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Deli meat revisited (the case against nitrates continues)

Now that Thanksgiving is long gone and fresh carved turkey leftovers a distant memory, our staff is back to eating deli meat (until the next big holiday gathering that is!).

Get our posts: By email: Look to your right :) Here for our newsletter--the only way to win freebies. And ever since our posting on the dangers of nitrates in preserved deli meat, we've had an ongoing "exchange" about which nitrate-free deli meat tastes best.

While we're not in total agreement, here's the latest:

  • Buying all natural, nitrate- free meat is a worthy goal, BUT in most cases there is a taste trade-off-mainly in the meat's texture. We've often been grossed out by soggy centers. The one exception that has proved itself over and over again is Diestel's turkey pastrami. Everyone likes the taste and texture. Other meat styles (herb roasted, oven roasted, smoked) have been less consistent in terms of texture.
  • Opt for freshly sliced meat at the deli counter if at all possible. It's never soggy and the taste has been darn good. The challenge is that if you are not at a Whole Foods, Wild Oats or some other big, natural food store, this may not be an option. However, the upside is good meat that is absolutely tasty straight from the package. Dip it is hummus or eat as is and you're set.
  • Sodium remains a concern. We've started to pay attention to the sodium content and compare across brands and flavors. In some cases, while you will avoid chemicals and preservatives, you may be significantly upping your sodium intake; detracting from your "being healthy" objective. While this is not true across brands, we have seen sodium levels at 30% the USRDA. Diestel's turkey pastrami and Hormel's all natural brand come in at 18% which is comparable to other deli meats.
  • Keep testing. Just last week we read an article about Hormel's efforts to diversify away from its SPAM meat notoriety by producing a nitrate-free, all natural line of deli meats. Whole Foods declined to carry the brand (to the chagrin of Hormel management), but most local groceries do have it. We sampled the smoked turkey. It was pretty good. It resembles the thinly sliced, packaged meats of most other nitrate containing brands. The flavor and texture are both good. It's also less expensive than Diestel and Applegate. Especially if you're using it for a sandwich (versus eating straight from the package), it's worth trying.


Bottom line: For the best taste and texture, pay up for the freshly sliced meat at the deli counter. Paying up means $7/lb! Next best if you like turkey, Diestel's turkey pastrami. We'd go with the new Hormel product next, mostly because of the texture issues described above. Nothing kills an appetite more than opening your $6 package of nitrate free, all natural pre-packaged deli meat and not being able to separate the slices because the middle is mushy! It's just plain gross.

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