Curing is a process where foods, especially meats and fishes, are put through a technique of preservation with the help of certain ingredients such as salt, sugar, nitrites and nitrates. Through this technique, foods are preserved to have a higher shelf life that can last up to many months. Cured food items are made to stay longer by ensuring moisture is removed and this is possible with salt, which absorbs all the moisture and dries out the meat. Similarly, there are many other ways to cure foods with different ingredients, which are specific to the regional preference and some popular examples are bacon, Bresaola and capicola. Smoking is one such popular process of curing.


History of Cured Food
Curing has been popular since the ancient civilizations, which was done more out of necessity then. Because of poor harvest and shortage of food, the early people found ways to preserve foods and that was done by curing them with easily available ingredients especially salt and also by smoking. Moreover, because of the nomadic life that early people led, they needed food to carry with them on the move and this was possible only with cured food items. Even during the ‘Age of Sail’, such foods were popular and they constituted most of the food carried on board for the sailors. In fact, till the time that refrigerators were not invented, which was till 1938, people depended a lot on curing.


Process of Curing

Curing, as mentioned earlier, is done in different ways and with various ingredients. One most popular and common curing method is by rubbing salt onto the meat and these types of cured food items are popular in the Arctic region, North Africa and Southern China. In fact, there are many ways to cure foods and the processes are as follows –


Salt Curing – Salt contains sodium chloride, which acts as a wonderful agent to draw out the moisture from the meat on which it is applied and this happens due to osmosis. Meats and fish can be cured with just salt and/or by drying salted foods and this process is also known as ‘corning’. Either way, when the moisture is no longer present in the foods, growth of microorganisms in inhibited, in fact almost reduced to 0.91%. Foods that are cured with just salt, at least 5 to 10% of the ingredient needs to be used and if the process is a combination salting and drying, then a lesser percentage of salt would be sufficient for curing.


Sugar Curing – Using sugar is another way to cure foods, wherein the foods get a slightly sweet taste and this kind of curing is also known as honey curing. The sweet ingredient in sugar enables growth of the beneficial bacteria i.e., lacto bacillus thus resulting in lactic acid, which creates an acidic environment and not letting micro organisms grow. The dextrose and sucrose present in sugar ferments the foods, resulting in curing.


Smoke Curing – Smoking is another popular way of curing meats, especially for people who like the smoky flavor to their meat dish. However, the intensity of smoke needs to be controlled in order to avoid soot formation or burning of foods. Basically, when meats are smoked, a layer of smoke forms on their surface, which stops the process of oxidation and also inhibits the growth of bacteria.


Popular Cured Food Items of Various Cuisines
Curing of foods is a part of most of the cuisines that follow various ways to cure foods. Mostly meats and in some cases even vegetables are cured. Some popular cured food items are –


Beef – Corned Beef is a popular cured product of the beef category. Grains of salt are rubbed into certain sections of meat (such as brisket, round and silverside) and allowed to cure. This kind of cured beef is generally used in sandwiches. Other popular cured beef products are Biltong, Tapa, Bresaola, and Lomo.


Pork – Country Ham is a popular cured product of this category. The meat is generally cured with salt for 2-3 months and then smoked and allowed to age for around 2 years. This kind of meat is very salty, which needs to be taken care of and is generally used for baking, and also cooked with other ingredients. Other popular cured pork products are Bacon, Pancetta, Prosciutto, Jamon Serrano, Capicola, Jambon de Bayonne, etc.


Sausage – Pepperoni is the most popular cured product of the sausage category. This is made from beef and pork, wherein special pepperoni peppers and in some cases bell peppers are added to the meat before it is cured. Other popular cured sausages are Salami, Chorizo, Linguica, Chinese Sausage, etc.


Fish – Anchovy is a popular cured product of the fish category. The small silvery blue colored fish are brined and then cured with salt and oil. This cured fish can be eaten with sandwiches and even popular in salads. Other popular cured fish products are Pickled Herring, Salt Cod, Lox (salmon), etc.


Cured Vegetable Products – Pickled Cucumbers are one of the popular cured products of the vegetable category. Cucumbers are put in brine solution and then put through a process of canning. This results in pickled cucumbers that go well as accompaniments with salads. Other popular cured vegetable products are Sauerkraut, Tofu, Kimchi, Olives, Pickled Beets, etc.


Advantages and Disadvantages of Cured Foods
Curing foods have advantages as well as disadvantages. The main advantage is being able to use the extra produce for a long time, which can otherwise spoil, if not cured. Another advantage is the ability to carry such foods on long trips, where there is non-availability of fresh food. The main disadvantage is that people suffering from hyper tension or other heart ailments cannot eat cured food items, because of the high salt content and one should be very careful of adding salt to a dish, else the dish can end up tasting like a bag of salt as the meat already has more than enough salt from curing.


Curing Trivia
Curing in present times also involves using other ingredients such as vinegar, citrus juice and alcohol. When these ingredients are added in larger quantities it leads to curing of foods, which is also known as “Combination Curing”.