What is Celery Powder?
Celery powder is a dried, ground concentrate prepared from fresh celery that is used as a seasoning and as a food preservative in organic meat products. Several commercial preparations exist, and it can also be made using a food dehydrator. Some celery powders are prepared from celery juice.
Celery powder contains a significant amount of naturally occurring nitrate and is often treated with bacterial cultures to produce nitrite. In the United States, treated celery powder is sometimes used as a food preservative in organic meat products, which is allowed per USDA regulations because the nitrate/nitrite is naturally occurring. USDA regulations do not allow artificially added nitrate or nitrite to be used directly in organic food products. Meats preserved with celery powder include hot dogs and bacon. Celery powder prepared from celery juice has been shown to have a nitrate content of approximately 2.75%.
In order to be considered “cured,”cured meats must contain a form of nitrite. Sodium nitrite is a safe, government-approved curing ingredient that gives cured meats their characteristic taste and color. Without nitrite, cured meats won’t have the taste and appearance that makes ham taste and eat like ham or salami taste and eat like salami.
Celery powder is naturally rich in nitrate, which is closely related to nitrite and performs the same curing functions when added. Celery power can be used in any cured meat product but many times are curing agent for natural or organic products as well.
Currently USDA regulations require that meats cured with celery powder to be called “uncured” to distinguish them from conventionally cured products. Packages of meats cured with celery powder often say “No nitrates or nitrites added,” but also contain a statement “other than those which naturally occur in celery juice powder.” Many in the food industry believe a more accurate way to describe the products would be to call them “cured,” but still must comply with the regulations as written, which require them to be called “uncured.”
The use of nitrate and nitrite to cure meat also has a significant food safety benefit by preventing the growth of Clostridium botulinum which causes botulism, one the deadliest foodborne illnesses. While the myth that nitrite is linked to various diseases persists, studies have shown that not only are nitrate and nitrite safer at the levels used, they also can have significant health benefits.
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