Food & Craft

Principles of curing

Salt and sugarSalt and sugar for curing

In general terms to cure something means to preserve it in some way. Usually this is with salt, sugar, nitrates and nitrites, or some combination of the four. For home curing, salt is the easiest and most convenient method, and that's what we'll consider here as the base for all cures.

The preservation occurs because the salt, applied to the fresh raw meat, inhibits the growth of the micro-organisms which would otherwise cause the meat to rot and go rancid. It's a wee bit more complicated than that, but it's important to understand the role of the salt and why sufficient quantities of salt is critical - don't be tempted to use less salt than the cure recipes call for.

Smoking is mostly thought now of as a means of flavouring meat and other products, but it also works as a preservative. More later in the section on smoking.

About nitrates

An optional addition to the cures we describe here on TAS are nitrates or nitrites - we use saltpetre, a common name for potassium nitrate. These also act as preservatives, and help the meat maintain a pink colour. Without them your bacon will most likely go slightly grey in colour, although the flavour, texture and all other eating characteristics will be exactly the same with or without nitrates or nitrites.

It's extremely important to only use the quantity of nitrates or nitrites specified in the recipes - they are toxic to humans in higher concentrations, and there is evidence that if cooked at high temperature bacon with excess nitrates or nitrates can be carcinogenic.

So that's how curing works, we're now going to consider the two basic methods of curing, dry and wet.

Dan Champion

About Dan Champion

A self-confessed geek, Dan would spend 20 hours per day in front of a computer if he didn't live on a 12-acre smallholding in the east of Scotland (and if his wife would let him). He also built this website.

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