Sodium Nitrate vs. Sodium Nitrite

Sodium Nitrate vs. Sodium Nitrite

By on May 8th 2019

Unless you’re a chemist, it can be easy to forget the difference between sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite and use them interchangeably. The words nitrate and nitrite vary by one letter, yet they serve different purposes in the food industry.

Do you know the differences between sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite?

The Difference Between Nitrate and Nitrite

Nitrate and nitrite are both used as food additives when combined with sodium. So, what’s the difference between the two? Well, nitrate is made up of one nitrogen atom and three oxygen atoms while nitrite is made up of one nitrogen atoms and only two oxygen atoms. They only differ by one oxygen atom, yet they are found in different environments and serve different roles in preserving meats.

What is Sodium Nitrate?

When nitrate combines with sodium, it becomes sodium nitrate or NaNO 3. Sodium nitrate is a white, crystalline powder that is very soluble in water.

Nitrate naturally occurs in some vegetables, fruits, and grains. Upon contact with saliva, the chemical compound converts into sodium nitrite. This means that our bodies turn nitrate into nitrite. This food-grade additive has a melting point of 586.4 degrees Fahrenheit (308 degrees Celsius).

Sodium Nitrate’s Uses

Sodium nitrate is a salt used to preserve foods, especially meat and fish. It is also used as a substitute for sodium nitrite. Additionally, it helps cured meat retain its color.

This salt dehydrates harmful bacteria by removing moisture. It serves as a preservative that can prevent food poisoning.

Since our bodies turn nitrates into nitrites, sodium nitrate is often used as a substitute for sodium nitrite. If these chemical compounds can be used as substitutes, what’s the difference between them? Th underlying difference between the two is the environment they come from. Sodium nitrate is a naturally occurring chemical compound created during photosynthesis while sodium nitrite is synthetically made. A common substitute for sodium nitrite is celery juice which contains nitrates.

Interested in buying sodium nitrate to use in your products? You can request a quote here.

What is Sodium Nitrite?

When combined with sodium, nitrite becomes sodium nitrite or NaNO 2. Sodium nitrite is a white to yellowish, hygroscopic, crystalline powder that is very soluble in water. It can turn into Nitric Oxide which is responsible for pink meat (otherwise it would turn brown).

This food-grade additive is stable in neutral or alkaline solutions but decomposes in acid solutions. It is an inorganic compound and has a melting point of 519.98°F (271.1°C).

Sodium Nitrite’s Uses

Pertaining to the food industry, sodium nitrate has many beneficial uses including preventing botulism, prolonging the shelf life of meats, and giving meat its pink color. Cured meats such as ham, bacon, hot dogs, beef jerky, and sausages usually contain sodium nitrite.

Sodium Nitrite is an antioxidant, meaning it inhibits oxidation. Oxidation is the loss of electrons in an atom which changes its properties. Since sodium nitrite maintains atoms’ properties, it substantially lengthens the shelf life of cured meats.

Sodium nitrite is commonly used in meat processing products to prevent botulism by inhibiting the growth of the bacterial spores of Clostridium botulinum. C. botulinum needs an oxygen-free environment to survive, so it dies once exposed to air. Therefore, the two oxygen atoms in sodium nitrite are effective at preventing the bacteria from colonizing food.

Ever wonder how meat gets its pink-red color? Nitrites keep meat red by bonding to myoglobin, the pigment that stores oxygen in cells. These nitrites act as a substitute for oxygen and allow the color to last longer.

We offer Kosher and Halal friendly Sodium Nitrite that is manufactured and packaged by CHEMTRADE in bulk 50 pound bags.


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