Cured Vs Uncured – What’s The Difference?

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Meat is a concentrated source of nutrients and has been consumed by humans for centuries.

The most common sources of meat around the world include animals such as cattle, pigs, and poultry, as well as goats, sheep, and buffalos. Other less common meat sources include camels, yaks, horses, and ostriches.

Regardless of the source of meat, the one thing in common among them is that they all are highly perishable, meaning that they can go bad if not preserved and stored properly.

To deal with this issue, humans came up with a process known as “curing”, which has been a vital survival skill for them through the years.

These days, although refrigeration has made meat preservation much easier, cured meats remain a popular choice because of their potent flavors.

So, what is the difference between cured and uncured meat? The main difference between cured and uncured meat is the way that the meat is preserved. Cured meat uses artificial preservatives to prolong its shelf life whereas uncured meat relies on natural preservatives.

Read on to find out more about the differences between cured and uncured meats, specifically when it comes to bacon, ham, hot dogs, pepperoni, and salami!

Cured Vs Uncured Meats

A huge chunk of the world’s population, specifically in the US, is obsessed with processed meats such as bacon and sausages. They are a huge part of our breakfasts and make just the perfect sandwiches.

But have you ever wondered how your favorite type of meat is prepared and processed and how it differs from the other methods? 

Both cured and uncured meats are preserved meats. You might think that uncured meat is “fresh meat” with nothing added to it, but that is not the case.

What Is Cured Meat?

Cured meat is what you generally find in the supermarket labeled as “processed meat”. It uses artificial and chemical preservatives, such as sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate, with a salt mixture to preserve it and prevent spoilage.

Curing not only extends the shelf life of the meat but also gives it an additional savory flavor. It also gives the meat a nice, pink appearance.

The most popular types of cured meats sold in the market include bacon, hot dogs, pepperoni, prosciutto, pastrami, and pancetta.

What Is Uncured Meat?

Uncured meat, on the other hand, contrary to its name, is still cured. However, the curing agents used for it are quite different from those used for cured meat.

Instead of relying on artificial preservatives, uncured meat uses natural preservatives such as celery powder, celery juice, sea salt, and beet extracts.

If the uncured meat uses natural nitrate or nitrite sources, it is a requirement under the USDA to label it as “uncured” and “no nitrates or nitrites added”.

While uncured meat tastes a lot like the cured variety and can be cooked and consumed in the same way, it looks much paler since there are no chemical preservatives added to it.

It also contains much more sodium since salt acts as a preservative, therefore, it tastes much saltier.

Which Is Healthier?

Nitrites, although naturally occurring in several vegetables, pose a health hazard when used for curing meats.

When nitrites from the preservatives and the protein from the meat react, they form a compound called “nitrosamine” that may lead to cancer.

Due to this, cured deli meats that use nitrites for preservation have been looked at with suspicion in regard to health for quite some time.

Although the amount of sodium nitrite present in cured meats is <1% of the meat, it is still there and may cause health issues over the long run.

Cured And Uncured Meats: Similarities

Other than the fact that cured and uncured meats are preserved using artificial and natural preservatives respectively, they share many similarities:

  • Both are cured,
  • Both have a distinct flavor,
  • Most are ready to eat without cooking, and
  • Both need to be refrigerated after opening.

Cured And Uncured Meats: Differences

Here is a summary of the differences between cured and uncured meats:

Cured MeatUncured Meat
Preserved using artificial and chemical additivesPreserved using natural substances
Deeper pink or red colorPaler light pink color
More intense flavorLighter flavor
Shelf-stable for longerLess shelf-stable than cured meat
Contains less saltContains more salt

Cured Vs Uncured Bacon And Turkey Bacon

Bacon is without a doubt one of the most delicious foods. Whether you add it to your burger or enjoy it with your breakfast, this tasty treat is hard to ignore.

While pork bacon comes from a pig’s belly, turkey bacon is made using turkey meat that is seasoned like bacon and pressed into the distinct bacon form.

By definition, bacon is made by letting a slab of pork belly (or other parts of the pig) sit in salt or brine for a certain period of time to preserve. But if all bacon is cured, what is uncured bacon?

Both cured and uncured bacon, as discussed above, are cured meats. The difference comes down to how it is preserved.

Cured bacon is made by mixing artificial nitrate into the salt and brine mixture, while uncured bacon uses sea salt or celery powder to achieve naturally-occurring nitrates.

Apart from the nitrates, the difference between cured and uncured bacon comes down to the taste and your preference.

Uncured bacon is generally left in a more natural state than cured bacon, and so it tastes more like the pork belly itself.

It is also usually saltier since it sits in salt brine for much longer during the curing process, as opposed to cured bacon that uses artificial nitrates and cures at a much faster rate.

Generally, cured and uncured bacon taste more or less the same unless you add additional flavorings to the brine, such as hickory, applewood, or liquid smoke.

Cured Vs Uncured Ham

A favorite meat for family dinners and get-togethers, ham refers to a specific cut of pork that comes from a hog’s rear legs.

It is prepared using several ways such as curing, aging, and smoking. When it comes to curing, you will find 2 varieties of ham: cured and uncured ham.

Oftentimes referred to as fresh ham, uncured ham is not preserved using chemical brine as compared to cured ham which is.

When buying uncured ham, you may notice that it has a slightly different, although naturally-occurring color than the usual pink you are more accustomed to.

