Allergic to nitrites and nitrates?

Bacon Wizard, Jasper Ackroyd, could have the answers!

Bacon wizardFor those of us who either choose to avoid certain substances or more seriously those who have no choice about it, bacon presents a serious dilemma. On one hand it is the epitome of crisp, juicy, salty deliciousness and demonstrates the 5th taste, umami, admirably.

It achieves apparent godhead in food-form with a series of age-old tricks such as bacterial fermentation. However, a great deal of the sensation is the combination of delicious pork-fat, very lean meat, salt and sometimes sugar.

The rest is taken care of by a transformation which takes place cheese-style and has similar effects. Whereas cheese bacteria eat lactic acid, bacon or ham bacteria require saltpetre, unromantically called potassium nitrate today. For reliability and better products, curers since the 1750s have also used nitrite, which is considerably more powerful.

So how does one survive if you are allergic or intolerant to nitrates and nitrites? How about those salt levels? And most bacon uses sugar too. Indeed, supermarket versions of this very often also use polyphosphates which help retain the injected water for which you pay.

It is possible to get bacon which has been made without saltpetre or nitrites. I rather like Laverstoke Park’s version. It will have a grey colour that echoes cooked-pork, but with plenty salt and smoke it can taste enough like bacon not to matter. Simply replacing your bacon with one of these, and dropping spinach, celery, leek and other (very) high nitrate foods is your first step. But please DO be careful. Because things like celery have vastly more nitrate than is found in bacon, it is also possible to use these things as a “flavour”. It’s a great way of getting large amounts of nitrate into the recipe undetected and undeclared. Of course many people suffer an allergy to celery too.

So if celery or spinach is listed anywhere in the ingredients, avoid it. In fact, if the bacon is pink when cooked, believe me, nitrates were used whether they appear on the label or not.

The trouble is that non-nitrate bacon can be very salty. Not only is more salt required to preserve the pork, but when saltpetre is used, the fermentation that occurs actually reduces the salt levels (but not sodium) somewhat. So the question needs to be asked, can low-sodium alternatives be used?

The answer is yes, and I don’t understand why manufacturers aren’t using it. I have just returned from a research trip to The Dead Sea, the natural salts of which include calcium chloride, potassium chloride and ordinary sodium chloride.

The flavour at full strength is not wonderful. But actually like many strong things you begin to find interesting (good) flavour notes when diluted. Well, the amount that goes into bacon is small enough that those flavours actually work rather well, and have been used in curing meat for many millennia. Another thing we are all missing today is that very traditional cures call for large grains of salt. These dry-out the meat more than they are sucked-in, so your bacon is less salty. I have yet to see large crystals of low-sodium salt but there’s no reason why they can’t be made. You could try growing a crystal garden like I had as a kid using low-sodium salt.

Another approach – some people are beginning to use the American practice of adding Vitamin C to bacon, which destroys any remaining nitrites in the bacon, and you would see this on the label as ascorbic acid, ascorbate, Vitamin C, or E301.

So anyway, let me give you a simple recipe to try at home. It’s very easy and makes use of some traditional ideas. I am using fruit sugar: low glycemic index and 1/3 sweeter than table sugar meaning that you can use less.

Simply take 1k fresh belly pork
30g low sodium salt
10 fruit sugar (you could use 20g honey or pure date syrup instead)
2g nutmeg (optional)
2g ground white pepper (optional)
1g cinnamon (optional)
1/2g cloves (optional)

Rub the mix thoroughly into the pork, especially any gap or where the butcher’s knife may have scored the flesh. Most of the rub should be on the meat side, not the skin/fat side. Wrap it extremely well in Clingfilm and put it skin-side down in the bottom of your fridge (which should be no colder than 2C) on a plate or something that might catch any escaping juices! Leave it there for 1 week and then wash it off carefully. It benefits from being left to air-dry a little in a cool breeze overnight but is essentially ready and also freezes extremely well indeed. Most of us don’t own a cold-smoker, but if you get the chance to smoke it, do!

What you have is not only free-from nitrates or high sodium levels but pretty damn good and traditional too. So what’s not to like?

To know more about the Bacon Wizard, his consultancies, open days and curing courses, check in at

First published in February 2011

If this article was of interest you will find many other articles on unlikely allergies and allergy connections here – and links to many relevant research studies here.

For more on the more 'mainstream' allergies check in to our 'allergy and intolerance home page' – and for ideas on alternative foods go here.

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