong and not de Joinville.

TFC is one of the authors who dispute the factualness of these claims. He contends that “the Huns actually stored the meats in the pockets found on the saddles. Therefore, the meat never touched the body of the horse.” He refers to the old sources of the Huns as per the Hungarian National Museum. (TFC) I see no contradiction between these sources. The meat could have been stored in the saddlebags as per the Hungarian National Museum and some riders may have chosen to place them between the saddle cloth and the saddle as described by Jea, sire de Joinville and Amiadus. The next reference comes to us in the 1600s.

Władysław Łoś, responded to a question about placing the meat between the saddle cloth and the saddle in an online forum by pointing out that the story was again popularised in the 17th century, “by a certain Guillaume Le Vasseur de Beauplan, a French military engineer in service of Poland, author of the book “Description des contrés du Royaume de Pologne” (“Description of the countries of the Polish Kingdom”). He repeated the Joinvilles story but this time his reference is to contemporaneous Tatar horsemen in the service of the Polish military.” He points out that the Tatars in question were not Mongols, but a Turkish tribe.

That this experience repeated itself in other parts of the world during different times is clear from history. Using the sweat of horses to cure meat, intentionally or unintentionally was practised by the Boers in South Africa. I refer to this in my article, Saltpeter, Horse Sweat, and Biltong where I explore the chemistry of sweat and the reaction with the meat and refer to the word we use on South African farms to this day in reference to the white sweat of horses as “saltpetre,” the enigmatic salt of antiquity used to cure meat and as a key ingredient in gunpowder. Saltpetre is potassium nitrate, today used in long-term curing.

Ancient Meat Preservation

When one talks about ancient culinary processes, it is important to understand that the human view of bodily excretions in antiquity was vastly different from the current views. Anything generated by the body, including animals, was viewed as very special and endowed with powers, useful for humans. I refer to my article, How did Ancient Humans Preserve Food? Levine (1999), in her work on the origins of horse domestication, presented “some results from an ongoing ethnoarchaeological study of equine pastoralism on the Eurasian steppe. The data have arisen principally in the course of five interviews, conducted between 1989 and 1992, with people involved with horse husbandry in Mongolia and northern Kazakhstan in the recent past or present.”

She writes that “The horse is used extensively in Kazakh folk medicine (Toktabaev 1992). Horse fat, excrement, bone, hair, liver, kidney, and stomach are used in the treatment of many ailments. . . Back problems were treated by wrapping the sufferer in a fresh horse skin.” Importantly for our study, she says that horse sweat had a very specific medicinal value. “Horse sweat is said to cure gastric diseases, ulcers, typhoid fever, plague, fever, and cancer of the gullet.” The medicinal usage probably followed the discovery of its effect on the meat and the subsequent ingestion of it. Levine, writing on the general usefulness of the horse makes the same point about sweat again when she writes, “The horse can move rapidly and easily long distances over hard ground, providing its owners with both mobility (riding, packing, traction) and nourishment (milk, meat, fat). Other products, such as bone, hoof, hair, hide, excrement, and even sweat, are also valued, for example, as fuel, raw materials for the fabrication of tools, utensils, musical instruments, and other objects, and for medicinal purposes.”

The point is that using sweat to cure meat is not farfetched. I had a suspicion for a long time that urine and sweat had both been used in antiquity in meat preservation and from food, it entered medicinal use and gained religious value. The only way that meat can be cured is through access to nitrate or nitrite. It required nitrogen. Reduction takes place through bacteria from nitrates to nitrites and chemically from nitrites to nitric oxide which is the species responsible for linking up with the hem moiety on the meat protein and which then produces the cured colour of cured meat. The controlling mechanism of the entire process is one of reduction.

The only other way it can happen is through the oxidation of l-arginine by nitric oxide synthase from the amino acid and in human cells. This requires time and the right conditions as far as temperature is concerned and metabolic water as we see in long term dry ageing of hams and bacon. Where reduction is easily managed, isolating, and harvesting oxidation enzymes are prohibitively expensive. The only way it can be done economically is through time and using what is already in the muscle. There should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that the basic curing reaction of accessing one nitrogen atom and one oxygen atom to form NO is the basis of curing. Without it, curing is not possible and what you have at best is salted meat.

