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Organic Butcher - Owner Don Roden's Superb Meats, Fish, and Other Groceries in a Boutique Setting, Old Dominion Drive in Downtown McLean

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20 hours ago, DonRocks said:

... and some nitrate-free Virginia bacon...

If they truly do not use nitrates, it is not truly bacon. Its smoked, salted pork belly with a limited shelf life and likely an unappetizing brown appearance. Bacon by definition is and has to be cured (nitrates of some form).  If the bacon was an appetizing pink, nitrates were invariably used.  It is a deceptive (and lucrative) practice.

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8 hours ago, Poivrot Farci said:

If they truly do not use nitrates, it is not truly bacon. Its smoked, salted pork belly with a limited shelf life and likely an unappetizing brown appearance. Bacon by definition is and has to be cured (nitrates of some form).  If the bacon was an appetizing pink, nitrates were invariably used.  It is a deceptive (and lucrative) practice.

Interesting - I did not know this. The bacon was light pink, and the farm ... I can't remember the name of it, but I remember it was from Virginia, and I think it started with an "S."

Note, however, that it was the Butcher's handwritten sign that said the bacon was nitrate-free; the farm makes no such claim that I'm aware of - I'll take a closer look next time I'm in (hey, it was good bacon!)

Julien, I know this is a pain, but would you take a few minutes to educate me about nitrates? Namely:

1) Why do they turn the meat pink? I've seen the beige-colored stuff, and I imagine it can get pretty ugly with age.

2) What is the precise definition of curing?

3) What is the precise definition of bacon, and did it originate in Denmark? (During a World Cup game, England was playing Denmark, and the English fans were chanting, <assuming best Cockney accent> "Shove your bacon up your arse!"

4) Is the smoked, salted, nitrate-free pork belly to which you refer ever any good, even early in its shelf life? I thought nitrates were mere preservatives.

5) Why do nitrates have a bad rap? Are they bad for you? Do they occur in nature? Why do they do what they to do bacon?

6) Would you consider offering some classes - perhaps even some online classes? I would consider driving up from DC to attend one. You may not be interested in such a thing, but I'd be happy to try and use my connections to get you some type of show. Heck, maybe I'll do one with you.

Your expertise, as always, would be *greatly* appreciated. Also, please let us know where you are now (same place?) If so, I'm *more* than happy to give you some Social Media Luv, for whatever good that will do you - still, I'd love to do this for you, and it's the very least I can do.

PS: Tri-tip #4 - outstanding once again, but definitely a different dry-rub than #2 - this one used dehydrated onion, and a lot of white spices; the other one (and the best of the bunch) used more red-colored spices. They need to get this more consistent - either that, or list the options; but hopefully you can tell by looking at it that this is a nice cut of steak:

IMG_3918.jpgIMG_3919.JPG

Cheers,
Ron Swanson

 

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Executive Summary: Nitrates prevent botulism and keep the meat nice and rosy. Nitrates are in saliva, beets and spinach. There are more nitrates in 2oz of celery than in 2oz of bacon. 

If your bacon had absolutely no nitrates, it would look grey/brown and you’d suspect it was spoiled. It is unlikely that the USDA would approve a “bacon” without nitrates for retail sale in butcher shop. Nitrate-free is generally bullshit-full. Most who do the no-nitrate shell game use nitrates in the form of celery juice powder or something else that actually has more ppm than conventional #1 curing salt (6.25% nitrite). The nitrate concentration is so high in the powders that is has to be used in minuscule quantities which can make it unreliable (works with industrial-sized batches of bacon) and it also needs to be activated by an enzyme -generally present in meat. Therefor the USDA does not deem it to be a suitable “curing agent” and give it the thumbs down. So the deceptive practice is to use the powdered juice of vegetables high in nitrates (beets, celery, spinach) then write “no added nitrates* other than those naturally occurring in whatever” which is consequently “uncured” because it is not a legal curing agent and people feel like they aren’t eating nitrates*. What/how the Organic Butcher labels the bacon is between them and the bacon producer and perhaps the label deserves more scrutiny or additional words.

food-label-9_no-nitrates-or-nitrites-add

*But there certainly are nitrates. Lots more even.

Quote

NY Times: A study published earlier this year in The Journal of Food Protection found that natural hot dogs had anywhere from one-half to 10 times the amount of nitrite that conventional hot dogs contained. Natural bacon had from about a third as much nitrite as a conventional brand to more than twice as much.

Nitrates have been used for well over 2-3 millennia (China, ancient Rome, Central Eurasia) and usually came from saltpeter. Saltpeter (the primary ingredient in gunpowder) naturally has nitrates and was widely used throughout the dark ages, but when introduced to other agents it can go boom in your face and the nitrate content varies. Up until the 1900’s curing was still irregular (not entirely safe) so a more reliable method of manufacturing and using nitrates was developed. The curing mix available on the market (#1, heat activated “Prague”) is 93% table salt and 6.25% nitrite and 2g of that is enough for 1000g. The manufacturing process is no different than how they make baking soda. Granulated sugar doesn’t exactly pour out of sugar cane so the natural vs manufactured/processed reasoning is moot.

