Photo by Jezz Tims
Curing is the preservation of food by using a combination of salt, sugar, and nitrites. Smoking is a preservation method that uses the production of smoke to dry food. Smoking and Curing are most often used together as a way to preserve while adding flavor.
Fresh foods are highly susceptible to spoilage because of their high water content. This water can be a breeding ground for a number of microorganisms. Exposure to oxygen, temperature, ph, naturally occurring enzymes, and time also have a huge effect on the life and quality of food. These factors can either facilitate or impede the deterioration. Over our existence as humans we have found ways to extend the life our food by manipulating these factors and ultimately changing our relationship with food at its foundation. Food preservation has shaped food culture and created the framework for the food industry. Throughout several articles we will go over some food preservation methods, why they work, and how you can utilize them at home.
How it works
Curing is a technique that can fall over many preservation techniques. In its essence curing preserves by covering food with a mixture of salt, sugar, and nitrites. The process that then takes place is very similar to fermentation. Salt inhibits the growth of spoilage-causing microorganisms by drawing water out of microbial cells through osmosis. The average concentration needed to kill unwanted bacteria is 20%. A decrease in many of the unwanted bacteria welcome the incoming of “good” bacteria which begin to develop an acidic environment and use the sugar within the cure to feed itself and thrive. The most common bacteria seen in this case is lactobacillus. The acidic environment formed by the bacteria are what give some cured foods their tangy flavor. Nitrates (NO3) and Nitrites (NO2) also contribute to flavor and visually aid in the development of the red and pink colors seen in cured foods like hotdogs and salami. These compounds break down into nitric oxide binding to iron and preventing oxidation, therefore preserving the color
Smoking is typically performed after the curing process. Exposing food to smoke for an extended period of time helps to dry it out by removing water, imparting a smokey flavor, and keeping insects away. Smoking can be performed hot; in a kiln for a short period of time or performed cold; up to 24 hours over low heat. Either through heat, drying, or from chemicals found in the smoke itself the food is preserved from direct contact with the smoke.
Concerns & Tips
Commonly cured & smoked foods
To get more information on how you can try curing at home visit the national center for home preservation.
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We are two food scientists that are all about changing the way we look at our food. We will be diving into all of the research, tips, and tricks on how we can all live a sustainable lifestyle. Join us as we find the most creative and green solutions to saving our food, our bodies, and the environment.