Uncured bacon, or bacon that does not have added nitrates, is derived from pork bellies. Uncured bacon is a misnomer because manufacturers still cure the bacon, but use other types of natural brine. The USDA defines bacon as cured pork bellies with added synthetic nitrates or nitrites, so bacon without added chemicals is considered uncured.
Bacon, either cured or uncured, is soaked in a brine to prevent botulism and to provide a recognizable flavor to the meat. Nitrates, which are naturally occurring compounds from plants, mix with certain bacteria to form into nitrites. Traditionally, bacon is cured in a mixture of salt and water with synthetic sodium nitrite added as a preservative. Uncured bacon uses a type of natural nitrates, found in celery powder or juice and sea salt, to obtain a similar bacon taste without using potentially harmful chemicals such as sodium nitrite.
Free of Sodium Nitrites
Because of the difference in curing processes, uncured bacon is generally considered safer to eat. According to Applegate Farms, nitrites can potentially cause cancer in some situations. Under high heat, nitrites mix with amines, a compound naturally present in meat, to form nitrosamines, a carcinogen. A large-scale 2011 study published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" found that participants who consume dietary nitrites had higher levels of gastrointestinal cancer. Other research have also indicated that nitrosamines are human carcinogens, although the level of harm in dietary substances is unclear, according to the Linus Pauling Institute.
The exact health benefits of uncured bacon vary depending on the curing process and brand. Most uncured bacon contains no artificial preservatives. Uncured bacon has no additives such as nitrites, and only contains the natural nitrates. This type of bacon may also be free of MSG, monosodium glutamate. MSG is a food additive that is generally considered safe. However, many people complain of symptoms related to MSG, including headache, sweating, chest pain and nausea, according to the NSW Food Authority.
Uncured bacon and cured bacon generally have approximately the same nutrition, including calories and fat content. Some uncured bacon may add more salt to replace the lost sodium nitrites; however, this varies based on brand. If you are concerned about your health, talk to your doctor before changing your diet. People with certain conditions, such as hypertension, should avoid bacon because of the high sodium content. Make sure you buy uncured bacon from a reputable company that uses enough natural ingredients to prevent bacterial infections.
- Hormel Food Service: Natural Choice Uncured Bacon
- Applegate Farms: What are Nitrates and Nitrites?
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: N-nitroso compounds and cancer incidence: the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC)–Norfolk Study
- NSW Food Authority: Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
- Centers for Disease Control: Most Americans Should Consume Less Sodium
- Linus Pauling Institute: Nitrosamines and Cancer