Curing Blues
August 20, 2007 10:42 PM   Subscribe

Where can I find food-grade potassium nitrate (A.K.A. saltpetre")?

I've got some recipes for cured meats that I want to make. The recipies include potassium nitrate/saltpetre. Where can I find a source (in Australia)?

(I'm aware that potassium nitrate is poisonous in the wrong amounts, that there are various health issues associated with nitrates in food and that home-cured meat produces have their own risks.)

I know that there are a variety of home-cure products (rubs and such) that are available on the US market. They don't appear to be available here. Searches for potassium nitrate lead either to fertilizer suppliers, food research papers or articles on home-made bombs. Ditto saltpetre.

Is there a product or industry name that I should be looking for instead of the chemical name etc?

Ideally, I'd like to purchase a small quantity (no more than a couple of hundred grams at most, and probably less - if possible) of food grade potassium nitrate in a standardised mix (so much X weight per Y of product). The places I've checked thus far (specialist food retailers, restaurant suppliers and a couple of chemists) have either not known what I'm talking about or have lecturered me on the perils involved. None of them actually appear to carry the stuff.

Any brilliant suggestions?
posted by ninazer0 to Food & Drink (14 answers total)
Yes! According to Wikipedia:
Stale urine was filtered through a barrel full of straw and allowed to continue to sour for a year or more. After this period of time, water was used to wash the resulting chemical salts from the straw. This slurry was filtered through wood ashes and allowed to dry in the sun.

It's a controlled substance in a lot of places because it's a powerful oxidizer, which leads to its use in explosives as well as blackpowder. I'll keep looking.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:49 PM on August 20, 2007

Alton Brown implied that you could get it from a pharmacist in his episode about corned beef. He also said there were some internet sources. May be some links or info on the Good Eats section of FoodTV
posted by RustyBrooks at 11:55 PM on August 20, 2007

You might direct your inquiry to Spectrum Chemicals' Australian partner ASTRAL SCIENTIFIC PTY LIMITED. Here in the States, moderate quantities (5 lbs) of 99.5% pure potassium nitrate (product # CH5300 on linked page) are readily available at around $1 a pound (and the assayed impurities for that product would qualify it as "food grade"). It's a common enough ingredient in food stuffs that I wouldn't imagine any civilized country massively restricting moderate quantities of it. Your payment and shipment details will probably remain on file for sometime, just in case any authorities want a look at them.
posted by paulsc at 12:29 AM on August 21, 2007

I buy mine online from a company in the UK called MSK. Most charcuterie sources do however recommend use of Insta Cure instead, which is premixed salt+potassium nitrate so you can't poison yourself. Maybe that will be easier to find locally.
posted by roofus at 12:31 AM on August 21, 2007

Find a butcher who makes corned beef or corned tongue and ask where they get it. They'll probably give you some.

I would be leery of getting anything from a chemical supplier unless it is actually sold as food-grade.

Keep asking at pharmacists, you may find an old-school one who actually has some.

These guys appear to sell food grade sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate in Australia, but they may not do retail..
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:37 AM on August 21, 2007

Potassium Nitrate (sometimes called nitre) is also used in the developer for wet plate collidon and, for making albumen prints. Alternative Photography has a list of suppliers who sell chemicals to photographers aka the general public.
posted by squeak at 1:55 AM on August 21, 2007

OK, the guy who wrote this post uses sodium nitrate and lives in South Australia. He seems like a nice chap. I think you should email him.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:21 AM on August 21, 2007

When I was a kid I used to buy it at the drugstore, as well as potassium chlorate & sulphur (never all at once at the same drugstore of course).

Drugstores don't carry saltpetre anymore?
posted by lastobelus at 3:24 AM on August 21, 2007

lastobelus, this is Australia, the country where you can get detained for weeks and then deported for giving your second cousin your old SIM card. I'm sure that right now, somebody from the Australian Federal Police is organizing a dawn raid on ninazero's terrorist bomb lab.
posted by flabdablet at 4:06 AM on August 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you want "food grade," you need something that's marked "USP" (or the Australian equivalent). Something marked '99.8% pure,' or similar, isn't necessarily food grade. Percent purity is something you usually see on industrial/commercial chemicals. I've never seen percent purities on USP-grade chemicals, because USP implies a very high purity already.

Anyway, Googling "potassium nitrate USP" turns up a bunch of suppliers. Maybe try a similar search just on Australian sites, if that's where you're located.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:29 PM on August 21, 2007

Couldn't you contact a local butcher or other sausage-producing business, and either buy some off of that business or get in contact with its supplier? A lot of salami-making Italian butcher type places in the US keep curing salts on hand.
posted by rxrfrx at 3:16 PM on August 21, 2007

Best answer: What you probably want is sodium nitrIte, not potassium nitrAte. The food industry moved away from saltpeter a long time ago because it provides inconsistent protection against botulism. What they use now (at least in the US) is a mixture of salt and 6.25% sodium nitrite. This is called any of the following names:
Prague powder #1
curing salt
pink salt (it's dyed pink so you don't accidentally think it's just salt and poison yourself)
TCM (Tinted Curing Mixture)

A search tells me that people who are curing their own meats in Australia mostly get their supplies from a local butcher. See, for example, here.

I would recommend calling this company and see if they carry it. I don't see it listed explicitly in their catalog, but most of the premixed sausage seasonings they carry will contain sodium nitrite, there's a good chance one of their mixtures will work for what you want.

Here are some other places I've seen curing salt in the US:
In grocery stores in the spice section, or in the same section as canning supplies.
In sporting goods stores, sometimes they have sausage making supplies near the hunting equipment.
In the spice section of my local Chinese grocery, I told them I wanted "spice for sausage" and they took me to it.

Finally, if you want a ton of recipes using modern ingredients (and following modern food safety standards) check out this incredible site
posted by TungstenChef at 4:50 PM on August 21, 2007

USP is not interchangeable with food-grade. In USP reagents, often the things that make up the 0.01% that are not reagent are things you would never, never want to ingest in any amount.

Since my jokey comment above I have spent some time looking on the internet and I couldn't find a source for food grade saltpeter in Australia.
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:31 PM on August 21, 2007

Response by poster: As a followup, I tried calling a variety of companies, emailed the people suggested above and got nowhere. So I went into my little Pan-Asian grocery today and found pink curing salt. TungstenChef - you rock!

posted by ninazer0 at 2:16 AM on October 15, 2007

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