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Why have cured meats become fluorescent?

Italian cured meat appetizers: between myths and false gods

Italian cured meats open up a truly vast panorama, different flavours, colors and aromas that fill the tables and make the meal complete. Sometimes the plate with cured meats becomes the starting point for a truly rich meal, or they are transformed into the main course thanks to the many recipes with cured meats that we can find. Any examples? Chicken rolls with bacon, meatballs with cooked ham, filling for ravioli with ham, dumplings with speck.

The possibilities are truly many and range from traditional Italian recipes with a more than ancient history to innovative solutions resulting from the desire to experiment. If first of all you need to know the ingredients thoroughly, the next step is to correct some details to make the experience pleasant and not at all cloying. In fact, sometimes it can happen that the sliced ​​meat has particular colors: when the fluorescent clashes. This could easily be the title, but... The reason is easy to say.

Whole muscle in cured meat appetizers

Whole muscle summer cured meats are cooked ham, speck, culatello and bresaola. It may happen that the iridescent effect is also noticeable in cooked cured meats such as pastrami and roast beef, and even more so when the slice is cut thin, by machine and in the leanest part. What are we talking about? Of the fluorescent effect that makes many people turn up their noses - but not everyone.

What does the disco effect depend on? The first thought is directed towards something unusual, wrong, perhaps the beginning of deterioration or, even worse, poor conservation. In most cases, the iridescent parts are discarded as the color appears jarring and unsuitable for the cold cuts and cheese platter to be brought to the table. However, the question has a scientific motivation that has nothing to do with common fears but, on the contrary, has solid foundations far from bacterial causes or degradation of various kinds.

Cured cured meats: a question of science

The color of the meat is determined by a pigment: hemoglobin, in a cured salami, takes on an intense red-brown color which, when linked to the nitrite molecules - essential for the preservation of the food, creates a stable molecular bond. There is one aspect that is beyond control and that is the dispersion of light in the muscle microstructure.

Scientific analyzes demonstrate that the iridescence of cured meats is caused by the angle of observation and the orientation of the meat. Therefore it is a completely natural phenomenon that has nothing - or little - to do with the bacterial and organoleptic content contained in the slice of meat. The scientific term is birefringence or double refraction of flesh.

Iridescent cured meat platter: a practical example

To make the iridescent effect more digestible, scientists compare the fluorescent slice with a prism: if you move it the reflected light changes color and reflection. However, it is necessary to make a specification in order to delve deeper into the topic: muscle proteins are positioned in myofilaments, which are in turn composed of myofibrils. The union of these elements contributes to the formation of muscle fibers which in turn create muscles.

Those responsible for the fluorescent effect are the myofilaments which, when cut perpendicularly to offer the best cut of meat, make the slices iridescent. The ends of the slice, once cut, have micro grooves that become fertile ground for the light which, in doing so, reflects the rainbow.

Rainbow beef

The fluorescent effect responds to a scientific rule that manifests itself in various aspects. White light is made up of a spectrum of different colors and each of them is made up of a specific wavelength. When the white light hits the grooves on the slice of meat, the angle creates a unique reflection given by the angle of the light and the particular frequency. The diffusion of the reflection allows the light to transform the color, or at least this apparently happens, activating the iridescent effect.

Charcuterie starters: only some are fluorescent

The iridescent effect is only evident on some particular Italian and foreign cured meats; the phenomenon depends on the initial color of the cut of meat and the structure of the filaments that make up the muscle fiber and the muscle. That's why you're more likely to notice the fluorescent phenomenon in cooked, dark meats like roast beef, pastrami and ham.

White meat is too pale to allow the iridescent effect to be observed with the naked eye, while raw meat is soft and delicate so the fibers open easily and remain more elastic. The master butchers also tell how important the direction of the cut is which, avoiding the counter-grain and perpendiculars, remains intact without creating doubts and particular colors.

Other times the fault lies with the dull blade which causes the problem and risks compromising, just by sight, the sale of the product. Finally, the amount of fat present in summer cured meats - the perfect season in which to consume them - becomes an excellent deterrent for marbling the cut of meat and combating the fluorescent effect of cured meats which is rather annoying for most.