Sausages are delicious, but many varieties are often preserved by the addition of different substances. Unfortunately, more often than not, these preservatives can affect your health or cause allergies.
In getting to one of the most popular types of sausage, does Italian sausage have nitrates? The answer isn’t a simple yes or no, though. Yes, it contains nitrates, but not the way you think it does.
In this article, I’ll discuss the potential presence of nitrates in Italian sausage. Plus, I’ll dive deep into what nitrates are and what their purpose is.
Are There Nitrates in Italian Sausage?
Before we answer the question, let’s define Italian sausage first.
According to the USDA, Italian sausage products are cured or uncured sausages that consist of at least 85% of meat.
Usually, fennel is added to them, which gives them a distinctive flavor. Other ingredients that can be found in these products are onions, garlic, corn syrup, etc.
If we follow the definition by the USDA, Italian sausage products can be both cured and uncured. The process of curing meat is adding salt, nitrates/nitrites, or sugar to preserve it.
Since Italian sausage is fresh, nitrates don’t get added to it. But, when you see a label saying ‘uncured,’ it doesn’t mean there aren’t any nitrates in the meat. It just means chemical preservatives in the form of nitrates weren’t added to it.
For example, celery powder or juice can be added to the meat. It’s a natural preservative that contains nitrates. This shows that even uncured meat is sometimes cured. The difference is only in the origin of the curing agent.
Although this may sound confusing since nitrates are usually related to meat, we actually get around 80% of them from vegetables. Since nitrates are naturally found in mineral deposits, vegetables get them from the soil they grow in. That’s why different vegetables are added to the meat.
Usually, when people ask if Italian sausage contains nitrates, they refer to chemical preservatives. However, since the sausage is uncured, the answer is no. It may contain nitrates, but they’re of natural origins only.
If Italian sausage products are cured, they can contain chemical nitrates. However, that’s usually not the case.
Italian sausage is traditionally defined as ‘fresh,’ which means it’s uncured. Because it’s fresh, Italian sausage needs to be cooked before eating. That’s why there’s no need to preserve it with different additives.
What Nitrates Are Used in Italian Sausage?
As mentioned earlier, Italian sausage is a type of fresh sausage. This means no chemical preservatives are added to it, including nitrates.
However, nitrates are often used when curing other types of sausages and bacon, ham, hot dogs, etc.
Nitrates that are used in meat preservation are:
- Potassium nitrate (E252)
- Sodium nitrate (E251)
- Nitrites are also used to preserve food:
- Potassium nitrite (E249)
- Sodium nitrite (E250)
Nitrates consist of one nitrogen atom and three oxygen atoms. They’re usually stable and don’t affect our health. Problems may occur, however, when bacteria or enzymes in our organs convert nitrates into nitrites.
Nitrites are potentially harmful, though. They can turn into nitric oxide, which has numerous benefits for our organs, or nitrosamines, which are harmful.
Nitrosamines can appear if you cook meat at high temperatures. They’re carcinogenic, which is why many people try to avoid them.
Due to potential health concerns, only a limited number of nitrates and nitrites are allowed in the processed meat.
If you want to cure your meat using these preservatives, it’s recommended to purchase a pre-made curing mix. The mix usually includes a balanced number of necessary additives.
Why Are Nitrates Used in Italian Sausage?
As previously stated, nitrates aren’t added to Italian sausage. However, other types of meat contain nitrates due to different manufacturing processes. Nitrates in meat aren’t all bad, though.
There are several benefits of adding nitrates to meat.
They Prevent the Development of Harmful Bacteria
This is the fundamental reason for adding nitrates to meat. They help to establish a safe environment by preventing harmful bacteria from inhibiting the meat.
Thus, nitrates and other ingredients have a significant role in keeping meat safe for consumption. When the meat is safe, you’re protected from different diseases such as food poisoning and various bacterial infections.
They Extend Shelf Life
Many types of meat are shelf-stable for months. With the addition of nitrates, the meat remains safe and doesn’t have to be kept in the fridge.
They Add Flavor
Nitrates add a salty flavor to the meat.
They Improve Appearance
By adding nitrates, the meat gets a distinctive pink or red color.
They Have Cardiovascular and Other Health Benefits
Nitrates can be transformed into nitric oxide. This compound has numerous benefits for our health.
Is Italian Sausage Healthy?
Meat and its benefits are often a topic of discussion, so you may wonder whether Italian sausage is healthy or not. From the nutritional viewpoint, it has numerous benefits. However, it also has negative impacts.
Italian sausage is made out of pork. Pork is naturally rich in fat. Due to this, Italian sausage has a negative impact on cholesterol, which increases the risk of developing heart disease.
For example, one Italian sausage link has around 15-20 grams of fat, and about 6-8 grams are saturated fat, which is more than half of the recommended daily intake.
High levels of sodium intake lead to water retention, which then leads to increased blood pressure. Since salt is added to Italian sausages, they usually have high sodium levels.
So, if you have high blood pressure, it’s not a good idea to eat Italian sausages often.
Protein and Carbs
An average Italian sausage link has about 16 grams of protein and only 3.5 grams of carbs, so it’s a great source of complete protein. It’s also great for those on low-carb diets.
Pork is rich in B vitamins which are in charge of converting food to energy. Also, they support the nervous system and help to form red blood cells.
Phosphorus and Iron
Phosphorus helps with bone-strengthening, while iron regulates hemoglobin and myoglobin production. Both substances are found in Italian sausage.
Italian sausage can be both beneficial and harmful. As with all food, moderation is key. A well-balanced diet and limited consumption of Italian sausage may be the best choice for your overall health.
If you were wondering if Italian sausage has nitrates, now you know the answer.
Since it’s a type of fresh sausage, nitrates aren’t added to it during processing. However, nitrates are often present in vegetables, so they may be found in the sausage seasoning.
Whatever your choice is regarding nitrates, always enjoy meat in moderation since eating it in large amounts can affect your health.