Medical, Culinary, Religious and Military Value of Nitrogen

Nitrogen was accessed for medical, culinary, religious and military uses from antiquity through Saltpeter (nitrate salts). I have written extensively about this and refer you to Nitrate salt’s epic journey: From Turfan in China, through Nepal to North India.

My initial focus was on nitrate salts found in desert areas and in certain caves. I discovered the two curing salts of choice for ancient people ammonium nitrate (sal ammoniac) (The Sal Ammoniac Project) and the various nitrate salts. Later, humans mastered the art of producing saltpetre as it became important in the ancient world’s arms race with its key role in gunpowder.

Ray, talking about the arrival of saltpetre production technology in India, says that “the manufacture of nitre was. . . most probably introduced into India after the adoption of gunpowder as an implement of war.”  (Ray, P. C., 1902: 99 – 100)  According to Frey, the watershed time for India between the age of the blade and the age of the gun came in the early sixteenth century.

The area of the world where we are focussing on Turkey to the south of the Black Sea and across the Caucuses mountains into modern-day Russia and Mongolia yields ample historical records of the importance of these salts. Frey states that “it is likely that Mongols who introduced the making of fireworks to India in the mid-thirteenth century. We know almost nothing about saltpetre production during this early period, but technical expertise apparently diffused with the adoption of rocketry and eventually artillery by Indian rulers in the fourteenth century. The break-up of the Delhi Sultanate, the rise of regional states, and the growing presence of Turkish mercenaries in India may be linked to the establishment of regular saltpetre production and the adoption and use of gunpowder weapons.”  (Frey, J. W.; 2009: 512)

It speaks to the sophistication of Mongal and Turkish technology related to nitrate production.  In Arabic, saltpetre (nitrate salt) was referred to as Chinese snow, for, according to Needham, it was recognised and used in China long before anywhere else. “The oldest extant Arabic mention is in the Kitiib al-Jiimi’ fi al-Adwiya al-Mufrilda (Book of the Assembly of Medical Simples) finished by Abti Muhammad al-Mllaqi Ibn al-Baitarg about 1240 AD. Others follow shortly after.  (Needham, J.. 1980:  193, 194)

The use of saltpetre (nitrate salts) in meat curing grew hand in hand with the availability of saltpetre in a region. At first nitrate deposits were limited to desert areas and certain caves. One of the earliest examples of this is the Turfan depression due to the enormous natural nitrate deposits that are found on the top layer of the soil. Refer to Salt – 7000 years of meat-curing, Nitrate Salts Epic Journey:  From Turfan in China, through Nepal to North India and And then the mummies spoke!

As my investigations into the ancient origins of meat curing continued, I discovered the link between sea travel and nitrite curing. Sea travel is a great example of an activity that necessitated storing food for a long time. In keeping with the ancient practice of storing meat in water, they most probably used seawater. Dr Francois Mellett, a renowned South African meat scientist, shared a theory with me related to the curing of meat stored in seawater. He writes, “I have a theory that curing started even earlier by early seafarers: when a protein is placed in seawater, the surface amino acids are de-aminated to form nitrite for a period of 4 to 6 weeks. Nitrite is then converted to nitrate over the next 4 weeks. Finally, ammonia and ammonia are formed from nitrate. It is possible that they preserved meat in seawater barrels and that the whole process of curing was discovered accidentally.” I applied Mellett’s logic to coastal communities when I discovered the importance of meat storage in seawater by ancient coastal settlements and small groups migrating along the coastal regions of the world.

Of course, I saw horse domestication as another event, which, like seafaring, would necessitate the long-term storage of meat.

Linking Meat Curing with Horse Domestication

I have known that curing would be intimately associated with the domestication of horses for a long time. I started to research the people who lived in the region where horses were domesticated. I looked at the Scythians (Research Notes on the Scythians). Horse domestication I dealt with in The Turfan Depression links with the Black Sea Region.

East of the Dnieper River within the Don and Volga basins, on the Western Front of what later would be occupied by the Scythians, between 4600 and 4200 years ago, a dominant genetic horse population appeared which replaced the wild horses that roamed Eurasia for millennia.

