We do get lots of questions about our cured products like bacon and ham. The barry farm farmers have run the gambit with bacon particularly with nitrate/nitrite to no nitrates added to regular pink salt cured. Below is an except from an article on a blog called Carb Wars entitled Rethinking Bacon and the best way to cook it. I’m pretty sure they did a better job than I could with explaining the debate. Currently now when customers ask my opinion i say that I think there are 2 reasonable options. 1. country bacon (which is just sliced belly) or 2. Regular cured bacon. To dabble in the in between doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me but can be done, but be prepared to be marketed too in that middle. Where you have fears companies are poised to make dollars.
“The basis for our fear of cured meats rests on some misconceptions about the nature of nitrites/nitrates. Did you know that one serving of arugula, two servings of butterhead lettuce, or four servings of celery contain the same amount of nitrites as 468 servings of bacon? Or that the saliva in your mouth contains more than any of them?
Our own saliva provides 80 percent of our total exposure to nitrites and vegetables are our main source of nitrites from foods. This is not surprising considering that nitrites occur naturally in plants as a result of the nitrogen cycle where nitrogen is fixed by bacteria. The soil and everything that grows in it is full of nitrogen and the air we breath is 78% nitrogen.
To see if people could be getting too many nitrites from vegetables, the Scientific Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain of the EFSA (European Safety Authority) compiled the results from 20 its member states and Norway on the nitrite levels in produce. The report was published in the June 5, 2008, EFSA Journal. Here are some of the average levels they found: arugula, 4,677 ppm (parts per million); butter head lettuce, 2,026 ppm; beets, 1,279 ppm; celery, 1,103 ppm; hot dogs or processed meat, 10 ppm. (1)
So why the bad rap for bacon? Back in the ’50s, some babies were sickened by formula made with contaminated well water. The effect was blamed on the high concentration of nitrites in the wells and the EPA set its Maximum Contaminant Level for nitrate in water at 44 mg/L based on the findings. The nitrate in the offending wells came from fecal contamination. It is now thought that the problem was not caused by nitrates but by the fecal bacteria that infected the infants. (2)
In the 1970s, a small study of rats done at MIT started the nitrites-cause-cancer scare. The National Academy of Sciences reviewed the scientific data in 1981 and found no link between nitrates or nitrites and human cancers. Since then, more than 50 studies have investigated a possible link and found no association. Even more surprising, scientific evidence is building that nitrates are actually good for us. They are produced in our bodies in greater amounts than we eat in food and nitrate is important for maintaining healthy immune and cardiovascular systems. It is being studied as a treatment for high blood pressure, heart attacks, sickle cell disease, and circulatory problems. Some researchers argue that the strength of the evidence linking the consumption of nitrates/nitrites to health benefits supports the consideration of these compounds as nutrients. (3)
“The public perception is that nitrite/nitrate are carcinogens, but they are not. …If nitrite and nitrate were harmful to us, then we would not be advised to eat green leafy vegetables or swallow our own saliva….”~~Dr. Nathan Bryan, Ph.D., the University of Texas, Houston, whose research has unveiled many beneficial effects of nitrite
“It is undisputed that nitrate ingestion widens arteries. Bacteria in the mouth and gut reduce nitrate to nitrite, which is then converted by nitric oxide synthase into the endothelium-derived relaxing factor nitric oxide. That is why sublingual nitrate can resolve an episode of angina pectoris. There is also some evidence that nitrate reduces blood pressure.” (4)
So what about those expensive nitrite-free, uncured hot dogs, bacon, and hams being sold as healthful alternatives? They use natural sources like celery, beets, and sea salt for the same chemical and some of them have more of it than conventionally cured meats. A chemical is still the same chemical no matter where it comes from”