Everyday Meals

PSA: There's No Such Thing as Uncured Bacon

We hate to be the bearers of bad news, we really do, but uncured bacon is a lie.

As Tamar Haspel of The Washington Post pointed out, bacon that is labeled “uncured” is actually cured—but by using celery derivatives rather than sodium nitrite.

Surely, though, bacon cured in celery derivatives is healthier than bacon cured in sodium nitrate … right? Wrong.

The nitrite molecule is the same, no matter its source. Sometimes, purported “uncured bacon” actually contains higher levels of nitrites and nitrates than traditionally cured bacon.

Related: What’s the Difference Between Cured and Uncured Bacon?

Here’s the issue with that: Haspel reports that, under certain conditions (like high heat), nitrite can be converted to nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are compounds that are widely agreed to be carcinogenic, or cancer-causing.

Here’s the even bigger issue with that: When nitrite comes from sodium nitrate, it’s regulated by the government. Nitrite that comes from celery powder, meanwhile, isn’t regulated at all. Though most tests have found comparable nitrite levels in cured and “uncured” bacon, at least one found that vegetable-cured nitrite levels were significantly higher.

The craziest part? If bacon is cured with celery instead of sodium nitrite, the law requires that the bacon be labeled “uncured” with “no nitrates or nitrites added.”

“The only reason to cure meat with celery is to give people the idea that it’s in some way better than conventionally cured meat,” Haspel wrote. “But it isn’t better, and veg-curing is a phony-baloney (if you’ll excuse the expression) gambit to confer a health halo on products that most definitely don’t earn it.”

So, yeah. Trust no one and nothing. Especially not your bacon label.  

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