Smoked and cured foods are highly priced and under great demand due to its extraordinary flavor. But the health effects they pose may not be that interesting. Stomach cancer deaths are outnumbering all other cancer cases, especially in Japan. Japanese diet is rich in smoked, pickled, and barbecued foods.
Foods were once cured by various methods like smoking (slow drying over fire at low temperature), air drying (dehydrating), and salt curing (using salt or a brine solution to kill bacteria), as ways of preservation. But nowadays, curing is done with the help of additives.
Several studies reveal that, curing methods adopted may pose danger to our health. Smoked foods contain cancer causing substances known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH’s). The more smoke used, the greater amount of PHA’s produced. These are commonly seen in smoked fish, meat, shell fishes, etc.
Another ingredient is nitrites, which are added to foods such as bacon, hot dogs, sausages and ham. These also act as preservatives to prevent meat from ageing. The growth and infestation of Clostridim botulinum leading to botulism is also prevented by nitrites.
Even though studies showed that, certain carcinogenic compounds called nitrosamines are produced from nitrites in certain lab animals. But, they do not pose serious threat to our health. About 80% of nitrites are coming from our own saliva.
Cured foods like pickles, sauerkraut and olives pose another great problem. They are very high in sodium content. This can be a great risk to persons with high blood pressure and those who are under limited salt diet.
Some of the smoked foods, like fishes, are eaten without reheating. However, smoked meats usually require further cooking. Home smoked foods should reach an internal temperature of 68OC.
Smoke is usually created by burning plant resources, mostly woo, sawdust or chips of wood. The slow cooking process maintains the meat tender. Smoking aids, to close up the outer coat of the cured food making the attack of bacteria difficult.
Regular smoking techniques include; hot smoking, smoke roasting and cold smoking. Hot smoking and roasting cooks the meat a little bit. The cold smoked meat should be dried immediately to prevent bacterial invasion.
Tyramine, which is found in old and fermented foods can set off migraines in people who are generally prone to it.
Americans are now staying away from preserved foods and they are increasingly behind fresh produce. In Canada, there are several strict limits to be kept in the usage of nitrites in foods. Most manufacturers are now relying on the use of liquid smoke. These provide good flavor, without the production of nitrites.
And most of the home smokers depend on the cold- or liquid- curing process which is smoke free. Another important fact is that, an occasional serving of smoked bacon or cured meat may not cause serious harm. But once taken in large amounts, health problems may arise.
One easy remedy for overcoming the problems posed by cured foods is by eating a diet high in fiber, fruits and vegetables, and antioxidants, such as vitamins A, E, and C.