This post is about the hotly debated topic of curing salts.
Whether curing salt is good or bad, you have to decide for yourself. I, for one, use it in some of my homemade sausage and think the small amount doesn’t matter. More details also in studies that I link below.
What is curing salt?
Depending on where you are in the world, there are different variations of curing salt available.
European: “Nitrite pickling salt” / “Pökelsalz” / “NPS”
This variation consists of “normal” salt (e.g. sea salt, rock salt, evaporated salt) with a certain percentage of sodium nitrite (NaNO2, E 250). In Germany, this proportion is predominantly between 0.4 and 0.5%
This percentage must also be kept in mind. Most recipes are based on exactly this amount. If you use higher doses of NPS, the amount would change accordingly.
Since it is a preservative, it must also be declared in the EU. Mostly you will find “sodium nitrite”, “E 250” or simply “nitrite curing salt” on the packaging.
Rest of the world: “Cure #1” and “Cure #2” e.g. Prague Powder etc
Prague Powder #1
Used for example in sausages like Bologna, Leberkäse, Krakauer, etc.
It is often also called Insta-Cure or Modern Cure and contains 6.25% sodium nitrite and 93.75% salt and a very small amount of dye to make it appear pink and therefore easier to distinguish it from other salts in your kitchen.
The amount of cure is always in the recipe. Typically, around 2.5 g Cure #1 are used for 1000 g of sausage meat (0.25% of the meat weight).
Once the meat temperate rises while cooking or poaching the sausage, the sodium nitrite changes to nitric oxide and starts to “evaporate” at about 54,44 °C (130 Fahrenheit).
This means that after the cooking process there is only about 10-20% of the original nitrite in the sausage. If you store the sausage the decline of nitrite continues.
Used Sausages: For Example: Bologna, Leberkäse, Krakauer, etc.
Prague Powder #2
Used to dry-cure products like Salami, Prosciutto, Chorizo, etc.
It is often also called Pink curing salt #2 and contains 6.25% sodium nitrite, 4% sodium nitrate, and 89.75% table salt.
The sodium nitrate, acts like a time release, slowly breaking down into sodium nitrite, then into nitric oxide.
This allows you to dry cure products that take much longer to cure.
By the time a dry cured sausage is ready to be eaten, no sodium nitrate should be left.
The amount of cure is always in the recipe. Typically, around 2.5 g Cure #2 are used for 1000 g of sausage meat (0.25% of the meat weight).
What is nitrite curing salt used for?
The curing salt is used in the production of various sausage & ham products
It is mainly used for three different reasons:
- To “redden”color” sausage & ham products
- Containment of harmful bacteria
- Antioxidant effect
A fourth point that is often noted is the specific “cured taste”. However, I must honestly say that in blind tastings I have not tasted any difference. So not quite sure what that taste is supposed to be.
Now let’s go into more detail about the 3 reasons:
Nitrite curing salt for color reasons
When you make sausage yourself, there is often a wanted change in color for most of the sausages, so they look reddish/pinkish instead of gray. In this chapter I would like to explain to you what exactly is meant by it.
There are blood pigments in the meat that lose color when they come into contact with air and turn the meat grayish.
This “graying” also happens when the sausage is cooked. Normal table salt cannot prevent this process.
The addition of curing salt cures the meat. The nitrite curing salt forms a compound with the blood pigments before they oxidize. As a result, reddening takes place, the meat does not turn gray and retains its reddish color.
Curing salt to contain harmful bacteria
Especially in the production of raw sausage and ham, there is a risk of coming into contact with botulism bacteria. The nitrite present in the cure helps to kill and thus contain these harmful bacteria. Especially when curing in the absence of air (vacuum curing), it is therefore absolutely necessary to use curing salt.
In addition to botulism, the use of NPS also largely eliminates listeriosis (infection with bacteria) or infestation with salmonella.
Especially in the production of raw sausage and ham, nitrite has a nice side effect. When the nitrite is broken down, the nitrogen oxides bind to the meat’s own iron and other oxygen-binding sites. This reduces the risk of the fat going rancid.
Where can you buy curing salt?
You can buy curing salts either in special local stores or online.
EU: When buying, it is best to make sure that the list of ingredients contains between 0.4 and 0.5% sodium nitrite and no other unnecessary additives.
Rest of the world: Just try to get your hands on cure #1 / Prague Powder and stick to the recipes on this site.
Is curing salt toxic?
The most common question about curing salt is always whether it is dangerous and causes cancer, for example.
I am not a doctor and I will not make any statement about it. However, the connection between cancer and nitrite curing salt has been disproved according to this expert opinion, this assessment and also this review of various studies
Yes, nitrite is dangerous and toxic in certain amounts. In fact, when consumed in large quantities, it can cause the oxygen transport in the blood to be impeded.
