Bacon is a cured meat prepared from a pig. It is first cured using large quantities of salt, either in a brine or in a dry packing; the result is fresh bacon (also known as green bacon). Fresh bacon may then be further dried for weeks or months in cold air, boiled, or smoked. Fresh and dried bacon must be cooked before eating. Boiled bacon is ready to eat, as is some smoked bacon, but may be cooked further before eating.
Bacon is prepared from several different cuts of meat. It is usually made from side and back cuts of pork, except in the United States, where it is almost always prepared from pork belly (typically referred to as "streaky", "fatty", or "American style" outside of the US and Canada). The side cut has more meat and less fat than the belly. Bacon may be prepared from either of two distinct back cuts: fatback, which is almost pure fat, and pork loin, which is very lean. Bacon-cured pork loin is known as back bacon.
Bacon may be eaten smoked, boiled, fried, baked, or grilled, or used as a minor ingredient to flavor dishes. Bacon is also used for barding and larding roasts, especially game, e.g. venison, pheasant. The word is derived from the Old High German bacho, meaning "buttock", "ham" or "side of bacon", and cognate with the Old French bacon.
In continental Europe, this part of the pig is usually not smoked like bacon is in the United States; it is used primarily in cubes (lardons) as a cooking ingredient, valued both as a source of fat and for its flavor. In Italy, this is called pancetta and is usually cooked in small cubes or served uncooked and thinly sliced as part of an antipasto.
Meat from other animals, such as beef, lamb, chicken, goat, or turkey, may also be cut, cured, or otherwise prepared to resemble bacon, and may even be referred to as "bacon". Such use is common in areas with significant Jewish and Muslim populations. The USDA defines bacon as "the cured belly of a swine carcass"; other cuts and characteristics must be separately qualified (e.g., "smoked pork loin bacon"). For safety, bacon must be treated to prevent trichinosis, caused by Trichinella, a parasitic roundworm which can be destroyed by heating, freezing, drying, or smoking.
Bacon is distinguished from salt pork and ham by differences in the brine (or dry packing). Bacon brine has added curing ingredients, most notably sodium nitrite, and occasionally sodium nitrate or potassium nitrate (saltpeter); sodium ascorbate or erythorbate are added to accelerate curing and stabilize color. Flavorings such as brown sugar or maple are used for some products. If used, sodium polyphosphates are added to improve sliceability and reduce spattering when the bacon is pan fried. Today, a brine for ham, but not bacon, includes a large amount of sugar. Historically, "ham" and "bacon" referred to different cuts of meat that were brined or packed identically, often together in the same barrel.
- 1 Curing and smoking bacon
- 2 Cuts of bacon
- 3 Around the world
- 4 Addictive taste
- 5 Bacon dishes
- 6 Bacon fat
- 7 Nutrients
- 8 Health concerns
- 9 "Bacon" products
- 10 See also
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Curing and smoking bacon
Bacon is cured through either a process of injecting with or soaking in brine or using plain salt (dry curing).
In America, bacon is usually cured and smoked, and different flavors can be achieved by using various types of wood, or rarely corn cobs; peat is sometimes used in the UK. This process can take up to eighteen hours, depending on the intensity of the flavor desired. The Virginia House-Wife (1824), thought to be one of the earliest American cookbooks, gives no indication that bacon is ever not smoked, though it gives no advice on flavoring, noting only that care should be taken lest the fire get too hot. In early American history, the preparation and smoking of bacon (like the making of sausage) seems to have been a gender-neutral process, one of the few food-preparation processes not divided by gender.
In the United Kingdom and Ireland, smoked and unsmoked varieties are equally common, unsmoked being referred to as green bacon. The leaner cut of back bacon is preferred to the bacon from the belly (that is ubiquitous in the United States) which is referred to as streaky bacon due to the prominence of the bands of fat. While there is a tendency on both sides of the Atlantic to serve belly bacon well-done to crispy, back bacon may at first appear undercooked to Americans.
Cuts of bacon
Rashers (slices) differ depending on the primal cut from which they are prepared:
- Side bacon, or streaky bacon, comes from pork belly. It is very fatty with long layers of fat running parallel to the rind. This is the most common form of bacon in the United States. Pancetta is Italian streaky bacon, smoked or aqua (unsmoked), with a strong flavor. It is generally rolled up into cylinders after curing. In America unsmoked streaky bacon is often referred to as side pork.
- Middle bacon, from the side of the animal, is intermediate in cost, fat content, and flavor between streaky bacon and back bacon.
