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Substitutes for Sodium Nitrite in Food

author image Maura Shenker
Maura Shenker is a certified holistic nutritionist and health counselor who started her writing career in 2010. She leads group workshops, counsels individual clients and blogs about diet and lifestyle choices. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design, a Master of Fine Arts from The Ohio State University and is a graduate of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition.
Substitutes for Sodium Nitrite in Food
Dried meat hanging up. Photo Credit tumdee/iStock/Getty Images


Sodium nitrite is used in curing meats to preserve color, add flavor, prevent fats from going rancid and stop botulism spores from becoming toxic. For example, a roasted leg of pork is brown, but add sodium nitrite and it becomes ham - pink, salty with a totally different flavor. Sodium nitrite can not be used in any product labeled organic, so natural alternatives are becoming more important to the meat industry.

Sea Salt

A salt brine is made from water, sea salt and vinegar. Meat is cured in brine for at least 6 days, with no refrigeration needed. This is the oldest and least expensive way to cure meat, and doesn't require any specialized equipment. You can change the flavor of the brine by using different types of vinegar or various salts and by adding seasonings. Sea salts have distinct flavors depending on which body of water they are from - different mineral contents affect color and taste.

Salt, Sugar and Saltpeter

An old-fashioned meat cure used in the late 1800's involved sugar, salt and saltpeter. This dry rub must be done in very cold temperatures. Salt provides the cure, sugar adds flavor and stops the salt from hardening the meat, preserving the texture and saltpeter enhances the red color. Use only non-iodized salt, such as kosher or canning salt and make sure the temperature doesn't fall below 38 degrees Fahrenheit, or the salt will not fully penetrate the meat.

Sodium Alginate and Calcium Lactate

This is a two-part system that uses sodium alginate, made from brown seaweed, and calcium lactate, a dairy product, to bind together meat products. Using this system is a cost-effective method that doesn't use salt or phosphates and can be used for all types of meats, including fish. This is an industrial process and not suitable for home chef, as it requires equipment and chemicals not readily available to the general public.

Celery Juice

Celery juice concentrate is a vegetable product, but has a significant amount of naturally occurring nitrate. Celery juice has very little pigment and a mild taste that does not detract from the meat's flavor. Furthermore, celery juice or celery salt may be listed as natural flavoring on meat product labels. Although there are still nitrates present, your body reacts differently to natural vs. synthetic nitrates. For example, celery salt also contains high levels of antioxidants, which help your body process the nitrates.

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