Is There Really Such A Thing As Unprocessed Bacon?

Bacon is one of the most beloved breakfast foods out there. The smell of sizzling bacon in the morning is enough to get anyone out of bed. But like many processed meats, bacon has come under scrutiny for its high sodium and nitrite content. This has led to the rise of so-called “uncured” or “unprocessed” bacon as a seemingly healthier alternative. But is uncured bacon really any better? Let’s slice through the confusion and find out.

What Makes Bacon Processed In The First Place

All bacon goes through some type of processing whether it’s smoked, cured or aged. This processing serves an important purpose – preserving the meat and preventing bacterial growth. The curing process is what really sets bacon apart from plain pork belly. Here’s how it works

  • Curing – Most bacon is cured by soaking the pork in a brine solution The brine is made up of water, salt, spices, and curing agents like sodium nitrite or potassium nitrate This curing process adds flavor, preserves the meat, and gives bacon its signature pink color.

  • Smoking – Many bacons are also smoked after curing. Smoking further preserves the meat and gives it a smoky, wood-fired flavor.

  • Aging – Some artisanal bacons are dried-aged for weeks or months to intensify the flavor.

So in reality, all bacon goes through some type of processing. Terms like “uncured” or “unprocessed” are a little misleading.

The Controversy Around Nitrites in Bacon

Much of the debate around bacon stems from the use of curing agents like sodium nitrite. Sodium nitrite serves important functions:

  • Prevents botulism and preserves the meat
  • Gives bacon its characteristic color and flavor
  • Antioxidant properties to prevent rancidity

However, there are concerns that nitrites could be linked to cancer. When exposed to high heat, nitrites can turn into nitrosamines, which are carcinogenic. Studies on this are inconclusive but it’s enough to make some consumers wary of nitrite-cured meats like bacon.

This health concern has led to a demand for uncured or nitrite-free bacon. But are these products truly nitrite-free? Let’s dig in.

The Tricky Business of “Uncured” Bacon

Over the past decade, “uncured” or “no nitrates added” bacon has exploded in popularity. But here’s the twist – these products are still cured, they just use natural sources of nitrates instead of sodium nitrite.

Two common natural curing agents used are:

  • Celery powder – Made from dehydrated celery juice, which contains nitrates
  • Celery salt – A blend of celery powder and salt

When celery powder is used in curing, the natural nitrates convert into nitrites with the help of bacteria. So while no man-made sodium nitrite is added, the end product still contains nitrites.

The USDA requires these products to be labeled as “uncured” AND state that they contain naturally occurring nitrates from celery juice or other vegetable powders. Many brands just label them as “uncured” which can be misleading.

Health Comparison: Cured vs. Uncured Bacon

With both cured and uncured bacon containing nitrites, is one healthier than the other? Let’s compare:

Cured Bacon

  • Exact amount of nitrite can be controlled
  • Lower risk of bacterial growth
  • Contains added sodium from curing process

Uncured Bacon

  • Nitrite amount varies batch to batch
  • Higher risk of spoilage/bacterial growth
  • No added sodium from curing agents

There’s no scientific consensus yet on whether one process is better. But potential upsides to uncured bacon are reduced sodium content and more variability in nitrites. However, the natural curing process can lead to inconsistent results.

One study did find that cured meats contain more nitrosamines than uncured after cooking. But both contained some level of the carcinogens. Overall, more research is needed on any health differences.

How to Choose Healthier Bacon

Rather than getting hung up on definitions like cured vs. uncured, there are other ways to evaluate how healthy your bacon is:

  • Check the Ingredients – Look for bacon without artificial preservatives. The fewer ingredients, the better.

  • Look for Minimal Processing – Lightly processed bacons like pancetta are better than heavily smoked/processed versions.

  • Choose Pasture-Raised – Pasture-raised pork has a better fatty acid profile than factory-farmed.

  • Watch the Sodium – Cured bacons contain around 600mg sodium per slice. Uncured is closer to 300mg.

  • Eat in Moderation – No matter what type, bacon is high in saturated fat and salt. Keep portions small.

