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Cured vs. Uncured. Which is Healthier?

July 23, 2020

Surely by now we’ve all seen the warnings that the World Health Organization claims cured and processed meats are strongly linked to colon cancer, leading them to classify processed meat as a carcinogen.

Despite this warning, it’s estimated that each American consumes 18 pounds of bacon each year (and probably feel a little guilty while eating those 18 pounds!)

These days people are putting more thought into the food they’re eating. I wondered if that was the reason we’re seeing so many “uncured” options these days.  So I was determined to figure out if eating "uncured" meat a better option.

Let's break down the differences between cured and uncured.

What is cured meat? 

In simple terms, curing is the process of preserving meat.  Before refrigeration, it was how people were able to save their meat from spoiling. The difference in cured and uncured is the additives that is used to preserve the meat.  Cured meats use chemicals and additives while uncured meats rely on natural salts and flavorings.  

Cured meats:

- Use a chemical preservative like sodium nitrite with the salt mixture. The amount of sodium nitrite is <1%.

- Will be pinker in color due to the preservatives.

- Tastes like classic bacon/ham

- Lasts longer than uncured.

Uncured meats:

- Cook and taste similar to cured meats.

- Uses a natural preservative like celery powder, which transforms into nitrite when it is processed.  Thus, uncured products have labels with: “No Nitrates or Nitrites added except those naturally in celery powder or juice”.  

- Have a shorter shelf life.

- Usually contains more sodium to prevent spoilage.  If you are someone who needs to be watching salt intake this option might not be a good option for you.

Essentially it comes down to if you’d like chemicals or a natural food source to be preserving your food.  

As a side note: some smaller butchers do not offer the “uncured” option using celery powder. They simply will give it to you "fresh" with nothing added to your meat.  This will not taste like bacon or ham.  If you want it to taste normal you’ll want to have it cured.  Feel free to ask the butcher any questions you may have.   

Life is all about choices.  Personally, I love bacon and it’s not something I’m willing to give up.  Knowing my meat is raised right helps me justify eating a little sodium nitrite if I can't get it uncured.

Ultimately you get to make the choice on what you're eating, but I hope you found this article helpful in making an informed decision about your food.

Cheers to happy food and your health,

Sarah Fischer

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