When shopping for your next delicious package of bacon, you are typically presented with dozens of choices whether at your deli counter or meat section. Nitrate free bacon and uncured bacon are among the many options, but what do they mean?
Nitrate free bacon and uncured bacon are essentially the same thing. Uncured bacon does not go through a preservation process that requires chemicals. So more correctly, nitrate free bacon is a more specific type of uncured bacon because it is “cured” using various naturally occurring salts (such as celery salt) instead of sodium nitrite.
When consumers are searching for a healthier bacon choice, their first thoughts are uncured bacon or nitrate free bacon to avoid commercial chemicals that have been linked to varying diseases or increased likeliness. There is a catch when choosing uncured bacon – it does not have as long of a shelf life. Despite their bad reputation as unhealthy agents, chemical preservatives do a fantastic job of giving bacon a very long shelf life. With that understood, uncured bacon and nitrate free bacon must be consumed within a shorter window (do not ignore expiration dates on uncured meats!). Natural curing methods are effective enough to preserve bacon for a considerable amount of time from production, shipping, stocking, purchasing and consuming. There are not large windows for any of these phases to be drawn out.
So enough of all this serious business; how does uncured bacon taste? Most bacon connoisseurs will claim and defend ability to pick out different types of bacon in a lineup. To an average consumer there is not a noticeable difference in flavor between uncured bacon / nitrate free bacon and regular cured bacon. The smoking process, varying herbs, salts and spices and the quality of the pork belly has the most significant impact on the flavor of any bacon regardless if sodium nitrate was or was not used in the curing process.
Does preparation of uncured bacon differ from standard American cured bacon? ( I say American, because our bacon is much different than England’s or Canada’s bacon in that their bacon is not sourced from the Pork Belly part of the pig). In short, no, it does not. The removal of sodium nitrate and other preservatives from the curing process does not change the method in which one would cook uncured bacon. Uncured bacon still cooks wonderfully pan fried, grilled or baked, which happens to be my personal favorite method.
Now if you are new to the preservative free, uncured, nitrate free bacon world, you may wonder where to find this new “healthier” bacon. Many regular grocery stores are not aware of consumer’s growing demand for less-processed goods and will carry uncured bacon. Make sure the label says “uncured bacon” or “nitrate free bacon” and that the ingredients list does not include “nitrites” or “nitrates” or anything unpronounceable. If your local grocery store does not carry it, try a slightly higher end specialty store such as Trader Joe’s who predominantly carry preservative free products, or finally, and most expensively, Whole Foods which is guaranteed to sell you uncured nitrate free bacon for the most money of all the above options.
I hope you have found this clarifying and informative. Stay tuned for more bacon blogs!