In a recent column in the New York Times, I mentioned the curious chemistry behind the redness of prosciutto di Parma, which unlike most salt-cured meats doesn't depend on the action of nitrite. Here are a few more details.
WHEN I was growing up in Illinois a few decades ago, my father always cooked a roast of some kind for our Sunday afternoon dinner. My brother and sisters and I especially loved what we called “red meat,” which was beef cooked rare. The color was a big part of it, a vivid promise of juicy, mouth-filling flavor, nothing like the dull look of pork or chicken or pot roast. It may not have been up there with the loaves and fishes, but it seemed miraculous to me that red meat could come from the stolid creatures we saw — and smelled — on our after-dinner drives through the countryside.
In recent months I’ve been marveling at meat’s several shades of red, and at their creation stories.
My column in today's New York Times food section is about the redness of red meats and how it's maintained in both fresh and cured cuts. Check back for some other interesting findings about meat pigments and nitrites.
Note added on April 18: the column contains an error. In the sentence
Nitrite reacts in the meat tissue to form nitrous oxide, which bonds firmly to the iron in myoglobin and stabilizes it.
"nitrous oxide" should be "nitric oxide."
Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, is N2O, and nitric oxide is NO.
My thanks to Professor Douglas T. Hess of the Duke University Medical Center for pointing this out--just hours after publication!
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Sorheim, O. et al. Carbon monoxide as a colorant in cooked or fermented sausages. Journal of Food Science 2006, vol. 71 no. 9, C549-55.
Kim, Y. H. et al. Mechanism for lactate-color stabilization in injection-enhanced beef. J. Agric. Food Chem. 2006, 54, 7856-62.
Sebranek, J. and J. Bacus. Natural and organic cured meat products: regulatory, manufacturing, marketing, quality and safety issues. American Meat Science Association, White Paper Series, number 1, March 2007.
Moller, J.K.S. et al. Mass spectrometric evidence for a zinc-porphyrin complex as the red pigment in dry-cured Iberian and Parma ham. Meat Science 2007, 75, 203-210