The Uncured Bacon You're Buying Is Probably Cured. Find Out Why

In 2015, a study came out which gave bacon lovers quite the jolt. The World Health Organization determined that like cigarettes and asbestos, cured meats such as bacon are a known carcinogen (via NPR). This is because the nitrites, the preservatives that are used to color and preserve bacon during the curing process, cause a marked increase in the risk of cancer — particularly colon cancer (via The Guardian).

However, it seems like there should be a simple way around this. Just buy uncured bacon, which won't contain any nitrites! Unfortunately, it's not that simple.

As a replacement for sodium nitrite, one of the preservatives used during the curing process, bacon manufacturers instead use celery derivatives that have naturally-occurring nitrites in them (via The Takeout). While this may seem like a healthier alternative, the chemical makeup of the nitrites is identical to those that aren't derived from celery. Basically, the nitrate molecule is the exact same — no matter its source.

How to find truly uncured bacon

Additionally, so-called uncured bacon can contain even higher levels of nitrites in it than regular bacon does.

Because true nitrite-free bacon isn't readily available in grocery stores, the best way to find truly uncured bacon is by befriending a butcher. Some butcher shops make bacon that actually isn't cured, with the only ingredients being salt, sugar, and spices. The downside is that it doesn't last as long as typical bacon and it doesn't have the pinkness that nitrite-treated bacon has. 

However, a butcher from a Chicago meat shop who makes a truly uncured variety of the stuff assures customers that his completely nitrite-free version cooks the same way as normal bacon and tastes the same as normal bacon, which suggests that nitrites are truly included only for appearances and preservation. He also points out that most people don't buy bacon in such quantities that they have to concern themselves with long-term storage of bacon.