Salting is an ancient method of preserving perishable ingredients. For most of human history, curing with salt was one of the few ways to store meat, fish, and vegetables and prevent spoiling. In doing so ancients found that the flavor changes that went along with preserving were not unpleasant. Since the advent of refrigeration, which made salt-preservation less necessary, these flavor changes are the main reason that people are attracted to salt-cured products.
Historians disagree over when and where salt curing was discovered, but there is evidence that salt preservation has been practiced since before the last ice age some 12,000 years ago, and that salt-preservation techniques developed independently in geographically remote and culturally unrelated societies.
Before the advent of refrigeration and home freezers, retarding the growth of pathogenic bacteria by embedding perishable ingredients in salt (dry curing) or brine (wet curing) was the principal way that the shelf life of fresh ingredients was prolonged.
Thoroughly cured foods may be stored without refrigeration for weeks or months. Salt curing also makes foods texturally denser and more concentrated in flavor. In meats, curing breaks down and tenderizes tough protein fibers, resulting in the compact yet tender texture of dry-cured hams, such as Prosciutto.
Cures for meat traditionally contained potassium nitrate (saltpeter) or sodium nitrate (Chile saltpeter or Peru saltpeter), which morphs into potassium or sodium nitrite during curing. This conversion from nitrate to nitrite is a time-release function, giving the cure time to slowly work its way deep into meats. For briefer cures when nitrate’s time-release effect is not needed, sodium nitrite curing salts are used. In both instances, nitrite helps delay spoilage, especially from anaerobic bacteria, and it sets the red pigment in meats into the permanent rosy pink of cured ham, corned beef, and hot dogs. Nitrite and nitrate salts are both toxic: curing is the art of using this toxicity to kill bacteria without harming the eater.
The term curing salts usually refers to salt with sodium nitrite, sodium nitrate, and/or potassium nitrate (saltpeter). The most common way to insure a proper level of nitrites and nitrates in your cure is to use pre-mixed curing salts. These are commonly known as tinted curing mixture (or TCM for short), tinted cure, pink salt, sel rose, Insta Cure, or Prague Powder. You can make your own curing salts by combining natural sea salt with saltpeter, but this requires a good deal of precision and a high level of fluency with the curing process itself.
Why Cure with Salt Today?
Flavor - Curing adds a bright, zingy, tangy flavor to meat. It concentrates flavor.
Preservation - Curing prevents fats from going rancid.
Color- Curing Salts help keep and promote beautiful color in the meats. Curing with Prague Powder helps meat preserve its color and prevents it from turning grey.
Bacteria- Curing impedes the growth of harmful bacteria, such as botulism.