CURING is any of various food preservation and flavoring processes of
foods such as meat , fish and vegetables , by the addition of
combinations of salt , nitrates , nitrites , or sugar , with the aim
of drawing moisture out of the food by the process of osmosis . Many
curing processes also involve smoking , spicing, or cooking .
Dehydration was the earliest form of food curing. Because curing
increases the solute concentration in the food and hence decreases its
water potential , the food becomes inhospitable for the microbe growth
that causes food spoilage. Curing can be traced back to antiquity, and
was the primary way of preserving meat and fish until the late 19th
Nitrates and nitrites, in conjunction with salt, are one of the most
common agents in curing meat because they further inhibit the growth
Clostridium botulinum . They also contribute to the characteristic
pink color. Slices of beef in a can.
MEAT PRESERVATION in general (of meat from livestock , game , and
poultry ) is the set of all treatment processes for preserving the
properties, taste, texture, and color of raw, partially cooked, or
cooked meats while keeping them edible and safe to consume. Curing has
been the dominant method of meat preservation for thousands of years,
although modern developments like refrigeration and synthetic
preservatives are now beginning to complement and supplant it.
While meat preservation processes like curing were mainly developed
in order to prevent disease and increase food security , the advent of
modern preservation methods mean that in most developed countries
today, curing is instead mainly practised for its cultural value and
desirable impact on the texture and taste of food. For
lesser-developed countries , curing remains a key process in ensuring
the viability of meat production, transport and access.
* 1 Necessity of curing
* 2 History
* 2.1 Traditional methods
* 2.2 Middle Ages
* 2.3 Early modern era
* 3 Chemical actions
* 3.1 Salt
* 3.3 Nitrates and nitrites
* 4 Effect of meat preservation
* 4.1 On health
* 4.2 On trade
* 5 See also
* 6 Notes
* 7 References
* 8 Bibliography
* 9 External links
NECESSITY OF CURING
Untreated meat decomposes rapidly if it is not preserved, at a speed
that depends on several factors, including ambient humidity ,
temperature, and the presence of pathogens . Most meats cannot be kept
at room temperature in excess of a few days without spoiling, even in
If kept in excess of this time, meat begins to change colour and
exude a foul odour, indicating the decomposition of the food.
Ingestion of such spoiled meat can cause serious food poisonings, like
While the short shelf life of fresh meat does not pose a significant
problem when access to it is easy and supply is abundant, in times of
scarcity and famine, or when the meat must be carried over long
voyages, it spoils very quickly. In such circumstances the usefulness
of preserving foods containing nutritional value for transport and
storage is obvious.
Curing is able to significantly extend the life of meat before it
spoils, by making it inhospitable to the growth of spoilage microbes.
A survival technique since prehistory , the conservation of meat has
become, over the centuries, a topic of political, economic, and social
Young man preparing a pig's head after a sacrifice.
Vase v. 360
340 BC ,
National Archaeological Museum of Spain
National Archaeological Museum of Spain
Food curing dates back to ancient times, both in the form of smoked
meat and salt-cured meat .
Several sources describe the salting of meat in the ancient
Diodore of Sicily in his Bibliotheca historica
wrote that the Cosséens in the mountains of
Persia salted the flesh
of carnivorous animals.
Strabo indicates that people at
catching bats and salting them to eat. The ancient Greeks prepared
tarichos (τάριχος), which was meat and fish conserved by salt
or other means. The Romans called this dish salsamentum – which
term later included salted fat, the sauces and spices used for its
preparation. Also evidence of ancient sausage production exists. The
Roman gourmet Apicius speaks of a sausage-making technique involving
œnogaros (a mixture of the fermented fish sauce garum with oil or
wine). Preserved meats were furthermore a part of religious
traditions: resulting meat for offerings to the gods was salted before
being given to priests, after which it could be picked up again by the
offerer, or even sold in the butcher 's.
