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Uncured Ham?


paulraphael
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Whole Foods lists a bunch of hams in their deli case as "uncured." But these are not fresh hams; they're clearly cured. They're pink, they taste cured, and the ingredients all sound like curing ingredients to me.

The one I buy most is the Niman Ranch Jambon Royal. Niman calls it uncured too. But everything I see written about says that it's dry cured before being smoked.

Seems like they're full of it. But I don't know why you'd want people to think a ham is uncured. Has curing become a bad thing in the minds of the half-educated? Is there anything legitimate that Niman and WF might be trying to convey?

Notes from the underbelly

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I think what that really means is "cured with natural sources of nitrites and nitrates like celery juice, rather than refined pink salt." Of course nitrites and nitrates are not in themselves harmful, and the nitrosamines that are carcinogenic may be generated by the combination of protein with nitrites whether they originate from celery juice or Instacure #2, so "uncured" doesn't seem particularly meaningful to me.

The Niman Ranch "Fearless" "uncured" hot dogs are pretty tasty, though--closest I've found to Chicago style in New York.

Edited by David A. Goldfarb (log)
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My grocery stores are very liberal with the pork label adjective "seasoned". I get a different answer from each butcher I ask. When I do they say things like cured, soaked, preserved, or treated. The shrink-wrapped trays don't include the comprehensive list of ingredients.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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Here's the Niman Ranch explanation, pretty much as I suspected--

http://nimanranch.com/faq.aspx#q19

They say they are using "uncured" to follow USDA labeling requirements by which such "naturally cured" meats without added sodium nitrite or nitrate are not defined as "cured," but they acknowledge that they are in fact cured, even if they don't fit the USDA description of "cured" meats.

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Good find!

Niman's site says

"Despite USDA regulations, it's probably more accurate to say that our uncured products are naturally cured. Instead of adding nitrate or nitrite chemicals, we use celery juice, a source of naturally occurring nitrates. During processing, the nitrates in celery juice are consumed by lacto bacteria--anaerobic organisms similar to the friendly bacteria in yogurt--that like a salty environment. Over time during the natural curing process, the nitrate in celery juice is consumed by the lacto bacteria and converted first to nitrite, then to nitrous oxide, a gas that dissipates into the atmosphere. The amount of natural nitrates remaining in the finished product depends on whether and when the meat is cooked, as cooking halts the dissipation process. Like cured products, natural curing inhibits bacteria, helps prevent meat from going off-color, and deepens flavor.

I wish they'd just say "naturally cured." Not that the alternatives are unnatural in any meaningful sense (as opposed to the regulatory one). It's just helpful to know that a ham is a ham!"

Edited by paulraphael (log)

Notes from the underbelly

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Cured meat products can be consumed as is without heating, safely. The cure prevents harmful bacteria growth. Un-cured meat products must be heated for safe consumption as whatever process is used is not sufficient to guarantee food safety if consumed without heating.-Dick

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I've eaten uncured ham before--as you can imagine, it's not good. My gf saw it and I guess she was intrigued (she refused to eat it after tasting it) so she bought it. It seems to have been poached or otherwise cooked in some way, but it seemed to be completely unseasoned. I threw it out.

nunc est bibendum...

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The ones I'm talking about are, for all practical purposes, cured. And in many cases also smoked. And they tend to be delicious; the Niman Ranch Jambon Royale is one of my all time favorite cooked hams.

By the way, it's not necessarily true that cured meat products don't have to be cooked. Nowadays many foods are lightly cured, for the purpose of adding flavor, but the cure isn't long enough or intense enough to eliminate the need for cooking.

Notes from the underbelly

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  • 1 month later...

[imagine a long burst of profanity here]

It's marketing.

It's adding nitrites, while claiming that you don't really, but without the actual control of the amount of nitrites that get added.

Bluntly, it is a lie.

I distrust companies that use this, and prefer to do my shopping from companies that are honest enough to say "Nitrites are needed, we use them".

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Interesting, I had wondered about that too, as some really uncured product would be rather unsafe to eat IMO.

Would be interesting to compare openly cured meat to not-so-uncured uncured meat, measure nitrite levels. I'd guess that controlling the amounts with celery is a bit harder than adding a preset amount of curing salt? Maybe not in an industrial setting?

I never buy them, I like things the way they're supposed to be. I will have to pick up some of that Niman Ranch stuff though, when I see it :-)

I'm getting more and more disenchanted with USDA (and similar) regulations though, they prevent us from quite some things that people in Europe have eaten for centuries with no problem. Seems a bit overly restrictive for the land of the free, no?

I mean, safety in food handling is very important, no doubt, but there are a lot of regulations that make so many good things disappear from the shelves. Things that seem to have no negative impact on the health of millions of people in other countries.

Luckily I can do what I want in my own kitchen and it's possible to find just about anything if one looks in the right places. :-)

To think that all the good things I've eaten at small farmhouses in Germany and Austria this summer would be illegal here is a shame. Things are getting worse in Europe too, with the European Community. Luckily out of the way places simply don't care :-) Hmm, selfmade cured meats, cheeses, milk products, drinks, liquors, etc etc

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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This one is only indirectly the fault of the USDA.

This is the fault of the "Oh, no, I can't eat that, it has nitrites!" idiots who also want cured meat.

So there are stupid rules for what can be called "uncured", but the root cause was the fearmongering about nitrites.

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that's probably true. Still, there are too many USDA regulations that ban certain things that seem to be just fine anywhere else. Fresh milk cheeses for example, they have to age a certain time here (6 months) before they can be sold. Brains and lungs I think can't be sold, things like that.