No sooner did I discover this, and I found myself delving through old records about the Caucasus, or Caucasia, a region spanning Europe and Asia to understand the nature of their nitrate (saltpetre) deposits. Why? Because it is linked with the origins of the art of meat curing which I suspect happened in this region and to the north of it which again is linked to Turfan, the area I first suspected as the site where meat curing became an art, but the lack of solid evidence of a long meat curing tradition from old records from the Turfan area made me suspect that they only used it at a major source for Saltpeter and Sal Ammoniac, the primary two curing salts from antiquity. These were traded along the silk road that ran into Europe. The creation of a meat-curing tradition happened somewhere else.

Why the link between the Caucasus and meat curing? Because my suspicion is that meat curing was transformed into an art (practices on large scale according to set principles and procedures) in an area where the horse was domesticated because no other event would have given rise more to the need for this than the domestication of the horse (other than sea voyages). As the exploration of vast distances and military exploits became possible, following horse domestication, the need would have existed to carry food along on these campaigns and since we know the Scythians were more than likely involved in the domestication of the horse (or the ancestors of what became the Scythian people), we know that animal protein (dairy and meat) was a major part of their diet.

> The Caucasus

I begin my investigation at the southern edge of the area where horse domestication took place.

Archaeological and geological records from the Caucasus are very sparse, to say the least, but it is the one region, adjacent to the site of horse domestication natural nitrate deposits occur. From there my interest in it. Well, my interest is in the entire Don and Volga basins regions (mostly, present-day Russia) between 2000 BCE and 2200 BCE. I begin in the south and will work my way north.

So, what am I looking for in the Caucasus mountains? Saltpetre and any other clue to develop the ancient picture for me.

I came across this fascinating book by McCulloch, John Ramsy. (1845) M’Culloch’s Universal Gazetteer: A Dictionary, Geographical, Statistical, and Historical, of the Various Countries, Places, and Principal Natural Objects in the World.

> Minerals

About minerals found in the Caucus mountains, McCulloch writes, “Iron, Copper, Saltpetre, sulfur, and lead are found, the last in tolerable large quantities. Salt is almost wholly wanting.” So, a little bit of saltpetre, which explains importing it from Turfan. No salt – very interesting! It was plentiful in the Don and Volga basins. . . more on this later!

> Vegetation

I add a section of what I will be looking for in the Don and Volga basins region namely vegetables. About this McCulloch writes: “In amount and variety of vegetation the Caucasian regions seem to be unrivalled. Chardin, writing in 1692, says, ‘Mount Caucasus, till ye come to the very top of it is extremely fruitful,’ and Spencer in 1838 says, ‘However high the ascent, we see luxuriant vegetation mingling even with the snow of centuries.’ Nearly every tree, shrub, fruit, grain, and flower found from the limit of the temperature zone to the pole is native to or may be raised in the Caucuses. The Northern bases consist of arable land of excellent quality, meadows of the finest grass and dwarf wood in great abundance.” He continues to describe the quality of the soul in the regions to the south, east and west in equal lofty terms.

> Fruits, Vegetables, Grains

He continues, “Among the standard fruits are found the date palm, the jujube, quince, cherry, olive, wild apricot and willow leaved pear. Pomegranates, figs, and mulberries grow wild in all the warmer valleys and vines twine around the standard trees to a very great elevation up the mountains. . . . In addition to the vine, the other climbing plants are innumerable, which, mixing with the standards, the bramble fruits (raspberries, blackberries &c,) and other dwarf woods form a density of vegetation which is impossible to penetrate, unless a passage be hewn with the hatchet. Rye, barley, oats, wheat, millet are abundantly raised, even as high as 7500 ft. above the sea, and besides these grains, the warmer plains and valleys produce flowers of every scent and dye, cotton, rice, flax, hemp, tobacco, and indigo, with every variety of cucumber and melon.”

McCulloch quotes several texts to prove that the list just given is only a small sample of what is available from these regions, in particular from Georgia.

The list given is extremely important because it feeds into something I’ve picked up from the geological record of the territory occupied by the Scythians, especially the region where horse domestication took place in other research. A picture is forming that may alter our traditional view of the trajectory of the art of meat curing dramatically but patience is called for. Lots of investigation must be done across vast regions before I can venture to put the final picture together. If what I suspect happened is true, it will be truly revolutionary, but let the data form the picture.

The one sentence that caught my eye will follow. It’s under his treatment of the animals which are as innumerable as the plants. The detail is not as important as the list of plants and I understand that his lists of plants go back probably to the earliest, to the 1600s. It does not give us a list of what was there in 2000 BCE, but we will get there. The picture is, however, that most mentioned here were indigenous to the area and grew wild.