A trade in salt meat occurred across ancient Europe. In
time, the Gauls exported salt pork each year to Rome in large
quantities, where it was sold in different cuts: rear cuts, middle
cuts, hams, and sausages. This meat, after having been salted with the
greatest care, was sometime smoked. These goods had to have been
considerably important, since they fed part of the Roman people and
the armies. The Belgians were celebrated above all for the care which
they gave to the fattening of their pigs. Their herds of sheep and
pigs were so many, they could provide skins and salt meat not only for
Rome, but also for most of Italy. The Ceretani of
Spain drew a large
export income from their hams, which were so succulent, they were in
no way inferior to those of
Cantabria . These tarichos of pig would
become especially sought, to the point that the ancients considered
this meat the most nourishing of all and the easiest to digest.
Ethiopia , according to Pliny, and in
Libya according to Saint
Jerome , the Acridophages (literally, the locust-eaters) salted and
smoked the crickets which arrived at their settlements in the spring
in great swarms and which constituted, it was said, their sole food.
The smoking of meat was a traditional practice in North America,
Plains Indians hung their meat at the top of their tipis to
increase the amount of smoke coming into contact with the food.
In Europe, medieval cuisine made great use of meat and vegetables,
and the guild of butchers was amongst the most powerful. During the
12th century, salt beef was consumed by all social classes. Smoked
meat was called carbouclée in Romance tongues and bacon if it was
The Middle Ages made pâté a masterpiece: that which is, in the 21st
century, merely spiced minced meat (or fish), baked in a terrine and
eaten cold, was at that time composed of a dough envelope stuffed with
varied meats and superbly decorated for ceremonial feasts. The first
French recipe, written in verse by Gace de La Bigne , mentions in the
same pâté three great partridges, six fat quail, and a dozen larks.
Le Ménagier de Paris mentions pâtés of fish, game, young rabbit,
fresh venison, beef, pigeons, mutton, veal, and pork, and even pâtés
of lark, turtledove, cow, baby bird, goose, and hen. Bartolomeo Sacchi
, called Platine, prefect of the
Vatican Library , gives the recipe
for a pâté of wild beasts: the flesh, after being boiled with salt
and vinegar, was larded and placed inside an envelope of spiced fat,
with a mélange of pepper, cinnamon and pounded lard; one studded the
fat with cloves until it was entirely covered, then placed it inside a
In the 16th century, the most fashionable pâtés were of woodcock,
au bec doré, chapon, beef tongue, cow feet, sheep feet, chicken,
veal, and venison. In the same era,
Pierre Belon notes that the
Chios lightly salted then oven-dried entire
hares, sheep, and roe deer cut into pieces, and that in
cattle and sheep, cut and minced rouelles, salted then dried, were
eaten on voyages with onions and no other preparation.
EARLY MODERN ERA
Barrels of salt beef in a reconstruction of an American Civil
War stockpile, at
Fort Macon State Park
Fort Macon State Park ,
Age of Discovery
Age of Discovery , salt meat was one of the main foods for
sailors on long voyages, for instance in the merchant marine or the
navy . In the 18th century, salted Irish beef, transported in barrels,
was considered finest.
Scientific research on meat by chemists and pharmacists led to the
creation of a new, extremely practical product: meat extract, which
could appear in different forms. The need to properly feed soldiers
during long campaigns outside the country, such as the Napoleonic
Wars, and to nourish a constantly growing population often living in
appalling conditions drove scientific research, but a confectioner,
Nicolas Appert , in 1795 developed through experimentation a method
which would become universal and in one language bears his name:
airtight storage, called appertisation in French.