Healthy Bacon Options to Try

Here are some healthier bacon options using both cured and uncured methods:

Cured Bacon

  • Nueske’s Applewood Smoked Bacon – Minimally processed cured bacon smoked over applewood

  • Wright Brand Bacon – Cured without nitrates and minimally smoked

  • Applegate Sunday Bacon – Made from humanely raised pork, no nitrites added

Uncured Bacon

  • Oscar Mayer Naturally Hardwood Smoked Bacon – Uncured and smoked over hardwood chips

  • Hormel Natural Choice Bacon – Minimally processed without artificial ingredients

  • Pete & Gerry’s Heirloom Bacon – Uncured and made from heritage Berkshire pork

Homemade Uncured Bacon – Is It Possible?

You can absolutely make uncured bacon at home without curing agents. Here are two methods:

Dry Curing

  • Rub pork belly with salt, spices, and herbs
  • Refrigerate 2-3 weeks to cure

Wet Brining

  • Submerge pork in saltwater brine for 7-10 days
  • Rinse, dry, and refrigerate

Without curing agents, the bacon won’t have that characteristic pink color. But the flavor will be delicious! Smoke at low heat for 1-2 hours to finish.

Home curing requires patience and close monitoring to prevent bacterial growth. But with careful hygiene and prep, you can DIY unprocessed bacon.

The Bottom Line on Unprocessed Bacon

While terms like “uncured” sound appealing, even these products contain nitrites from natural sources like celery powder. There is no consensus that uncured bacon is healthier, though it may be lower in sodium.

Rather than fixating on labels, choose bacon with minimal ingredients and processing. Prioritize pasture-raised pork when you can. Most importantly, enjoy all bacon in moderation as part of a healthy diet! With smart choices, you can still indulge in this tasty treat.

Highly Processed Meat Danger? It’s not what you think…


Can you get non processed bacon?

Uncured bacon is bacon that hasn’t been cured with sodium nitrites. Usually, it’s cured with a form of celery, which contains natural nitrites, along with plain old sea salt and other flavorings like parsley and beet extracts. Since 2020, the FDA requires that uncured bacon has to be labeled “Uncured bacon.

Is unprocessed bacon good for you?

Uncured bacon really isn’t a better alternative. It’s still bacon. Little practical difference exists between cured and uncured bacon in terms of health. Both are cured in the true sense of the word, meaning they are preserved.

What is the healthiest bacon?

Uncured bacon (bacon that hasn’t been cured with synthetically sourced nitrates) claims to be healthier than regular bacon, as the nitrates come from vegetables.

Is bacon not processed meat?

It’s not. It starts out as pork belly. Then it goes through heavy processing: curing, smoking, or salting. This makes the finished product more like hot dogs and lunch meats.

What is uncured bacon?

Uncured bacon is bacon that hasn’t been cured with sodium nitrites. Usually, it’s cured with a form of celery, which contains natural nitrites, along with plain old sea salt and other flavorings like parsley and beet extracts. Since 2020, the FDA requires that uncured bacon has to be labeled “Uncured bacon.

Is hickory smoked bacon uncured?

” Smithfield All Natural Uncured Hickory Smoked Bacon is uncured, meaning it isn’t preserved in nitrites and nitrates,” says Catherine Karnatz, MPH, RD, an anti-diet culture dietitian and creator of Nutrition Education RD.

Is uncured bacon healthy?

Uncured bacon is still cured with salt but not with nitrites, so it’s somewhat healthier — but it’s still full of sodium and saturated fat. Any type of bacon, cured or uncured, has no health benefits. Manufacturers have a lot of ways of trying to make consumers think unhealthy foods are healthier. Labeling bacon as “uncured” is one of them.

Does Bacon make a difference?

But, the only thing about bacon that might make a difference in terms of your health is whether your bacon cured or uncured. Bacon is typically high in sodium, total fat, and saturated fat. And if you aren’t eating small servings, you’re getting even more sodium and fat. High sodium is a risk factor for high blood pressure.

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