So it's mostly salt. And the way salt works as a preservative is through a process called osmosis, which describes what happens when the water within a cell is drawn out through the cell walls. Food spoilage and food poisoning are caused by single-celled organisms called bacteria.
Salt pulls out the water from within the bacteria cells, killing them. (Sugar does the same thing. This is why foods with high amounts of salt or sugar are among those that often don't require refrigeration.)
Its second ingredient, sodium nitrite, is a natural compound found in vegetables like carrots and spinach due to its prevalence in soil (nitrogen being 78 percent of our atmosphere). Sodium nitrite is known to prevent the growth of bacteria, and is also an effective anti-toxin and considered an essential medicine by the World Health Organization.
Combined, table salt mixed with sodium nitrite form a highly effective food preservative which also has antimicrobial properties. The pink coloring is added so that it won't be mistaken for ordinary salt.
Prague powder is responsible for producing the pink color in cured meats such as hot dogs and corned beef. It does this by interacting with a component of the protein in meat called heme, which is the part of a red blood cell that gives blood its color (note its similarity to the word hemoglobin).
Why Is It Called "Prague," Anyway?
It's called Prague powder (or sometimes Prague salt) because the process for adding sodium nitrite to meat for the purpose of curing it was first developed in that city when it was part of the Habsburg Empire.
One teaspoon of Prague powder mixed with cold water will cure about five pounds of meat.
Another special property of Prague powder is that it prevents the growth of the deadly Clostridium botulinum bacteria, which causes botulism.
Prague powder No. 1 is not to be confused with Prague powder No. 2, which is used in making dry cured meats like hard salami, pepperoni and prosciutto.
Prague powder is only meant to be used in very small quantities. That's why it's colored pink to prevent it from being mistaken for ordinary salt. Accidentally adding Prague powder to food like normal salt wouldn't be good for you.
Also Known As:
- Tinted curing mixture
- Tinted cure
- Curing salt
- Pink salt
Where to buy: Prague Powder No.1 Pink Curing Salt