What is Cultured Celery Extract?
Hmmm...it looks like a lot of people are looking for information about cultured celery extract lately. Actually, I'm getting a ton of hits on my site as a result of people's curiosity. I think I can give a pretty good guess as to why too....there seems to be a trend among food manufacturers/processors to remove nitrates/nitrites from processed meats and going 'natural'. But what does this have to do with celery extract you ask? Read on...
'Natural' weiners for instance, have the following ingredients: pork, water, sea salt, vinegar, cane sugar, cultured celery extract, spice, dehydrated garlic, and smoke. Doesn't sound half bad, eh? Hmmm...there has to be a catch; there always is...when processed foods are labelled with 'natural' I'm always suspicious. Did you know that there aren't any guidelines for using the word 'natural'? Putting the word 'natural' and a picture of a barn or cows on the front doesn't make the food any healthier. It's called healthwashing - promoting something as healthy when it really isn't.
But, one may say, the ingredients aren't that bad, are they? No, not really. They could be a lot worse actually. I've seen many, many other products with way worse ingredients. A loaf of processed bread, for instance, has a list twice as long AND with words that most people can't even pronounce. Looking at the ingredients, the one item that most people seem to be wondering about is the cultured celery extract. Why is there celery in weiners, bacon and deli meats? Plain and simple - it's a natural source of nitrates.
Traditionally, sodium nitrite has been used as a preservative in processed meats and fish to prevent the formation of bacteria that may cause botulism. Unfortunately, it has been shown to have carcinogenic side effects. Recently, fooducate.com listed 7 things to know about nitrites in your luncheon meats http://www.fooducate.com/blog/2009/03/16/7-thing-to-know-about-nitrites-... Here are a few highlights from the article:
- Sodium nitrite is a food preservative used primarily in prepared meat and fish such as ham, bacon, hot dogs, corned beef (spam), luncheon meats, and smoked fish
- Sodium Nitrite helps preserve the pink/red color of the meat which should have been grayish having been precooked.
- It wards off closridium botulinum, the bacteria responsible for botulism, a dangerous disease causing respiratory and muscular paralysis.
- When cooked or broken down in the stomach, nitrites form nitrosamines, which can cause cancer in young children and pregnant women.
- Spinach, beets, lettuce, celery, parsley, and cabbages are among vegetables with high concentrations of nitrates. The amount is determined by the plant's genetic age, and the amount of nitrate in the soil. Don't stop eating these veggies, many of them also contain vitamin C, naturally limiting the formation of the toxic nitrosamines.
The last point is interesting... After doing some additional research, I have learned that sodium nitrate is a naturally occurring mineral and is actually present in most vegetables. Basically, anything that grows from the ground draws sodium nitrate out of the soil. Even still, the nitrate present are not a cause of concern because due to the vitamin C and antioxidants present the negative effects are eliminated.
As a rule I don't buy meats from the grocery store but I have bought elk weiners from a vendor at the Covent Garden Market. I did speak to him about the trend towards using celery extract and he told me that he also used this ingredient in his weiners. To be honest, he said, it's impossible to make true 'nitrate-free' weiners, bacon, or deli meats. They would be completely unpalatable and everything would have a grey color tinge to them.
The question remains, however, if the 'natural' celery nitrate is a good replacement for the traditional sodium nitrate?? What do you think? What are your thoughts? Are you more likely to purchase these products? I'm on the fence on this one.... I'm not sure if I support the use of celery extract or not. It's a step in the right direction I'm sure, but there isn't a lot of information out there to support any benefits of using celery versus traditional sources. I've concluded that everyone else is on the fence as well because there doesn't seem to be any difference really. Is it just a case of food processors 'healthwashing' their products once again?
Dallas Rocheleau lives in London, Ontario and has been blogging about local eating since 2009. She sources out local foods from the Southwestern Ontario region and loves to spend time in the kitchen making seasonal recipes. She also avoids buying processed foods and tries to replicate common grocery store foods at home from scratch. Her blog can be found here.