Our shop caters to people concerned about the food they put in their bodies, and the meat that they use in their favorite meals. So it was only a matter of time before that loveable sausage link, the American Hot Dog, was added to the conversation. What’s with all these “uncured” hot dogs at our “whole”some grocery stores?
It’s not surprising I get this question a lot. In fact, we kind of have an obsession with hot dogs in the US.
According to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, Americans consumed more than 20 billion hot dogs a year! That’s like over 70 hot dogs per person, per year! And despite all the anti-meat rhetoric in Southern California, Los Angeles consumes more frankfurters than any other city in North America; almost 3 million pounds a month!
I think the only thing more shocking than that statistic is that there is actually a National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. Do you think they wear funny hot dog-shaped hats and sausage link pinky rings?
So you can imagine the chaos created when a 2015 study by the International Agency for Research on Cancer listed processed meats—including hot dogs—a carcinogen. That report was basically saying that feeding hot dogs to our kids was the equivalent of tossing them a pack of Marlboros and a Zippo for their birthday. You can just hear the helicopters spooling up to Flight of the Valkyries. Foodie mommies (and daddies) across America wanted a cancer-safe quick fix for their frankfurter-obsessed munchkins.
Enter the “uncured” label.
To understand why “uncured” dogs have become so popular, we’ve got to understand the scapegoat; nitrates and nitrites. The Tweetle Dee and Tweetle Dum of food preservatives, nitrates and nitrites are chemical compounds long associated with keeping meat safe to eat. If you’re interested, read more about these two in my popular blog To Nitrate or Nitrite. If you’re short on time, here’s the skinny. Nitrates and nitrites are in everything we eat, but when found in meat cooked at high temperatures (like wieners on the BBQ) they can turn into nitrosamines, free radicals linked to cancer.
In response to this discovery, food manufacturers began downplaying how much they used nitrates and nitrites in their foods, and they looked for alternatives. But sorry to make you more anxious; they’re basically using some food label semantics to put your child-loving hearts at easy.
When you see “uncured” on the commercially-made food labels of your favorite hot dog or salami, that technically means there is no sodium nitrite or other manufactured salt added. That’s good, right? Not exactly. You see, the “uncured” label doesn’t mean that meat is nitrate-free. That’s because cooked or smoked meats still need nitrites to preservative their color and prevent the bacteria, Clostridium botulinum, which, unless you’re injecting it into your head, you DON’T want to get. So food companies can’t leave them out. Instead, the producer making your favorite hot dog is probably using celery powder, celery juice, or other naturally occurring nitrite as an alternative
Well, celery’s good for me, right?
I guess nitrites from celery powder certainly can’t be worse than the alternative. Nitrite-rich food additives (cherry juice is another one) could be marginally better than traditional food chemicals because—in addition to sounding a whole lot better than sodium nitrate—they have naturally occurring levels of vitamin C, which helps to negate the cancer-causing nitrosamines that started this whole which hunt. That said, “cured” hot dogs containing sodium nitrite are also required by the FDA to have Vitamin C added, normally from citric or acerbic acid.
To simplify the whole thing, it’s more about natural vs. manufactured. Do you want your curing agents and cancer-preventing Vitamin C coming from your garden, or a test tube? My two cents…always side with Nature. She’s cooler and more efficient.
Celery for the win!
But here’s the thing. If you’re panicking about whether or not to buy cured, or “uncured” links at the grocery store, I think you’re actually forgetting the most important factor when it comes to buying meat. And this is almost never mentioned on the label. You ready….
It’s the meat!
As with all meat products, you should be worried about the #1 ingredient. Where is that meat coming from? How was it raised? And what was it fed?
Curing with salts has been around for thousands of years without high or climbing rates of cancer. However, confined animal food operations (CAFOs) using antibiotics and hormones have only been here since the 1950’s, peculiarly coinciding with increasing cancer rates from all meat eating. Coincidence????
There’s an added benefit of buying responsibly-sourced meats. If you select sausages made from beef raised on carbon farming ranches like Stemple Creek, not only will your child be healthier, but so will the environment. Double karma for helicopter mommies and daddies across America.
Here’s what I recommend. Buy hormone and antibiotic-free meats if you’re concerned about health. Buy grass-finished meats (no feedlot, corn or soy) if you’re concerned about the environment. And get both from ECB.
I feed guild-absolving, 100% grass-fed, 100% grass-finished ECB hot dogs—lightly smoked and delicious—to my three little ones every week.