> Cattle

The first important comment relates to cattle. He writes, “This is also home of wild cattle; the large species (the Aurochs) being found in the forests; while of the domesticated kinds, the varieties are numerous and serviceable.” I wish I could have seen the aurochs!

> Horses

This is the actual point I want to make here following on the identification of the exact location where horse domestication took place through DNA research. He writes the following of the horse which we know has been domesticated in the region directly adjacent and to the north!”The horses of the Caucasus have been famous from very high antiquity, the Bechtag mountains having been formerly called Hippicon (ἱππικόν) from the number of these animals which were grazed upon its side (Ptolemy, v., 9). They are not less numerous in the present day and are among the very finest varieties of the species.”

These horses were indeed famed throughout the ancient world, and it stands to reason that he is describing none other the descendants of the earliest domesticated horses, referring to their excellence based on the superior qualities they had for the horseman. In other words, domesticated horses but further refined through selective breeding.

I find it absolutely fascinating that what DNA research in 2021 established could have been accurately predicted based on a careful reading of these old texts. That the region had superior technology related to horse husbandry and breeding cannot be disputed and I am sure that the process which started domestication did not stop. They continued their selective breeding, no doubt! The technology that brought the events about in the 2000s BCE kept producing superior animals and it is fascinating that the traditions continued from 2000 BCE into the 1800s A.D.. It is therefore not far-fetched at all to expect meat curing to be still practised at a superior level in regions where it originated. Of course, I can imagine events that could wipe such traditions out, but as a very broad general rule of thumb, I can see how a deeper understanding of curing in a region would point to an older tradition.

> The Nations of the Caucuses

There is probably no other part of the world, except Africa, S. of the Sahara, where so many nations and languages are collected within so small a space as in the Caucasus. Guldenstadt gives a list of seven different nations, besides Tartars, who speak languages radically different, and who are again subdivided into almost innumerable tribes, among whom the varieties of dialect are nearly infinite. The principal nations he thus enumerates

1. Georgians;

2. Basians;

3. Abchasians;

4. Tcherkessians;

5. Oketiens;

6. Kistiens;

7. Lesghians;

8. Tartars.

(Reise, i., 458 – 495.)

Of these the most numerous and important are the Georgians and Circassians or Tcherkessians; but the Abchasians and Okesians, called by Pallas and Klaproth Abassians and Osetians, are also powerful tribes. In habits and manners, a strong resemblance is observed among them all; they are usually wandering hunters and warriors, for which occupations their country is peculiarly fitted, and only in inferior degree shepherds or agriculturists. A partial exception must, however, be made to this general character in favour of the Georgians, who reside in towns, and have long possessed a fixed form of government and internal polity; but for the rest, they appear to possess the erratic disposition, reckless courage, boundless hospitality, and much of the predatory habits which mark the Arab and other half barbarous people. (See CIRCASSIA, GEORGIA, &c.) It is well known that Blumenbach looked here for the origin of his first and most intellectual race of men (the Caucasian); but for this, as already stated (anté 177). there is not a particle of evidence historical or philological. The Caucasians though surrounded by the means of improvement, and occupy a country more favourably situated than that of Switzerland, have made no progress either in arts or arms; and continue to this day the same unlettered barbarians as in the day of Herodotus. (Clio, 203.) They have fine physical forms, but their mental endowments are of the most inferior description.”

Next, he describes the nations living in these regions and their technology related to warfare.

Meat Preservation with Fruits and Vegetables

I found that all the nations around the Black Sea have long and ancient meat-curing traditions. Georgie, Azerbaijan, Moldovia, Romania, Bulgaria, and of course, Turkey. In fact, we began with Doğan Genç and Ayhan Yilmaz from Kaplanar visiting Lagos and alerting me to the existence of Pastirma. Unknowing to them, it would provide the crucial link I long suspected that ancients not only cured their meat with the sweat of horses and nitrate and sal ammonia salts from desert regions but more importantly with plants!

It is, therefore, from Turkey that the rest of the story comes. The traditions of curing meat with plant matter are generally from Central Asia. The dish that unlocked the plant-based curing techniques for me is partirma.

