Myth: The Use of Celery Powder to Cure Some Meats is Misleading
In order to be considered “cured,”cured meats must contain a form of nitrite. Sodium nitrite is a safe, government-approved curing ingredient that gives cured meats their characteristic taste and color. Without nitrite, cured meats won’t have the taste and appearance that makes ham taste and eat like ham or salami taste and eat like salami.
Celery powder is naturally rich in nitrate, which is closely related to nitrite and performs the same curing functions when added. Celery power can be used in any cured meat product but many times are curing agent for natural or organic products as well.
Currently USDA regulations require that meats cured with celery powder to be called “uncured” to distinguish them from conventionally cured products. Packages of meats cured with celery powder often say “No nitrates or nitrites added,” but also contain a statement “other than those which naturally occur in celery powder.” Many in the food industry believe a more accurate way to describe the products would be to call them “cured,” but still must comply with the regulations as written, which require them to be called “uncured.”
The use of nitrate and nitrite to cure meat also has a significant food safety benefit by preventing the growth of Clostridium botulinum which causes botulism, one the deadliest foodborne illnesses. While the myth that nitrite is linked to various diseases persists, studies have shown that not only are nitrate and nitrite safer at the levels used, they also can have significant health benefits.