Stop the Celery Powder Con! Newsflash: everything found in health food stores is not necessarily good for your health. Case in point: celery powder. Perhaps you’ve noted it on the ingredients list of foods like organic “uncured” or “no nitrate” bacon, hot dogs, salami and such. Perhaps you’ve even thrilled at the idea that these conventionally taboo meats, full of potential cancer-causing nitrates, are now available in wholesome, life affirming form. That, however, would be wrong. Due to the vagaries of organic rules and market forces, the organic versions of these items are just as hazardous to your health as the standard processed fare.
Stop the Celery Powder Con! Celery powder, made by an extensive process of dehydrating, concentrating and grinding down the stalks of celery, has a natural ability to season, color, preserve and disinfect meats. When non-organically grown, the plant is also adept at absorbing nitrogen from synthetic fertilizer as well as pesticides and other chemicals from the soil. Thus, inorganic celery powder is rich in nitrates. So because organic celery powder lacks the extra loading of synthetic nitrogen, it simply does not pack the necessary nitrate punch that producers need to match conventionally cured, nitrate meats. Therefore, the use of inorganic celery powder is a way of artificially adding nitrate to meats as a preservative at levels not possible to achieve through the use of organic celery.
Why is this in organic foods? It’s a distinction without a difference. Manufacturers claim that nitrates in inorganic celery powder are naturally occurring, i.e., simply an intrinsic part of the growing process rather than a post facto added ingredient. Current organic rules allow the presence of a small amount of inorganic natural material in items displaying the “organic” label. This creates the loophole that companies like Applegate, Niman Ranch, et al, marketing themselves as the healthy alternative to purveyors of conventional cured meats, walk right through.
Nitrates prevent bacterial growth and give deli meats distinctive color and flavor. But nitrates convert to nitrites which interact with protein, creating compounds called nitrosamines which are considered carcinogenic. Thus, the negative health effects of nitrates in so-called “organic” foods are the same as in conventional products, including the risk of the blood disorder methemogobinemia, high blood pressure, pregnancy complication, adverse reproductive effects and cancer.
Many food advocacy groups have petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to “stop requiring terms ‘Uncured’ and ‘No Nitrate or Nitrite Added” on labels for meat processed with non synthetic sources, such as celery powder because these labels are “misleading and may give consumers the false impression that these products are healthier.” They aren’t! They just sound healthier!
According to Nathan S. Bryan, PhD, University of Texas Houston Biomedical Research Center, “This notion of ‘nitrate-free” or organically cured meats is a public deception.” Before high tech modern food processing, meats were traditionally cured by a process of hand rubbing with a mix of herbs, sugars, salt and sodium nitrite curing salts along with Vitamin C which ensures that nitrates convert to nitric oxide instead of carcinogenic nitrosamines. Today’s manufacturing of “nitrate-free” meats, however, converts synthetic nitrates to carcinogenic nitrosamines. According to Bryan, they can have twice the content of nitrite: “Some convert 40 %, some convert 90%, so the consistency of the residual nitrite is highly variable.”
Under increasing pressure from pro-organic advocates, companies claim they’re looking for a suitable organic curing agent to replace celery powder. However, thus far, they’ve come up with nothing. The deception continues. Thus, it would be wise to avoid all deli meats — ham, bacon, salami, hot dogs, jerky, sausages — labeled organic or nitrate-free. Your best option would be to find traditionally cured meats from local farms or artisanal venders.
Stop the Celery Powder Con!Undoubtedly, celery powder must be removed from the organic exemption list! Please sign the petitions from these two consumer groups: