Curing is a preservation method frequently applied to meat. It involves the use of ingredients that can inhibit growth of microorganisms, preserves the red meat color and provides characteristic flavor to meat when cooked.
Curing ingredients basically include salt, sugar, nitrates and nitrates and may include phosphates. Spices are normally added to further enhance and improve flavor of the meat product.
Salt is used for both preservation and flavor enhancement. As a preservative, it draws out moisture from the meat to lower water activity which, consequently, prevents microbial activity and causes hardening of muscle fibers. The common uniodized coarse salt is recommended for the purpose.
Sugar adds flavor, masks saltiness and helps prevent the toughening effect of salt. Sugar also promotes the activity of lactic acid producing bacteria which develop a unique blend of sour-sweet taste of cured meat products. High amounts of sugar, however, can support the activity of spoilage bacteria, yeasts and molds, hence, it should be used only at certain levels. Refined sugar is recommended for curing because it contains the least impurities as compared to crude sugars.
Nitrates and nitrites are used to preserve the red color, improve flavor and provide bacteriostatic effect. Strict limits should be observed with the use of nitrates and nitrites. Presence of green or white discoloration of cured meat indicates excessive amounts of such compounds.
Nitrates and nitrites are added in the form of salitre (KNO3), saltpeter (NaNO2), potassium nitrite (KNO2) and prague powder.
Phosphates are added to increase the water holding capacity of the meat which prevents excessive shrinkage during processing. Phosphates approved for use in meat include sodium tripolyphosphate, sodium hexametaphosphate, monosodium phosphate and disodium phosphate. The recommended maximum level for the addition of phosphate