Nitrates are safe, make food safe, make it look appetizing and lend a characteristic “cured” flavor. “No nitrates” is nothing more than a marketing ploy, like the “no growth hormones” on chicken labels. Growth hormone usage has been illegal in US poultry since Eisenhower but consumers still need reminding -like unleaded gas and the “no smoking” sign in planes. When was the last time you asked for unleaded gas or saw someone light up on a flight?

Nitrates work by bonding to myoglobin (what makes certain meats red) and replace the oxygen which would otherwise oxidize during cooking and turn the meat dark grey/brown, similar to the oxidation in apples, potatoes or artichokes when they are cut an exposed to the air. The nitrate in sodium nitrite (#1 curing salt) is heat activated and while it initially turns the meat brown, it turns pink when it reaches a certain temperature, upwards of 150F. (Sodium nitrate used in shelf-stable dry-cured meats is time activated). “Curing” is drawing out moisture through osmosis with salt and making the protein inhospitable to harmful micro-organisms. Once fully cooked, and refrigerated (different from shelf stable dry cured meats like prosciutto), it has an extended shelf life and the color is preserved, though it surface will oxidize a bit over time. Poly-phosphates are an industrial curing agent and will keep ham pink if you leave it in the trunk of your car for a month. In France, any charcuterie labeled “superior” quality (primarily deli hams) is strictly forbidden by law from using poly-phosphates. I don’t think there are regulations like that here, other than how much bacon you must eat to get a free T-shirt somewhere.

You could salt a belly and smoke it and it might very well be delicious, but it would not have a very long shelf life (USDA would be hesitant to allow you to vacuum seal it) and by the time it got to market and then to someone’s home and then their plate, it would begin to deteriorate and then someone gets sick and there is panic and lawsuits…In New York state they are trying to regulate and redesign Tide Pods because there are paranoid fantasies of kids eating laundry detergent. If someone got sick eating bacon and hotdogs there would be chaos.

Bacon (cured belly) has existed since ancient times and up until the 16th century, all pork products that were cured were called “bacoun” which was Olde German/French for anything coming from the back of the pig. Smoke houses remain a traditional method of preservation north of the warmer Mediterranean where it was too cold to dry cure over the winter. “Bringing home the bacon” came from a 12th century story about a town chuch in England that rewarded a husband a side of bacon if he did not have any tussles with the missus for 1 year. Might be worth dusting off that tradition.

I don’t know exactly when the superstitious avoidance of nitrates became fashionable, but it probably has to do with faulty causation/correlation of cancer rates among those who eat cured meats. There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that nitrates are the culprit in a heavy diet of cured meats. There are plenty of other factors and if someone is eating salty meats thrice a day, nitrates are the least of their problems. The greenwashing “no-...” buzzwords are a testament to flimsy labeling regulations, ignorant consumers and the prowess of marketing in a society that has been conditioned to be wary of food in general (after 50 years of crap) and treats it like medicine or with complete indifference.

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12 hours ago, Poivrot Farci said:

I don’t know exactly when the superstitious avoidance of nitrates became fashionable, but it probably has to do with faulty causation/correlation of cancer rates among those who eat cured meats.

The 1970s. Ralph Nader.

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On 2/9/2018 at 7:54 AM, porcupine said:

The 1970s. Ralph Nader.

Did you know this off the top of your head?! If so, that's remarkable.

(Julien, thanks - you went way above the call of duty. You must be one of the smartest people I've ever met. BTW, am I completely off-base with being critical about chemically manfactured MSG? (Executive Summary: I don't think it's bad for you; just that it can be used as a shortcut, similar to Morton's Table Salt or Old El Paso Salsa, but the long-form version is in that link.) If so, I'll refrain from any future comments, and retract my old ones.)

Related Aside: Do you believe umami, discovered in 1908, is really a "fifth flavor?" When there are two conflicting schools of thought, I tend to be biased against the commercial one, but I remain open-minded. When I was growing up, we called it "aftertaste"; in wine, "finish"; and it can be reproduced simply by attempting to exhale with your nose pinched shut and your mouth closed, or even via eructation an hour later. <--- Ha ha, drove you to Google. Seriously, if it was a fifth flavor (or however you want to term it), wouldn't it be "different" rather than merely a lingering effect, or a "deepening" of whatever flavors you're currently experiencing?

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8 hours ago, DonRocks said:

Did you know this off the top of your head?! If so, that's remarkable.

I did.

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On 2/8/2018 at 7:02 PM, Poivrot Farci said:

Executive Summary: Nitrates prevent botulism and keep the meat nice and rosy. Nitrates are in saliva, beets and spinach. There are more nitrates in 2oz of celery than in 2oz of bacon. 

Julien,

Don Roden, owner of Organic Butcher, and I have exchanged some emails. With his permissison, I'm cutting-and-pasting this response to my initial letter (which basically just directed him to your posts):

---

Hi Don,

Thank you for the email regarding our bacon.  I hate it that I miss stuff like this.  Need to do a better job keeping my eye on your site.  We do sell a local bacon that comes to us labeled as uncured.  It contains celery powder instead of sodium nitrate which certainly doesn’t mean it’s nitrate free because of the naturally occurring nitrates that occur.  I am going to make sure that this bacon is not being sold as nitrate free.  We usually promote our Paleo Bacon for those looking for nitrate free.  It is salt cured then smoked, no sugar.  Technically not bacon I guess.  I think this whole topic is very blog worthy for us so that our customers can be better informed.  
 
Thanks!
Don Roden
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