Technically, both cured and uncured meat are cured meats. The difference between the two is in the ingredients used to cure them. Cured meat is treated using artificial preservatives like sodium nitrite while uncured meat is treated using natural ingredients.
I became interested in uncured meats after reading about them online. I bought some uncured hot dogs and found that the uncured hot dogs tasted very different from the hot dogs I’ve always had and the different flavor was fascinating.
For at least ten years now, I have incorporated uncured meat into my diet and have found that they make a welcome substitute for the flavor of many of my dishes. I learned as much as I could about both types of meat so read on to get the details.
Cured meat is meat preserved in a mixture of chemical additives or artificial preservatives such as sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite.
Store-bought processed meats such as sausages, bacon, salami, pancetta, ham, hot dogs, and pepperoni are all considered cured using sodium nitrite and sodium nitrates.
Uncured meat is meat preserved using natural curing agents such as celery powder, celery juice, beet extracts, or a salt mixture.
These natural preservatives in celery powder and juice produce nitrates when they come into contact with proteins in the meat. This creates an environment that does not support bacterial growth, thereby preserving the meat longer.
For safety reasons, the USDA regulates tightly the production and distribution of uncured meats for mass consumption. There are strict requirements in place that inform the labeling of these meats so that consumers are aware of what they are buying.
Chemically cured meat has gained a poor reputation in recent decades after being linked to various diseases including cancer. This has caused a rise in the number of people willing to switch to the uncured variety, believing they are the better option.
Some companies that produce naturally cured meat go as far as to label their products as ‘natural’ or ‘fresh meat’ which they are not.
While it is clear that artificial preservatives can be bad for you, the quantities involved in the production of processed meat are tightly controlled and regulated.
Sodium nitrite and sodium nitrates are utilized in such minimal quantities that the harm to humans has not been conclusively determined.
Naturally, the uncured kind could be a reasonably healthier choice considering they are minimally altered and the curing process involves only natural agents.
Nitrosamines, which are compounds found in cured meats have been cited as hazardous and possibly cancer-causing agents. Nitrosamines are, however, present even in fresh fish, alcohol, and dairy which are products we consume with equal frequency.
That said, the quantity of nitrosamines in these other products is not significant enough to cause concern.
The reasoning behind this assertion is that the curing ingredients such as celery powder involved in making the uncured meat are natural and not artificial concentrates.
While the research is not conclusive so far, it is a safe bet that they can be better for you. On the other hand, there is no conclusive evidence that processed meats cause illness. The research points to a relationship and not a cause.
That depends on the meat and the curing ingredients. For instance, traditionally cured salami which is technically uncured salami comes ready to eat.
Both uncured and cured salami is supposed to be consumed as they are.
Cured and uncured bacon both need to be cooked while uncured and cured ham is different.
Cured or processed ham is consumed without further cooking while uncured ham which is mistakenly referred to as fresh ham or pork belly and may need some cooking. This will be stated clearly on the packaging.
Refer to the packaging of both cured and uncured ham for specific instructions regarding whether you should cook the ham or eat it as it is.
Both uncured pepperoni and cured pepperoni are perfectly safe to eat raw straight out of the packaging.
Some uncured and cured hot dogs as well as uncured and cured sausage need minimal cooking and a simple nuke in a microwave can suffice.
In the event of any doubts regarding the safety of uncured meat, specifically how to cook them, always refer to the packaging. This will provide a detailed outline of how to handle the specific meat.
Uncured meat has a distinctly subtler salt flavor compared to cured meat.
Chemically cured meats are made with precise recipes with specific cures designed to achieve different flavors. Cured meat often tastes nothing like the natural meat they are made from. Cured bacon and pork taste very different.
Uncured meat results in less precise flavors and the taste is much closer to the natural meat they are derived from.
Uncured meat also tends to have a sharper, salty taste since it must be cured for longer to achieve both flavor and preservation objectives. Uncured ham, for instance, is quite high in salt content though it is equally tasty.
Cured meats have a more subdued salty taste since they do not rely on copious amounts of salt to preserve and flavor the meats.
Longer shelf life
Shorter shelf life
Preserved using artificial chemicals
Preserved using natural agents
More subtle flavors
Contain less salt
Contain more salt
Deep pink or red color
Paler pink hue