I'm not knocking them, they are a necessary institution, but they seem to be a bit overly cautious at times. Of course, the ridiculous amounts of money one can sue for if getting sick from something probably make this a necessity. Liability laws are important, but the amounts should certainly not be in the millions for a stomach bug. Or hot coffee on your lap.

I think you can get around most of these things if you buy a live animal for yourself, I think I read somewhere that you then can have it butchered at the ranch and take home what ever you want. Anybody know more?

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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I think you can get around most of these things if you buy a live animal for yourself, I think I read somewhere that you then can have it butchered at the ranch and take home what ever you want. Anybody know more?

Often if you're a member of a co-op you can get whatever you want. Then you're technically a farm owner and not a consumer, so if you die there's no one to be sued.

Notes from the underbelly

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Often if you're a member of a co-op you can get whatever you want. Then you're technically a farm owner and not a consumer, so if you die there's no one to be sued.

LOL, but they'd probably come after my family, unless I kill everybody with my food, haha!

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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  • 2 years later...

Sorry to drag up this old topic but this issue has certainly become more pervasive since the original conversation. The villianization of nitrites/nitrates has gotten much worse. Hell, even Oscar Meyer is selling "uncured" hot dogs now (surprise! celery juice is one of the ingredients) for people who've been scared into believing that nitrites are certain death.

My in-laws recently came into town and proudly declared that they had sworn off nitrites and were only eating uncured bacon and sausage (their loss, more delicious salami for me!). They had even brought their own bacon with them to eat for breakfast. I explained that the products they were eating were actually cured and that celery juice contained naturally occurring nitrites. They were surprised and appalled that they'd been had. I then explained that I thought the nitrite thing was overblown and they should just stop worrying about it.

After this incident, I looked into it a little more and some of the scare sites declare that the Vitamin C in celery counteracts any harmful effect of the nitrites. I can find zero academic research to back up that claim.

Anybody know if that's just the typical pseudo-science that you get from the food doomsday crowd or if there's some actual evidence supporting that claim?

Edited for grammar

Edited by BadRabbit (log)
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Sorry to drag up this old topic but this issue has certainly become more pervasive since the original conversation. The villianization of nitrites/nitrates has gotten much worse. Hell, even Oscar Meyer is selling "uncured" hot dogs now (surprise! celery juice is one of the ingredients) for people who've been scared into believing that nitrites are certain death.

My in-laws recently came into town and proudly declared that they had sworn off nitrites and were only eating uncured bacon and sausage (their loss, more delicious salami for me!). They had even brought their own bacon with them to eat for breakfast. I explained that the products they were eating were actually cured and that celery juice contained naturally occurring nitrites. They were surprised and appalled that they'd been had. I then explained that I thought the nitrite thing was overblown and they should just stop worrying about it.

After this incident, I looked into it a little more and some of the scare sites declare that the Vitamin C in celery counteracts any harmful effect of the nitrites. I can find zero academic research to back up that claim.

Anybody know if that's just the typical pseudo-science that you get from the food doomsday crowd or if there's some actual evidence supporting that claim?

Edited for grammar

Ascorbic acid inhibits the formation of nitrosamines. Do a google search for "ascorbic acid nitrosamines" and you'll see many university papers on it.

Having said that, i don't know how it links to the use of celery juice in cured products, which i find to be ridiculous, and really pisses me off.

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Sorry to drag up this old topic but this issue has certainly become more pervasive since the original conversation. The villianization of nitrites/nitrates has gotten much worse. Hell, even Oscar Meyer is selling "uncured" hot dogs now (surprise! celery juice is one of the ingredients) for people who've been scared into believing that nitrites are certain death.

My in-laws recently came into town and proudly declared that they had sworn off nitrites and were only eating uncured bacon and sausage (their loss, more delicious salami for me!). They had even brought their own bacon with them to eat for breakfast. I explained that the products they were eating were actually cured and that celery juice contained naturally occurring nitrites. They were surprised and appalled that they'd been had. I then explained that I thought the nitrite thing was overblown and they should just stop worrying about it.

After this incident, I looked into it a little more and some of the scare sites declare that the Vitamin C in celery counteracts any harmful effect of the nitrites. I can find zero academic research to back up that claim.

Anybody know if that's just the typical pseudo-science that you get from the food doomsday crowd or if there's some actual evidence supporting that claim?

Edited for grammar

Ascorbic acid inhibits the formation of nitrosamines. Do a google search for "ascorbic acid nitrosamines" and you'll see many university papers on it.

Having said that, i don't know how it links to the use of celery juice in cured products, which i find to be ridiculous, and really pisses me off.

That's why I asked here. I figured I might be missing it because I wasn't searching for the correct terms.

I keep seeing scare sites claim that the vitamin C contained in celery juice is enough to prevent the harmful effects of nitrites and therefore "uncured" items (read: ones we approve of because it's "natural") are safe to eat where cured (read: the ones with the dirty, dirty chemicals)are not.

That explanation seemed even more ridiculous to me since there are a fair amount of regular cured sausages that contain vitamin C so why wouldn't they be safe too even though they contain pink salt.

Edited by BadRabbit (log)
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I did in the interim purchase an 'uncured' ham at Whole Foods. Frankly it was about average for a 'City' ham and certainly not what i would purchase again.

We have standardized on Nueske's for 'City' ham, cured or uncured.

Now for Country Ham we are currently working on a 'Country' ham from Rice's. Sliced and vacuum packed as most offer these days, a little time simmering in water and then frying, a great taste.-Dick

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