Is it possible that Prague Salt is no more than clever name given to a curing brine?  Taking the full weight of the historical context of events in Prague, Germany and the USA into account in the 1910’s and 1920’s; particularly the severe measures to keep German sodium nitrite out of the USA, with the last blow being dealt, in 1924; understanding the extreme pressure on the packing houses to deliver huge volumes of bacon faster, I seriously doubt it.

The issue is not so much that nitrite was a controversial chemical.  This only helped to drive its use underground.  The main issue was that German sodium nitrite was not welcome in the USA and the US plants were nowhere near the level of the German plants in efficiency and low cost product output.

It seems that the name, Prague Salt, was crafted to misrepresent the country of origin and possibly its real composition.  Importing salt was no problem.  There is a possibility, of course, based on the popularity of salt from Bohemia, and the fact that we know it was widely exported, including to Germany, that the original mix done in Germany, could even have been done with actual salt from Prague with German sodium nitrites added.

Whether this was so or not, the name had enough of a basis in reality in Ladislav Nachtmullner, Praganda and the famous salts from Prague to get it past the customs officers at the American harbours and into the meat packing plants of Chicago and later, around the world.

The fact that it was tested in Canada and found to contain nitrite shows that this was not something that was declared at borders, at least in one of the event of the import into Canada and even though this does not prove that it was done in the US also, it at least build the case for the theory that it was imported into the US without a disclosure of its nitrite content at the borders.

Prof. Julius Hortvet, in his address in Pittsburgh, had these prophetic concluding remark about the future of science in the food industry.  He said that “…it is imperative that the use of colouring matter should be kept under intelligent control.  Regulations of the food industries will in future depend more than ever before on the results of scientific investigations, and the laboratory will become the dominant factor in the shaping of food standards and food laws.”  (American Food Journal; 1907)

The legal status of nitrites as food additive was clarified in 1925 through proper legislation, based on Prof. Hortvet’s principal of “intelligent control” when science decided the matter and it was taken out of the hands of “the court of popular opinion.” However, the involvement of the packing plants and Griffith in everything that happened in 1925 raises suspicion of collusion with the US government.

The real hero in the story is the master butcher from Prague who through practical application and the exact scientific inquiry that Prof Hortvet spoke about, developed the first commercially successful curing mix, Praganda.  Unknowingly, he became the central figure in the saga about the naming of  Prague Powder and the worldwide phenomena of the direct addition of nitrites to curing brines.

Finally, there is the Griffith Laboratories.  It seems as if how Prague Salt came into the USA was possibly not above board.  They did however became central around the world in making the direct addition of sodium nitrite through Prague Salt and later, Prague Powder a worldwide phenomenon.

Understanding this grand story, helps us to understand ourselves and the technology we use and to apply our trade with greater skill through knowledge.  Much gratitude must be shown to these legendary companies and individuals.


The Naming of Prague Salt Copyright © 2016 by Eben van Tonder. All Rights Reserved.


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