TFC writes that “the oldest meat preservation method is to salt and air-dry the meat in the sun. Different cultures of the world have different meat preservation methods. The method used to make “pastırma” is invented by the Central Asian Turks, and it is the forerunner of today’s “pastırma”, a term which literally means ‘being pressed’ in Turkish.” (TFC)

“Looking into the old scripts, such as “Divan-ü Lügat-it Türk”, the first Turkish- Arabic dictionary written by Mahmoud al-Kashgari, the word “pastırma” was not used. Instead “basturmak” was used, which means to place something under a very heavy object. In the Turkish language used by the Central Asian Turks, there were other words such as “kedhirilmek” or “kakaç” used which means dried meat, and the word “kak” was used for everything dried.” (TFC)

“Based on the information from “Divan-ü Lügat-it Türk,” during autumn, meat would be mixed with some spices, dried and stored until spring. During spring the animals would lose weight and their meat becomes flavourless. Therefore, those who have stored up some “pastırma” would have access to good tasty meat.” (TFC)

Anatolia, also known as Asia Minor, is a large peninsula in Western Asia and the westernmost protrusion of the Asian continent. It constitutes a major part of modern-day Turkey. “Arrival of “pastırma” in Anatolia was especially well received in the city of Kayseri. The 17th-century Turkish traveller Evliya Çelebi, praised “pastırma” of Kayseri in his Book of Travels, and Kayseri “pastırma” is still regarded as the finest of all. Although there are several other cities that are known to make “pastırma,” Kayseri is the only one that is associated with this delicacy. Due to the fact that it is an important trade that passes from generation to generation, the climate of Kayseri and the high amounts of nitrate found in the city water also play a very important role in this matter.” (TFC)

“Good quality “pastırma” is a delicacy with a wonderful flavor. Although “pastırma” can also be made with mutton or goat’s meat, beef is preferred. During the Ottoman period, although they almost always consumed lamb in their dishes, when making “pastırma” beef was the meat of choice.” (TFC) 

Making of Pastırma

“Cattle, mainly from the eastern province of Kars, are brought to Kayseri, where they are slaughtered, and the meat made into “pastırma” at factories found on the northwest of the city. The different cuts of meat produce different types of “pastırma.” There are 19 to 26 varieties depending on the size of the animal. Extra fine qualities are those made from tenderloin and loin; fine qualities are made from cuts like the shank, leg, tranche and shoulder; and low quality from the leg, brisket, flank, neck and similar cuts. The many tons of “pastırma” produced in Kayseri are almost all sold for domestic consumption all over Turkey.” (TFC)

“The ideal season for making “pastırma” in autumn. The season starts by mid-September and continues until the end of autumn. This weather presents qualities such as; sunny and clear skies, low humidity and mild wind that are ideal conditions for drying and maturing.  The “pastırma” making process consists of 5 stages that are; procurement of the animals, preparation of the meat, processing of meat, coating and packaging.” (TFC)

“The making of “pastırma” lasts for about a month. The freshly slaughtered meat rests at room temperature for 4-8 hours before being cut into pieces suitable for making “pastırma.” The meat is slashed and salted on one side, stacked, and left for 24 hours to rest. The same process is done to the other side. After the second 24 hour period, meat slabs are rinsed with plenty of water to remove the excess salt, and left to dry outdoors for a period varying between 3 to 10 days, depending on the weather. After some further processing, the meat is hung up to dry again, this time in the shade and spaced out so that they do not touch one another. After 3 to 6 days, they are covered with a paste known as “çemen” paste.  “Çemen” is composed of fenugreek seed flour, garlic and powdered red chilli pepper and water to form a paste. This paste covering the slabs of “pastırma” plays an important role in the flavour, and protects the meat from drying and spoiling by cutting its contact with air. The excess “çemen” is removed, leaving a thin layer, and left to dry again. Finally “pastırma” is ready for consumption.” (TFC)

“When buying “pastırma”, make sure that it has a bright red hue, and cut very thinly with a cleaver. “Pastırma” can be consumed freshly on its own, or cooked with eggs, tomatoes, inside the white bean stew or “börek” (the savoury pastry). In the Anatolian region of Turkey it is also added to bulghur rice pilaf and sometimes in stuffed grape leaves.” (TFC)

“In conclusion “pastırma” is an important culinary legacy from the Turkish forefathers and a delicious delicacy that adds a depth of flavour to any type of food it’s combined with.” (TFC)

An insightful video on how to make Pastirma.


