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Role of Nitrites and/or
Nitrates in Meat Color




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Nitrates are reduced to nitrites by bacteria found in the meat.

Nitrites in turn become nitric oxide, which cures the meat.

 

Nitrite and/or nitrate are used in curing meat to counteract the undesirable effects of salt upon color. Not only is the color of fresh meat protected from degradation, but the pigments react with nitric oxide to produce the stable pigments characteristic of cured meat. These pink pigments are important to the acceptability of most processed meat products.

Both nitrite and/or nitrate are used in meat curing for color stabilization. The end result is the same in either case, although the pathway for stabilization of color by nitrite is more direct. Since nitrite reacts quicker and less is required for color stabilization, it is being widely used in place of nitrate.

 

Many processors prefer to use a combination of nitrite and nitrate, which gives a source of additional nitric oxide should the nitrite be depleted during curing. They believe the slower release of nitric oxide from nitrate gives them an additional safety factor over nitrite alone. Nevertheless, many highly successful operators use nitrite alone with excellent results.

 

Trends have been toward decreased use of nitrate by the industry.

The best proof for this step is the fact that the pigments in sausage become characteristically brown after adding the cure, but after heating have the characteristic pink color of cured meat.  An alternate pathway for production of the stable pink pigment is possible, in which nitric oxide-metmyoglobin is not formed. In this case, myoglobin is oxidized to metmyoglobin, which ­is reduced back to myoglobin before combining to form nitric oxide­myoglobin.

 

The end result is the same regardless of the pathway; nitric oxide reacts to produce the desirable and stable pink pigment of cured meat. Any hemoglobin remaining in the meat would undergo essen­tially the same series of reactions and also give a stable pink pigment. Since nitrite reacts quicker and less is required for color stabilization, it is being widely used in place of nitrate. Many processors prefer to use a combination of nitrite and nitrate, which gives a source of additional nitric oxide should the nitrite be depleted during curing. They believe the slower release of nitric oxide from nitrate gives them an additional safety factor over nitrite alone. Nevertheless, many highly successful operators use nitrite alone with excellent results. Trends have been toward decreased use of nitrate by the industry.

 

Nitric oxide is the active ingredient that combines with meat pigments. Although not being proven conclusively, all evidence suggests that the original combination of nitric oxide is with the oxidized pigments, metmyoglobin and methemoglobin. The best proof for this step is the fact that the pigments in sausage become characteristically brown after adding the cure, but after heating have the characteristic pink color of cured meat,. An alternate pathway for production of the stable pink pigment is possible, in which nitric oxide-metmyoglobin is not formed. In this case, myoglobin is oxidized to metmyoglobin, which ­is reduced back to myoglobin before combining to form nitric oxide­myoglobin. The end result is the same regardless of the pathway; nitric oxide reacts to produce the desirable and stable pink pigment of cured meat. Any hemoglobin remaining in the meat would undergo essen­tially the same series of reactions and also give a stable pink pigment.

 

From -

PROCESSED MEATS

AVI Publishing Co., Inc.

1973

 

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