A nameless food purveyor salesman visited the shop a while back to sample me on some charcuterie. I noticed the label on one of the packages said “uncured salami.” Strange, I have been in the food industry for quite a long time and I’m pretty sure that the definition of salami has the word “cured” in there somewhere. The word “uncured” was not in quotes either, like in soy “burger,” so I just had to ask. “What the hell is uncured salami?” said I in my most demure New Yorkese. He looked at me with all the fear of a child who promised to walk the dog and forgot. “That means that they don’t add nitrates to it” he said, quickly realizing that one of us seemed to know what he was talking about and it wasn’t him. “Soooo….? That doesn’t answer my question. Is it cured or not?” said I. “No,” he insisted, if they don’t use nitrates, it’s not cured.”
Now, I don’t have a reputation for letting things go and this went on for quite some time before I managed to convince this guy that the label is misleading and kind of stupid and if he’s trying to sell it, he might want to invest some time in figuring this out.
As soon as he left, I ran to the Google machine to figure this nonsense out for my own self. Could I have been mistaken? Is there a way to make salami without curing it? Nope. So wait a tic, uncured salami is cured?
What the hell? As far as I can tell, this is just as ridiculous as it sounds. It turns out that “uncured” salami is cured, just like they have been curing it for thousands of years. Encase it in enough acid or sugar and the outer surface area gets protected by a layer which protects the product from pathogens and the interior molecules break down like you cooked them with heat, thus “curing” the meat. This “uncured” nonsense is exactly that, nonsense. What they really mean is that the meat is absolutely, definitely, indubitably, 100% cured, but not with sodium nitrate or nitrite. That’s fine and the discussion whether or not those two ingredients are somehow healthier or unhealthier than more traditional curing agents like salt, sugar, celery powder, or vinegars, is a longer one and very open for a reasonable debate. The problem I have is the imbecilic labeling of “uncured” as if this product is in some measureable way superior. It would have been far less confusing and much more honest to call it “naturally cured” or “cured according to traditional practices” or anything else but “uncured.” My large suspicion is that this is yet another example of marketing antiscience. People don’t know what nitrates and nitrites are but they definitely sound like something made by people in glasses and white lab coats, which is scary.
For those of you who are more interested, it actually gets even more confusing because the reason that we starting curing meats with sodium nitrate and nitrites in the first place is because they are the active chemicals released by traditional curing agents. So, even uncured meats which are cured without the addition of nitrates and nitrites also have these chemicals. If there is a reason that you cannot or will not consume these chemicals, you can’t eat either style. To sum up, there ain’t no such thing as uncured salami and the only difference is that they don’t add any nitrate or nitrite to the “uncured” salami but they’re totes in there anyways. YEESH!
The next person that comes in and asks for uncured salami is getting chased out of here with a stick of salami.
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