These days, we’re all trying to eat and live a little healthier than we used to. We’ve been more educated on topics that keep us living longer, but it doesn’t mean we have to go completely cold turkey on our favorite meats.
Sometimes, labels can be confusing. Perhaps you’ve read things like organic or natural and wondered what they mean exactly and when it comes to meat, there’s no exception – particularly when you’re reading cured and uncured.
So, we’ve covered it for you. This guide will discuss what uncured actually means in relation to meats and if that’s important or not, along with some other fantastic meaty tips for you to think about.
Typically, uncured meats are meats that have not had additional nitrates included within them such as sodium nitrate. However, sometimes the implication of the absence of nitrates is not necessarily the case.
This is because whether meat is cured or uncured, they usually have the same amount of nitrates within them, but the difference is where the nitrates originate from.
Let’s give you an example. Say you’re at the store, and you read a label on a ham that says it’s cured. This is implying that the ham has had additives and been cooked and is now safe to eat.
There are normally two ways to cure a ham, brine and wet curing. The pork will have chemicals shot into it such as sodium nitrate and then have flavorings input into it.
Following this, the ham will be cooked, likely using a smoker which will often take a few days to completely cook. Some methods though involve using a convection oven which can be done in a matter of hours – perfect for meats going to stores.
Convection oven cooking of a ham is okay, but it lacks the smoky tastes and often some of its juiciness to finish. So, normally the ham will have more chemicals added to it to mirror the smoky flavors that you’d expect.
This example can now explain what an uncured ham would be. In essence, an uncured ham which can be classified as a fresh ham will not have these types of chemicals added to it, but it is wrong to say that it isn’t cured at all.
Uncured ham will still be cured, but it will be cured differently – it’s just more of a natural process rather than an artificial one.
Curing is normally for preservation of meat so that it doesn't spoil or go bad so quickly and easily as it might have. The difference between the curing processes though is key to why cured meats labelled as such are typically not as healthy as uncured meats.
If you’re buying cured meats, you’re going to consume meat that has artificial flavorings, plenty of chemicals to prolong its life and lots more sodium nitrate than the alternative option.
Whereas, if you’re buying uncured meat like an uncured ham, you will often have a natural process involving salt and vegetables – which of course, not only means the ham will be better for you by allowing you to avoid the potentially harmful chemicals, but tastes better!
What you should be seeking out on the label of these meats are words like sodium nitrate free, or free from sodium nitrate.
Despite having some nice tastes, cured meats if eaten regularly can have some detrimental effects. It’s been suggested that consuming cured meats like hot dogs and pepperoni can lead to colorectal cancer.
In fact, the World Health Organization has categorized cured meats for the risk of cancer in the same bracket as smoking cigarettes. Scary stuff, but it’s important to understand that this is due to the carcinogenic properties of the products, not their likelihood of contracting or contributing to cancer.
For example, they also state that eating plenty of cured or processed meats will put you at five times more likely to contract cancer, whereas smoking is around twenty times more of a risk.
Whether cured meats are less safe than uncured meats will come down to the meat in question. For example, as we said – you should be looking for what the meat is free from entirely or how it was cured, rather than simply reading cured or uncured.
If meat is uncured, it does not mean that it has not been treated with some version of nitrates, and many might argue that uncured meats fall into a strange unregulated, or less regulated category – unlike cured meats, which have stringent label requirements for the consumer.
Uncured meat will likely be cured more naturally and use many more natural ingredients, so you can probably notice a better taste with an uncured hot dog, pepperoni or ham.
But the biggest way to ensure a great tasting meat is by how you prepare and cook it. Typically with pork products, the time will be essential.
Ensuring you’ve correctly prepared and left the product to absorb all the natural flavors or rub that you add and then cook it, usually as slowly as possible, at the right temperature and using the right cooking method.
That is when you know you’ve got a great tasting meat product.
Cured and uncured meats will still be cured, but one is more artificial than the other and will contain artificial preservatives and flavorings, but both can be carcinogenic.
What you need to look out for on the label is if they are free from sodium nitrates or other undesirable additives.
Now that we’ve explored the world of cured and uncured meat, we hope this has given you a great starting block to getting out there and getting the best possible meat for an amazing feast!
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