I hope everyone saw Kim Severson's excellent article on organic hot dogs in last Wednesday's NYTimes. I'm all for anything that supports grass fed beef as these dogs do. And Ed Levine, one of the most knowledgeable writers on the food available in NYC, was moved to purchase and taste some of these dogs and reports the auspicious news.
I was especially interested by Severson's paragraph addressing an important change:
The key is that the curing code has recently been cracked. Instead of relying on sodium nitrates or the more common sodium nitrites for color, texture and shelf life, hot dog makers have found a magic solution of celery juice, lactic acid and sea salt that rescues the organic dog from its tough brown reputation and rockets it to pink juiciness. It also addresses the concern among some consumers and scientists that nitrites and nitrates might contribute to cancer.
Why would celery juice and lactic acid keep these dogs pink and juicy?
I don't know for sure but my guess is because the celery juice is loaded with nitrite. Nitrite is a chemical that is found in green leafy veg, such as spinach and celery. There's nothing wrong with celery juice in hot dogs–in fact it's probably important in addressing the botulism concern in any smoked sausage, the main reason for nitrites in hot dogs–but to claim that these hot dogs don't contain nitrites is likely misleading.
I am not an advocate for nitrites (or the different sodium nitrate which is used exclusively for long term dry-cured sausages), I don't think we should put it in our soups and stews and ice cream and coffee, but I am an advocate for accurate information. Information on nitrites and their effects on our health, how cancer-causing nitrosamines are formed in foods containing nitrites, and how dangerous they are is sketchy at best. I'd like to know more.
The food scientists I've spoken with say that companies promoting their food with "no nitrites" claims are doing so for one reason: marketing; once again, big business plays to an unwitting consumer.
In the meantime I will definitely be trying the organic dogs.