Sodium Nitrate is also comes under the names of Saltpeter, Cure 1, and Pink Salt. There’s a lot of controversy out there about this product. I’m including a bit about it since I’m sharing some of my beginning home processing notes. There’s posts around with definite opinions one way or another. I haven’t checked any facts or accuracy of any of these, I’m just putting links so you can get a basic picture of the different positions.
One that gives some cautions as well as a recipe for ham without sodium nitrate is here at Sugar Mountain Farm.
One that gives some insight into the commercial hams cured without “added” nitrates is here at Health Castle.
I don’t have any particular opinion at this time on using sodium nitrate. I didn’t use it because:
1) I didn’t have it on hand
2) I wasn’t sure where I could quickly get it locally
3) I didn’t want the extra expense (although minimal) to making the bacon and ham
4) I didn’t want to use it if it wasn’t necessary. I cured all of these in refrigeration, so temp was not an issue. All of my meat would be stored in the freezer- no country style hams hanging in our garage. All would be fully cooked before consumption. Why use it if it’s not needed? My (beginners) understanding is that the botulism risk is related to improper temperatures, not being cooked thoroughly, and significant time passing with no ingredients to help counteract possible botulism action (like salt- not that salt will take care of it all, but it combats the formation, in my understanding of the process). I ran across some information that the “curing” doesn’t happen below a certain temperature, so refrigerated curing wouldn’t work. I have found (so far) that the meat is flavoring fine in the fridge.
5) My little girls can get in to A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G. Sodium Nitrate is poisonous in quantity. It’s one less “dangerous” thing in my house if I don’t have to use it.
I might possibly try it in ham in the future- that brown-grey colored ham doesn’t have a lot of appeal, but then again, maybe it won’t bother me that much. I don’t think it will make any significant contribution to bacon- it cooks up brown anyhow.
Do your research and make an informed decision.
Check my “index” post for more on how we’ve been raising and home processing our pigs.