History of Meat Curing

History of Meat Curing


At Carnivore Club we, as meat connoisseurs, love our salami, pepperoni, bacon, and pastrami. We also know that the history of cured meats is not common knowledge – but we think that it should be! The process of curing is what allows you to buy meats from the grocery store rather than same-day from your local butcher. Through the curing process, the water is removed from foods, in order to stave off the growth of bacteria and slow the degradation process. The history of curing dates all the way back to the third century BC, when Cato recorded directions for dry curing hams.

The earliest processed meat products were prepared exclusively for use in times of scarcity. Before refrigeration techniques, large amounts of salt were added to meats for preservation. The history of nitrate (saltpeter) use for preservation is lost in antiquity, but the use of salt to keep meats fresh preceded the use of nitrate by many centuries.

As early as 3000 BC, the Sumerians in Mesopotamia preserved cooked meats and fish in sesame oil and salt. Later, in 900 BC, the Greeks began producing salt gardens. The salt grown in the gardens was used for the drying and smoking of fish. By 200 BC, the Romans had learned how to use salt for preservation from the Greeks, and began preserving other kinds of meats including pork. It was during this time that the reddening effect of salt on meat was recorded.

By the medieval times, treating meat with salt, saltpeter, and smoke was common practice and saltpeter’s ability to fix the reddening of the meat was recognized.

It wasn’t until the late nineteenth century that the role of nitrate and nitrite in color and flavor were recognized and meat curing became more of a science than an art. By the end of the century, various methods of curing including dry, wet, or pickle cures and combinations were common. At this point, the meat packing industry began searching for ways to improve the quality of cured meats, which resulted in scientific studies and knowledge.

Since the mid 1920s, the meat curing industry has seen many advances. The direct use of nitrite was a huge advance as it greatly reduced the time required for curing.

Meat curing has since returned to some of its more artistic roots, with artisans using the curing process to concentrate the natural flavors of the meats, making them highly sought after. Learn about the different ways you could cure meats at home.

At Carnivore Club, we hand-pick artisanal meats from around the world that are sure to make your taste buds water. So next time you get a box filled with salamis and hams, remember that the Sumerians, Ancient Greeks, and Romans all contributed to the creation of the delicious food you are about to eat.