5

I understand that the main difference between cured and uncured bacon is that one is cured and one isn't.

But, is the curing process the same for all slab bacon? And does it make a difference, taste and texture wise, to substitute one for the other in a recipe that calls for uncured specifically?

  • 1
    Once my hubs thought they were interchangable, so upon finding no cured he bought fresh. Imagine a piece of fried bacon tasting like dry and old pork. Definately not the same. – jkadlubowska Aug 14 '13 at 10:51
1

Unfortunately, some of the answer depends on how you define "bacon", and what you mean by "cured", and "uncured". The answer could be different depending on where you live. Are you in the UK? The USA? Another country? I know that what we call bacon can be from different cuts of pork in different regions.

Curing can be different depending on where you live, or what flavors the person doing the curing likes to use. There will be salt involved in the curing, and again, depending on where you live and the customs/regulations involved, and often some source of nitrate or nitrite, to prevent some nasty bacteria. A pleasant side effect of these additions is the deepening of the red/pink color many of us associate with bacon, though some of the redness of the meat is based on the diet of the animal, too.

(Whether from saltpeter, or curing salt (a purposely colored curing salt, to distinguish it from white sodium chloride), or celery juice, which contains a high quantity of the same chemicals, the nitrates and nitrites are added in very tiny quantities. They don't need much, and are usually in smaller concentrations than are found naturally in water and in leafy green vegetables)

What makes the cures taste different (besides the saltiness) is the other kinds of herbs, spices, and sweeteners used in the cure mixture, and whether or not the bacon is smoked, to add additional flavors.

Texture wise, the main difference between cured and uncured bacon is that the uncured bacon will have a much higher water content than the cured bacon, so the fat will not be as dense.

1

I find the texture of uncured bacon to be much firmer than cured when it is cooked the same way. The meaty portion seems to be a bit tougher in uncured bacon. Even though it may be not quite so healthy to eat cured bacon, the texture and taste are more to my liking. Since I only eat bacon once in a while, I am opting for the cured version. This is obviously not a scientific answer, but layman's description.

1

The difficulty in answering this question is that the texture and taste of "normal" cured bacon can vary so much depending on processing. At least for the U.S., my guess is that many people who have bought stuff labeled "uncured bacon" are actually experiencing the differences of processing techniques, rather than any major difference related to "cured" vs. "uncured." There's also a bizarre and paradoxical set of nomenclature involved in labeling "uncured" meats in the U.S.


I won't address the variety of things that might be called "bacon" in other countries. In the U.S., though, bacon generally refers to pork belly that is (1) salted, (2) cured with nitrite/nitrate, and (3) smoked (or, in some cases, infused with liquid smoky "flavor"). The curing process can actually be accomplished in at least three different ways:

  • Dry curing (or "dry rub"), where salt, curing salts, and spices are rubbed onto the exterior surface. This is the most traditional curing method, but rarely found in the U.S. today. The result is a significantly more dry and firm product than other methods, with little moisture remaining. (When cooked, it tends not to "pop" much when sizzling, given the low moisture released.) To those not accustomed to it, it can sometimes taste dry or even tough (particularly when sliced thick). Smoking will dry out the meat even more. It often also tastes more salty, as the salt is highly concentrated in the meat and fat without moisture to dilute it.
  • Wet curing (or brining or "immersion cured"), where the meat is immersed in a brine containing the same ingredients as the dry rub above. The resulting bacon is not as dry or firm, with a higher moisture content, but still often seems tougher than most "supermarket bacon."
  • Injection (or "pumping"), where the meat is injected with the brine. This is the method primarily used in supermarket bacon in the U.S., since it is fastest and easiest to do on a large scale. The resulting bacon is very moist, very tender, and tends to splatter a lot when fried. Liquid smoke and other flavoring agents are sometimes added directly to the liquid, rather than actually smoking the meat.

The reason I go into such detail here is because the texture and flavor differences can be quite significant.

Onto "cured" vs. "uncured": in the U.S., food labeled cured bacon (according the USDA) must be cured with added powdered nitrate/nitrite using one of the above methods. This prevents growth of bacteria and if the moisture content is low enough can make the bacon shelf-stable to be stored at room temperature. It also contributes to the pink or reddish hue of bacon, along with some of the distinctive flavor of U.S. bacon.

Paradoxically, most things labeled "uncured" (and "natural" and "No Nitrates or Nitrites added") bacon in the U.S. generally contain a greater amount of curing agents than "cured" bacon, for reasons explained below. But theoretically, "uncured" bacon could refer to at least three different things:

  1. The only meat I've actually seen in U.S. stores labeled as "uncured" bacon is actually cured, just through vegetable-based nitrate/nitrite curing agents rather than powdered nitrate/nitrite. This is most typically celery juice or celery powder, but beets and other things can be used. Generally this "uncured" bacon actually has a greater concentration of nitrate/nitrite than normal "cured" bacon; it just comes from a vegetable source. Thus, it generally can taste just like normal "cured" bacon. However, the "uncured" bacon I've had often seems to be processed differently from typical supermarket bacon, perhaps brined or even dry-rubbed, rather than injected. As noted above, this can alter the texture significantly, which will be particularly noticeable if sliced thick (which it often seems to be). If only smoked lightly (or even not smoked at all), it can taste more like "ham" or "pork" than normal supermarket bacon. So, again, I think many of the differences people cite for "uncured" bacon are actually due to processing differences, not a lack of curing agents.

  2. Bacon can be produced without the use of nitrate/nitrite, without powdered curing salt or vegetable agents. I've never seen bacon like this sold commercially in the U.S., though some people make it at home. Without nitrate/nitrite, the meat must be kept well refrigerated during processing. I imagine it's not generally sold commercially because the shelf life would be radically decreased, and it would pose more complex food safety issues in handling and packaging. Anyhow, bacon prepared with only salt as a curing agent may be darker in color and may even turn grayish. It will often taste more "ham-like" or "pork-like." When dry-cured or brined and then smoked, natural changes in the meat may still cause coloration changes internally that keep it somewhat reddish (as well as creating a flavor profile very similar to bacon with curing salts). Bacon prepared this way is often not safe for long-term preservation and should be treated like raw meat. Salt curing (i.e., "corning") for long-term preservation is possible, but it requires salt concentrations high enough that many people would find the meat unpalatable.

  3. According to the old-fashioned use of the term, the types of bacon in (1) and (2) above would ALL be called "cured," if they use salt or other agents for meat preservation. However, as noted, the USDA says the (1) and (2) would have to be labeled as "uncured" and not preserved. In any case, according to the traditional definition of "uncured," what you'd end up with for "uncured bacon" is raw pork belly. That's obviously a very different thing from what we generally call "bacon," but that's really what an "uncured" version is. It will taste much more pork-like, turn gray when cooked, and will have a very different texture and flavor when cooked without the salts, spices, and smoking.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.