With the spread of appertisation, the 19th-century world entered the
era of the "food industry ", which developed new products such as
canned salt meat (for example corned beef ), but also led to lowered
standards of food quality and hygiene – such as those Upton Sinclair
The Jungle . These bad practices led to the creation of
Pure Food and Drug Act
Pure Food and Drug Act in 1906, followed by the national agencies
for health security and the establishment of food traceability over
the course of the 20th century. It also led to continuing
France , the summer of 1857 was so hot that most butchers refused
to slaughter animals and charcutiers lost considerable amounts of
meat, due to inadequate conservation methods. A member of the Academy
of Medicine and his son issued a 34-page summary of works printed
between 1663 and 1857, which proposed some solutions: not less than 91
texts exist, of which 64 edited for only the years between 1851 and
Table salt (sodium chloride ) is the primary ingredient used in meat
curing. Removal of water and addition of salt to meat creates a
solute -rich environment where osmotic pressure draws water out of
microorganisms, slowing down their growth. Doing this requires a
concentration of salt of nearly 20%. In addition, salt causes the
soluble meat proteins to come to the surface of the meat particles
within sausages. These proteins coagulate when the sausage is heated,
helping to hold the sausage together.
The sugar added to meat for the purpose of curing it comes in many
forms, including honey , corn syrup solids, and maple syrup .
However, with the exception of bacon, it does not contribute much to
the flavor, but it does alleviate the harsh flavor of the salt.
Sugar also contributes to the growth of beneficial bacteria such as
Lactobacillus by feeding them.
NITRATES AND NITRITES
Nitrates and nitrites not only help kill bacteria, but also produce a
characteristic flavor and give meat a pink or red color. Nitrite
2) is generally supplied by sodium nitrite or (indirectly) by
potassium nitrate .
Nitrite salts are most often used in curing.
Nitrate is specifically used only in a few curing conditions and
products where nitrite (which may be generated from nitrate) must be
generated in the product over long periods of time.
Nitrite further breaks down in the meat into nitric oxide (NO), which
then binds to the iron atom in the center of myoglobin\'s heme group,
reducing oxidation and causing a reddish-brown color
(nitrosomyoglobin) when raw, and the characteristic cooked-ham pink
color (nitrosohemochrome or nitrosyl-heme) when cooked. The addition
of ascorbate to cured meat reduces formation of nitrosamines (see
below), but increases the nitrosylation of iron.
The use of nitrite and nitrate salts for meat curing goes back to the
Middle Ages, and in the US has been formally used since 1925. Because
of the relatively high toxicity of nitrite (the lethal dose in humans
is about 22 mg/kg of body weight), the maximum allowed nitrite
concentration in meat products is 200 ppm . Plasma nitrite is reduced
in persons with endothelial dysfunction .
The use of nitrites in food preservation is controversial due to the
potential for the formation of nitrosamines when nitrites are present
in high concentrations and the product is cooked at high temperatures.
The effect is seen for red or processed meat, but not for white meat
or fish. Nitrates and nitrites may cause cancer and the production
of carcinogenic nitrosamines can be potently inhibited by the use of
Vitamin C and the alpha-tocopherol form of Vitamin E
during curing. Under simulated gastric conditions, nitrosothiols
rather than nitrosamines are the main nitroso species being formed.
The use of either compound is therefore regulated; for example, in the
United States, the concentration of nitrates and nitrites is generally
limited to 200 ppm or lower. They are considered irreplaceable in the
prevention of botulism from consumption of cured dry sausages by
preventing spore germination.
Meat can also be preserved by "smoking", which means exposing it to
smoke from burning or smoldering plant materials, usually wood . If
the smoke is hot enough to slow-cook the meat, it will also keep it
tender. One method of smoking calls for a smokehouse with damp wood
chips or sawdust . In
North America , hardwoods such as hickory ,
mesquite , and maple are commonly used for smoking, as are the wood
from fruit trees such as apple , cherry , and plum , and even corncobs
Smoking helps seal the outer layer of the food being cured, making it
more difficult for bacteria to enter. It can be done in combination
with other curing methods such as salting. Common smoking styles
include hot smoking, smoke roasting (pit barbecuing) and cold smoking.
Smoke roasting and hot smoking cook the meat while cold smoking does
not. If the meat is cold smoked, it should be dried quickly to limit
bacterial growth during the critical period where the meat is not yet
dry. This can be achieved, as with jerky , by slicing the meat thinly.
The smoking of food directly with wood smoke is known to contaminate
the food with carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons .
