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Originally published February 16 2009

Annatto Coloring Could Replace Deadly Sodium Nitrite Used in Processed Meats

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) The natural food coloring annatto may function as an effective replacement for the potentially dangerous meat-curing chemical sodium nitrite, according to a study conducted by researchers from Tarbiat Modares University in Iran and published in the journal Food Chemistry.

Nitrites, another name for the salt sodium nitrite, are preservatives customarily used to keep sausages and other cured meat products from going rancid or otherwise spoiling, and are the traditional source of those meats' pink color. A growing body of research implicating nitrites in a variety of health problems from migraines to cancer, however, has spurred research into more natural alternatives. Some processed meats are already on the market bearing labels proclaiming them "no nitrite added" or "nitrite free."

"The objective of this novel study was to assess the partial replacement of nitrite by annatto as a color additive in sausages under industrial conditions," the researchers said.

Annatto is a natural coloring derived from the seed of the tropical American achiote tree.

The researchers made sausages composed of 55 to 70 percent meat and preserved them with a variety of combinations of nitrite and annatto, ranging from 100 percent nitrite to 100 percent annatto and every 20 percent interval in between. They then analyzed the color, flavor, odor and microbial contaminant content of the sausages after two, 10, 20 and 30 days of refrigeration.

The researchers found that the sausages made with 60 percent annatto and 40 percent nitrites had the best combination of flavor, smell, preservation and color, and was not significantly different in any of those measures than the 100 percent nitrite sausage.

Nitrites are suspected carcinogens, and researchers have found a strong connection between frequent consumption of cured or processed meats and colon cancer. Regular consumption of nitrite-cured meat has also been linked to a higher risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a hard-to-reverse condition in which the airways narrow.

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