Curing salt is used in meat processing to generate a pinkish shade and to extend shelf life. It is both a color agent and a means to facilitate food preservation as it prevents or slows spoilage by bacteria or fungus. Curing salts are generally a mixture of table salt and sodium nitrite and are used for pickling meats as part of the process to make sausage or cured meat such as ham, bacon, pastrami, corned beef, etc. The reason for using nitrite-curing salt is to inhibit the growth of bacteria, specifically Clostridium botulinum in an effort to prevent botulism.
Many curing salts also contain red dye that makes them pink to prevent them from being confused with common table salt. Thus curing salt is sometimes referred to as "pink salt". Curing salts are not to be confused with Himalayan pink salt, which is halite with trace elements that give it a pink color.
There are many types of curing salts often specific to a country or region.
Prague Powder #1
One of the most common curing salts. It is also called Insta Cure #1 or Pink curing salt #1. It contains 6.25% sodium nitrite and 93.75% table salt. It is recommended for meats that require short cures and will be cooked and eaten relatively quickly. Sodium nitrite provides the characteristic flavor and color associated with curing.
Prague Powder #2
Also called Pink curing salt #2. It contains 6.25% sodium nitrite, 4% sodium nitrate, and 89.75% table salt. The sodium nitrate found in Prague powder #2 gradually breaks down over time into sodium nitrite, and by that time a dry cured sausage is ready to be eaten, no sodium nitrate should be left. For this reason it is recommended for meats that require long (weeks to months) cures, like hard salami and country ham.
Another name for potassium nitrate (KNO3), saltpetre, also called saltpeter or nitrate of potash, has been a common ingredient of some types of salted meat for centuries but its use has been mostly discontinued due to inconsistent results compared to nitrite compounds (KNO2, NaNO2, NNaNO2, etc.) Even so, saltpetre is still used in some food applications, such as some charcuterie products. It should not be confused with Chile saltpetre or Peru saltpetre, which is sodium nitrate (NaNO3).
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