EFFECT OF MEAT PRESERVATION
Since the 20th century, with respect to the relationship between diet
and human disease (e.g. cardiovascular, etc.), scientists have
conducted studies on the effects of lipolysis on vacuum-packed or
frozen meat. In particular, by analyzing entrecôtes of frozen beef
during 270 days at −20 °C (−4 °F), scientists found an important
phospholipase that accompanies the loss of some unsaturated fat n-3
and n-6, which are already low in the flesh of ruminants .
In 2015, the
International Agency for Research on Cancer
International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World
Health Organization classified processed meat, that is, meat that has
undergone salting, curing, fermenting, and smoking, as "carcinogenic
The improvement of methods of meat preservation, and of the means of
transport of preserved products, has notably permitted the separation
of areas of production and areas of consumption, which can now be
distant without it posing a problem, permitting the exportation of
For example, the appearance in the 1980s of preservation techniques
under controlled atmosphere sparked a small revolution in the world's
market for sheep meat: the lamb of
New Zealand , one of the world's
largest exporters of lamb, could henceforth be sold as fresh meat,
since it could be preserved from 12 to 16 weeks, which would be a
sufficient duration for it to reach Europe by boat. Before, meat from
New Zealand was frozen, thus had a much lower value on European
shelves. With the arrival of the new "chilled" meats, New Zealand
could compete even more strongly with local producers of fresh meat.
The use of controlled atmosphere to avoid the depreciation which
affects frozen meat is equally useful in other meat markets, such as
that for pork, which now also enjoys an international trade.
* Food portal
List of dried foods
List of dried foods
List of smoked foods
* ^ In time the original term came to mean salted fish only,
whereas salted meat was called kreas tarichrou (κρέας
ταριχηρὸν), according to
Athenaeus of Naucratis
Athenaeus of Naucratis in his
Deipnosophistae, IV, 14.137f (en ligne)
* ^ A B "Historical Origins of Food Preservation." University of
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* ^ A nomadic shepherd people, considered by classical authors to
be made up of warriors et de brigands, was the object of a victorious
Alexander the Great
Alexander the Great in the fourth century. Cf. Pierre
Briant, État et pasteurs au Moyen-Orient ancien, Cambridge and Paris,
1982 (compte rendu).
* ^ Diodore de Sicile, Bibliothèque historique, XIX, 19 cité par
Koehler, 1832, p. 432, note 724 (p. 486).
* ^ Strabon, Géographie, XVI, 1.7.
* ^ A B C (in French) M. Koehler, Tarichos ou recherches sur
l’histoire et les antiquités des pêcheries de la Russie
méridionale, in Mémoires de l’Académie impériale des sciences de
Saint-Pétersbourg, 6th series, book I, Imp. of the Académie
impériale des sciences, Saint Petersburg, 1832, p. 347 à 490 (en
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coquinaria, libri decem. Cum annotationibus Martini Lister, Londres,
1705, livre II, ch. 2, p. 59.
* ^ Cf. Joaquim Marquardt, La Vie privée des romains, 2, dans
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* ^ Pliny, Histoire naturelle, VI, 35.17
* ^ En Normandie par example : Léopold Delisle, Études
historiques et archéologiques en province depuis 1848 cité dans la
Revue des deux mondes, XI (XXIe année), Paris, 1851, p. 1048.
* ^ Jean-Baptiste-Bonaventure de Roquefort , Supplément au
glossaire de la langue romane, Chasseriau et Hécart, Paris, 1820, 308
* ^ Jean Baptiste Bonaventure de Roquefort, Glossaire de la langue
romane, T. I, B. Warée, Paris, 1808, 772 pages
* ^ Paul Lacroix et Ferdinand Séré, Le Moyen Âge et la
Renaissance, histoire et description des mœurs et usages, du commerce
et de l’industrie, des sciences, des arts, des littératures et des
beaux-arts en Europe, T. I, ch. Nourriture et cuisine, Paris, 1848,
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Belon du Mans, de plusieurs singularités et choses mémorables,
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* ^ (in French) A. Chevallier père et fils, Recherches
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substances alimentaires de nature animale et de nature végétale, in
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