Infants are particularly at risk here. They should not come into contact with nitrites during the first months of life.
After the first 3 months, as with so many things, it is the amount that matters.
The first way to reduce the amount is to process curing salt correctly. This is because it guarantees that, in the best case, there is only a small amount of residual nitrite.
But how much can you consume now?
How much nitrite is safe?
Before we can answer this question, we have to talk about nitrite and nitrate.
The fact is that nitrite enters your body not only through pickling salt, but also through a number of other foods.
For example, nitrate, which is found in salads, vegetables and drinking water, can be partially converted to nitrite in your body under certain circumstances.
The daily value that can be consumed throughout life without posing a health risk is currently set by the World Health Organization at 3.65 mg of nitrate per kg of body weight and 0.06 mg of nitrite per kg of body weight.
In the case of vegetables, it is mainly leaf and root vegetables such as lettuce, lamb’s lettuce, radishes and especially arugula that have high nitrate concentrations (over 1,000 mg/kg).
In comparison, fruit vegetables such as tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers have relatively low nitrate levels (below 500 mg/kg)
A detailed summary can be found at the Bavarian State Office for Health and Food Safety
Cured sausage has about 50 mg of nitrite per kilogram.
A 75 kg person should therefore consume 4.5 mg of nitrite and 273 mg of nitrate daily.
For example, that’s about 80 g of sausage and 250 g of arugula.
In summary: Nitrite alone we mostly ingest only through cured sausage BUT nitrate in other foods is also converted to nitrite. In general, the limits are not exceeded in an average diet.
Frequently asked questions about nitrite curing salt
How much curing salt is allowed in my sausage?
The use of nitrite is regulated by law in Germany
You can see this from the fact that nitrite is not even sold in pure form
It is only available premixed as curing salt with a nitrite content of 0.4 – 0.5%
Due to this dosage, too high a dose of nitrite is almost impossible, as the sausage would be so oversalted that it would not be edible.
In addition, Regulation (EC) No. 1333/2008 regulates the amount of nitrite that may be added per kilogram of sausage.
Can I use sugar as a substitute for curing salt for the change of color?
There is a myth that you can use sugar instead of nitrite for reddening
Sugar has an important function in the reddening process in the production of raw cured meats and raw sausages but cannot trigger it on its own.
The reason sugar is often used is that it provides food for lactic acid bacteria.
These, in turn, provide a low pH and thus support the conversion of nitrite to nitric oxide and thus also reddening.
If you omit the nitrite and increase the sugar dose instead, you simply give the bacteria more food and they produce more lactic acid as a result.
However, this does not redden anything, since there is no nitrite present that could be converted into nitric oxide.
What is the alternative to curing salt?
For all types of sausage except raw sausage, table salt is an alternative to nitrite curing salt
Unfortunately, the only problem is that the reddening does not take place and people do not buy gray sausage in the store. That’s why they continue to use nitrite curing salt.
If you do without it, then it is not a problem. Then making your own sausage is the perfect solution for you! You can decide for yourself and use table salt instead of nitrite curing salt.
How is meat cured?
Curing is quite simple. The meat is rubbed in nitrite curing salt or placed in a brine. This starts the curing process. You can find everything about curing here.
Which sausage contains curing salt?
Curing salt is contained in almost all raw sausages and many cooked sausages. Examples are:
Additionally, it is also found in raw ham as well as some cooked ham. Examples are:
Curing salt and infants
Even if, as described in the article, nitrite curing salt is harmless for adults in moderation, the situation is different for infants
In the first months of life, they should not come into contact with nitrite under any circumstances.
The situation is different for infants in the first months of life: they should not come into contact with nitrite.
Interaction with hemoglobin (responsible for transporting oxygen in the body) produces methemoglobin. Infants and young children, on the other hand, to adults lack an enzyme, which is why nitrite can lead to acute oxygen deficiency
Curing salt conclusion – A personal decision
I do not want to make a decision for others at this point. You have to know for yourself if you want to use nitrite curing salt or not
In the end it is and remains your personal decision.
For my part, I sometimes use curing salts and sometimes not. When making raw sausage, I wouldn’t work without it at this time.
If you think now: “In former times one worked without NPS and it did not matter”.
Then I only say..
In the past, witches were burned and many things were done differently. Mostly, however, only because one did not know it better or there was no proof of the science for it yet.
I orientate myself by science and today’s information and therefore I don’t see the topic NPS as bad as it is always made.
I hope I could give you some clarity with this post. If you have any further information and/or I have forgotten something, please feel free to contact me.