The role of components of the curing mixture

Salt solubilises the proteins of the muscle as well as increasing the osmotic pressure such that spoilage by bacteria is suppressed. Naturally it enhances flavour. Levels may range from 2% to 3% to as high as 6% to 8%.

The key component is sodium nitrite, which promotes the typical colour of preserved meats through the formation of nitric oxide compounds by reaction with the haem of myoglobin (Fig. 13.1). Furthermore, it contributes to flavour as well as inhibiting the development of pathogens such as Clostridium botulinum. The downside is the production of the potentially carcinogenic nitrosamines and so there are legal limits on how much may be used (e.g. 120 ppm for US bacon). Meat typically has a pH of between 5.5 and 6 after rigor mortis is complete. At this pH, nitrite is converted to N2O, which also features in curing. Nitrate may replace nitrite, in which case it is converted to nitrite through the action of bacteria.

Sodium phosphate increases the water-binding capacity of the protein, leading to a stabilisation of the myofibrils. It also binds heavy metals and thus helps protect against the microbes that need those metals.

Sugar is added to counter the salt flavour-wise and is also the carbon and energy source for any microbes necessary for fermentation, for example, those organisms involved in the reduction of nitrate. This sugar will react during any heating stages in Maillard reaction to impact colour and flavour.

Reducing agents, notably ascorbate, reduce nitrite to the nitric oxide that reacts with myoglobin and also helps to suppress the development of nitrosamines.

Binding agents and emulsifiers may be used to improve stability. They may include soy (or hydrolysed soy) starches and carrageenan.

Finally, antioxidants such as BHT and propyl gallate may be added to counter the development of rancidity through lipid oxidation.

Globin binds

COO-

HC C

COO-

Fe CH

CH C

H CH2

Remaining chelation site

Fig. 13.1 The interaction of nitrite with haem. The sixth binding site, occupied by nitrite, is the one otherwise occupied by oxygen, carbon monoxide, cyanide, etc.

Table 13.1 Classifications of fermented sausage.

Type

Aw

Fermentation time (weeks)

Surface mould growth

Smoked/ not smoked

Example

Origin

Dry

<0.9

>4

Yes

No

Salami

Italy

Dry

<0.9

>4

Yes

Yes

Salami

Hungary

Dry

<0.9

>4

No

Either

Dauerwurst

Germany

Semi-dry

0.9-0.95

<4

Yes

No

Various

France, Spain

Semi-dry

0.9-0.95

1.5-3

No

Usually

Most fermented

Germany,

sausages

Holland,

Scandinavia,

USA

Undried

0.9-0.95

<2

No

Either

Sobrasada

Spain

Adapted from Lücke (2003).

Adapted from Lücke (2003).

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