Monday, May 6, 2013

History of meat curing process

Prior to the development of refrigeration and cooling technologies, large quantities of salt were added to meats for long term preservation. The history of nitrate usage as saltpeter, in meat curing is lost in antiquity, but preservation of meat with salt preceded the intentional use of nitrate by many centuries.

The origin of meat curing can be traced back to the third century BC, when Cato recorded careful instructions for the dry curing of hams.

As early as 3000 BC in Mesopotamia, cooked meats and fish were preserved in sesame oil and dried, salted meat and fish were part of the Sumerian diet.

The early processed meat products were prepared with one purpose in mind: their preservation for use in times of scarcity.

During 900 BC, salt was being produced in ‘salt gardens’ in Greece and dry salt curing and smoking of meat were well established.

The Romans in 200 BC learned the use of salt from the Greeks and besides curing fish, the Romans preserved various types of meat, such as pork with pickles containing salt and other ingredients. It was during this time that the reddening effect of salting was noted.

By medieval times, treating meat with salt, saltpeter and smoke was common place and saltpeter’s effect to ‘fix’ the red color was well recognized.

Meat curing was more of an art than a science in the early nineteenth century, but as a greater understanding of the curing process evolved in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the role of nitrate and nitrite in the formation of cured meat color and flavor became apparent.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, significant changes in meat curing had occurred. Various method of curing, namely dry, wet or pickle cures and combinations of the two were commonplace. The first dry cured meat products were probably inferior by today’s standards.

Scientific principles of curing meats were not applied until the later part of the nineteenth century when the growing meat packaging industry began to search for ways to improve the quality.

Since the mid 1920s, much advancement has been made in the meat curing industry. The direct use of nitrite greatly reduced the time for curing, since waiting for reduction of nitrate to nitrite was no longer required.
History of meat curing process
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