Pastrma became my entry point into the ancient art of curing met with plant matter replete with nitrates. Over the months to come, I will delve into the wonderful technical and scientific considerations which are brought up by the subject. In our time, fermentation of brine produced from plant matter with starter culture bacteria to affect the conversion of nitrates to nitrites and the chemical and enzymatic creation of Nitric Oxide which is responsible for meat curing became a trend as a way to sidestep the legislative requirement to declare the direct use of sodium nitrate or nitrite in meat cures. What I discovered is that this is nothing new. It stands in an ancient tradition of recognised curing systems. In our technical evaluation of the method, we will discover the vast accumulation of health benefits that accrue to products cured in this way. I am excited to begin this fascinating journey with you!

More History of Pastirma by Mustafa CINGIL

It is mentioned in the documents that it was among the unique products of the Ottoman Palace Cuisine (matbah-ı amire) in the 1500s and that it was among the favourite foods of the cuisine with the name “Pastama-ı Kayseriyye”.

Again, in the Seciye Registers of the Ottoman Period Ankara Province (1591-1592), it has complained that the pastrami sent every year did not come from Kayseri.

The famous traveller Evliyâ Çelebi, after describing the white bread, lavash pastry and layered pastry when he came to Kayseri when he came to Kayseri, in his Travels, said, “There is no cumin bacon and musk-cented broth, which are known as Lahim-i kadid (fat meat). He always goes to Istanbul as a gift”.

In 1880, British Lieutenant Ferdinand Bennet was describing the Kayseri Sanjak of Ankara province, the food habits of the region; Bulgur pilaf with meat, yoghurt, pita… He reported that more vegetables and fruits are eaten in summer, pastrami is consumed in winter, and 360,000 okkas of pastrami are exported from Kayseri to Istanbul in the same year.

The French traveler Vital Cuinet, who visited Anadalu in 1888-1890, described the commercial life of Kayseri and recorded that bacon, wool, carpets, animal skins, almonds and various fruits were exported from the city.

The first information about the production of pastrami is found in a Construction Book in 1869 and in Fahriye Hanım’s work titled “Housewife” written in 1894, and detailed information about Kayseri Pastrami is given.

German Ewald Banse, in his work on the observation and geography of Anatolia in 1919, wrote that “Germir Pastrami” is very famous while talking about Kayseri.

The first books on bacon and sausage production analysis in Turkey are in Ottoman Turkish; These are the books called “The Copy of Kayseri Pasdırmaları” (manufacturing style) and “Inspection of Pastrami and Sucuks of the Allelum (in general)”.

In the Ottoman period Kayseri Sanjak Yearbook, dated 1881-1891, it is stated that “Kayseri pastrami has gained a lot of fame.”

In one of his articles, the writer Mustafa Gümüşkaynak from Kayseri;

“Kayseri has neither cotton nor olives, nor tobacco, nor any natural product.
Nature has made it convenient to make only pastrami in this city.
When the season comes, the pastrami piri comes and sits on the summit of Erciyes.
Pastrami piri is strong like nature.
It makes winter summer, and summer turns into winter.
Pir enchants Kayseri.
Once enchanted, a bright summer comes to Kayseri.
The fat drips from the bacon.
This is called “Bacon Summer”.
Then it rains, and this is called “Bacon Rain”.
This precipitation destroys the dust.
Dusty bacon loses all its value.”

Kayseri is the homeland of fenugreek pastrami since the depths of history. The effect of its climate, nitrate water and traditional master-apprentice chain is great in this.

The weather is clear and sunny, low humidity and slightly windy in the autumn, when there is intense pastrami production in Kayseri. This environment allows the bacon to dry without getting wet, in the most correct and natural way.

As it can be seen, for years, “pastirma” is a very important part of Kayseri culture, about which poems, folk songs and epics have been written.

Of course, there will be bacon production in other cities.
But these never change the fact that “pastirma is from Kayseri”.
Just like Antep baklava,
Maraş ice cream…

In short…
-Pastirma and Ravioli both
belong to
Kayseri, they are from Kayseri!
It belongs to the people of Kayseri!
Just as;
-Like Sausage and Water Pastry!


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

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

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

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

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

(c) Eben van Tonder


(c) eben van tonder