This color difference is because the nitrates present in the chemical additives for cured ham give it a pronounced pink hue, compared to a lighter and paler color of uncured ham.

Cured Vs Uncured Hot Dogs

A popular street food sold at stands and carts all over the country, hot dogs are one of the unhealthiest and most processed meats in the market.

Similar to meats like bacon and ham, hot dogs are also full of nitrates, in both the cured and uncured varieties.

The difference, of course, is in the source of nitrates, with cured hot dogs containing artificial nitrates and uncured hot dogs containing natural ones.

Uncured hot dogs taste exactly like the cured variety that you have come to know and love.

However, since different brands use a different formulation of spices to make their hot dogs, they may vary in taste depending on the ingredients and flavorings used.

Cured Vs Uncured Pepperoni

Pepperoni is a dried, cured, spicy Italian sausage that is made from both beef and pork. Most commonly used as a pizza topping, pepperoni is also a great ingredient for sandwiches, quesadillas, and cheese boards.

The whole sausage can also be minced and grated and used as a topping for soups, salads, pasta, and baked potatoes.

The meat is combined with seasonings, including salt, sugar, and spices, after which the mixture is injected with a live culture that produces lactic acid.

Lactic acid is an essential ingredient in the curing process and what gives the pepperoni its characteristic salty and tangy flavor.

Cured and uncured pepperoni are very similar in the way that they taste and are used. There are, however, certain key pointers that set them apart such as the origin of the preservatives used.

Cured pepperoni contains chemical preservatives while uncured pepperoni contains natural ones.

The question of which is healthier is not a straightforward one since both the cured and uncured versions contain nitrates and may be harmful if consumed regularly and for a long time.

Cured Vs Uncured Salami

Salami is a type of Italian cured sausage that is usually a bit hard and dry compared to other types of sausages. Traditionally prepared using pork meat, some varieties are also made with beef, venison, poultry, and other meats.

The ground meat is blended with fat, mixed with herbs and seasonings such as salt, garlic, and vinegar, after which it is stuffed into a casing and dry-cured until it is adequately dry.

The curing process, where it is packed into natural or synthetic casings and hung to dry and cure, adds a nice color, texture, and flavor to the meat and prevents bacterial growth.

The most significant difference between cured and uncured salami is that the uncured version is cured with natural agents instead of artificial and chemical ones.

Other than that, both versions are remarkably similar and have a distinct, recognizable flavor.

A typical cured salami is made with pork meat that has been fermented and cured using artificial nitrates. It has a long shelf-life, a tangy flavor, is pinkish/reddish, and is ready to eat right away.

Uncured salami simply means that the meat was aged and preserved with salt and celery powder, which turn into nitrates when processed.

Related Questions

Now that you know the difference between cured and uncured meats in reference to the different types of processed meats available in the market, here are a few additional questions we thought you might have!

Is uncured meat healthy?

When trying to eat healthy and staying away from processed meats, people will often gravitate towards products advertised as “natural”. However, just because it is labelled as natural doesn’t mean it can’t harm your health.

While uncured meats are preserved using “natural” ingredients, they still contain a hefty amount of nitrates. Some may contain even more salt and nitrates than the cured version.

That being said, it all comes down to your personal preference.

Of course, preservatives are present in both the cured and uncured versions and you have to choose whether you prefer chemical preservatives or those coming from a natural source.

Does uncured meat taste different?

Uncured meat cooks and tastes similar to cured meat. However, since it is left in a more natural state, it tastes more like the actual meat.

It is also often saltier than cured meat because it has to sit in the brine for much longer in order to reach the same level of preservation as chemically cured meats.

Do cured meats need to be cooked?

Although most cured meats are considered fully cooked, not all of them are suitable for eating.

The curing process is usually done without heat, using chemical preservatives to extract excess moisture and prevent unwanted bacterial growth.

You will find three types of cured meats: dry-cured meats (dried, not cooked, and ready to eat), cured meats that are cooked (ready to eat), and cured meats that require cooking.

Cured meats like bacon need to be cooked, whereas other types of meat such as salami, ham, pastrami, and prosciutto are ready to eat and do not require cooking.

Should cured meats be refrigerated?

Although cured meats have a long shelf-life, the right way to store them is in the refrigerator, and not at room temperature in the pantry.

Even though meats like salami and prosciutto have been cured for a long time, they need to be chilled in the refrigerator, especially after opening and cutting them.

Unrefrigerated cured meats lose flavor due to the loss of moisture at room temperature, making them no longer edible.

The ideal temperature for storing cured meats is above freezing point, but below 45°F. In addition to that, they must be kept far from the light and away from foods such as cheeses.

Different cured meats have different expiration dates. Deli-style salami stays good in the refrigerator for 3-5 days, whereas hard, sliced salami can be refrigerated for up to 14 days.

What’s the best way to store cured meats?

The best way to store cured meats is to first wrap them tightly in plastic wrap, removing any air bubbles and pockets, and storing them in the fridge at a consistent temperature as far away from the light as possible.

The best option, however, is to eat it as soon as you buy it since the flavors and textures are perfect then.

Can you freeze cured meat?

Although you can, it is advised not to freeze cured meats such as salami, ham, and prosciutto since extremely low temperatures can cause the meat to lose its characteristic flavor and tenderness.

How long does it take to cure meat?

The amount of time it takes for the meat to cure depends on the type and size of the meat, and the curing method used.

Naturally curing meats takes much longer than using artificial preservatives, ranging from a few days to several months.

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