Bacon

 

It was announced last week that a daily bacon roll could lead to a 19% increase in pancreatic cancer. The findings came from a meta study of 11 other studies of 6000 pancreatic cancer patients. They found a link of an increase in 29% or more in men who consumed larger quantities of red meat. The link with women was not there, so this area was called into doubt. On the subject of the suspect ingredient in bacon, nitrates, the researchers said that a link was “biologically plausible”. This was their opinion as it was a powerful carcinogen in lab animals, the human link not being proven. When analysts have commented on the findings of this paper with terms such as “maybe” “suggests”, it does call into doubt whether we really know yet?

Pancreatic cancer has been linked to risk factors such as diets with high fat or high sugar, low vegetable intake, low fruit intake and a generally sedentary lifestyle. These are risk factors that indicate an increase in occurances rather than absolutes as no-one is immune to any cancer in reality.

If we took something like the humble cup of coffee, what have we been told about it? Caffeine can increase your risk of cardiac arrest, the sugar is bad for you, the artificial sweetener will give you cancer and milk contains bad fats. Then on the flipside we hear that the caffeine is actually a preventative. Amazing how science is not well errm … exact.

Do you remember all the good news about the healthy properties of red wine? It turns out that one of the main voices behind the research had faked much of his evidence:
“After a three-year investigation, the university [of Connecticut] concluded that Dipak Das, a professor of surgery and head of the university’s cardiovascular research centre, “is guilty of 145 counts of fabrication and falsification of data.” “

The Mediterranean diet is rich in olive oil, red wine, fruit, veg and of course preserved meats. Most things in moderation it seems are OK, but over consumption has its risks. A healthier breakfast of bacon, poached eggs, wholemeal toast, real sausages and grilled tomato has a balance to it, but not everyday. Grill the bacon rather than frying it, don’t let it burn and trim away the fat. An alternative is get more familiar with the produce you use. Read the labels and find out what the various ingredients are there for. Not all bacon is created equal.

 

The use of chemicals in preserved meats goes back centuries. Common powders were often used for multiple purposes. Salpetre (potassium nitrate) is also a component of tradtional gun powder or blackpowder. Even though it is available, salpetre is the second choice if other formulations are available.

Nitrates and nitrites are responsible for the eradication of certain types of bacteria. Generally nitrates are eaten by the bacteria and they pass this out as nitrite. The nitrites are poisonous to bacteria such as botulism. Some of the benevolent bacteria in dry cured meat products such as salami are factories for the conversion of nitrates to nitrites. Nitrates are the long term reserve whilst the nitrite is already there as a front line form of defence.

In modern terms curing mixes come in two general form; Prague Powder #1 and Prague Powder #2. The first is used for non-dried products such as bacon, sausages and pastrami. The second for dried products such as salami and chorizo. Each is mainly salt (sodium chloride) with #1 having an accurate proportion of sodium nitrite and #2 both sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite. The longer term cure is number 2 but it cannot be used for any ingredient that can be fried at high temperature as the nitrate can form cancer causing side products.

Used carefully and according to the manufacturers guidelines, cures are very safe and preserve foods very effectively. The cures not only impart a unique flavour but also cause a natural redness to the meat. This is witnessed when pastrami has left the brining stage.

So somewhere back in time an alchemist could have discovered that saltpetre had a role to kill and to cure?

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