- Back bacon (called Irish bacon/Rashers or Canadian bacon in the United States) comes from the loin in the middle of the back of the pig. It is a very lean, meaty cut of bacon, with less fat compared to other cuts. It has a ham-like texture. Most bacon consumed in the United Kingdom is back bacon.
- Cottage bacon is thinly sliced lean pork meat from a shoulder cut that is typically oval shaped and meaty. It is cured and then sliced into round pieces for baking or frying.
- Jowl bacon is cured and smoked cheeks of pork. See Guanciale.
- Slab bacon typically has a medium to very high fraction of fat. It is made from the belly and side cuts, and from fatback. Slab bacon is not to be confused with salt pork, which is prepared from the same cuts, but is not cured.
Bacon joints include the following:
- Collar bacon is taken from the back of a pig near the head.
- Hock, from the hog ankle joint between the ham and the foot.
- Gammon, from the hind leg, traditionally "Wiltshire cured".
- Picnic bacon is from the picnic cut, which includes the shoulder beneath the blade. It is fairly lean, but tougher than most pork cuts.
Around the world
Traditionally, the skin is left on the cut and is known as bacon rind, but rindless bacon is also common throughout the English-speaking world. The meat may be bought smoked or unsmoked. Bacon is often served with eggs as part of a full breakfast.
Australia and New Zealand
Generally as for the United Kingdom. Middle bacon is the most common variety and are sold in "rashers". Middle bacon includes the streaky, fatty section along with the loin at one end. In response to increasing consumer diet-consciousness, some supermarkets also offer the loin section only. This is sold as "short cut bacon" and is usually priced slightly higher than middle bacon. Both varieties are usually available in rindless, that is, with the rind removed.
An individual piece of bacon is a slice or strip. In Canada:
- The term bacon on its own or, more specifically, side bacon typically refers to bacon from the pork belly.
- Back bacon refers to either smoked or unsmoked bacon cut from the boneless eye of pork loin. Called Canadian bacon in the United States.
- Peameal bacon is back bacon, brined and coated in fine cornmeal (historically, it was rolled in a meal made from ground dried peas).
United Kingdom and Ireland
Grilled or fried bacon are included in the traditional full breakfast. An individual slice of bacon is a rasher, or occasionally a collop. In this region, bacon comes in a wide variety of cuts and flavors:
- The term bacon on its own suggests the more common back bacon, but can refer to any cut.
- Slices from the pork belly (with streaks of meat and of fat) are referred to as streaky bacon, streaky rashers or belly bacon.
- Slices from the back of the pig are referred to as back bacon or back rashers, and usually include a streaky bit and a lean oval bit.
- Middle cuts with an eye of meat and an extended streaky section are common.
- Heavily trimmed back cuts which may consist of just the eye of meat are available.
A side of unsliced bacon was once known as a flitch it is now known as a slab. An individual slice of bacon is a slice or strip. The term rasher of bacon is occasionally encountered (e.g., on restaurant menus) to mean a serving of bacon (typically several slices).
American bacons include varieties smoked with hickory or corncobs and flavorings such as red pepper, molasses, and occasionally cinnamon. They vary in sweetness and saltiness and come from the Ozarks, New England and from the upper South (mainly Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia).
- The term bacon on its own refers generically to strip bacon from the belly meat of the pig, which is the most popular type of bacon sold in the U.S.
- The term Canadian Bacon or Canadian-style bacon must be made from the pork loin, and means back bacon, but this term refers usually to the lean ovoid portion (longissimus muscle, or loineye). It also can be made from the sirloin portion of the loin (gluteal muscles), but must be labeled appropriately. Similar products made from the ham are used as less expensive substitutes.
In Japan, bacon (ベーコン) is pronounced "bēkon". It is cured and smoked belly meat as in the US, and is sold in either regular of half length sizes. Bacon in Japan is different from that in the US in that the meat is not sold raw but is processed, precooked and has a ham-like consistency when cooked. Uncured belly slices, known as bara (バラ), are very popular in Japan and are used in a variety of dishes.
Arun Gupta of The Indypendent has pointed out how bacon possesses six ingredient types of umami, which elicits an addictive neurochemical response. According to Gupta "the chain lards on bacon" give foods a "high flavor profile" creating a "one-of-a-kind product that has no taste substitute." This led Dr. David Kessler, author of The End of Overeating, to note how the standard joke in the restaurant chain industry goes, "When in doubt, throw cheese and bacon on it."
There is: bacon ice cream; bacon-infused vodka; deep-fried bacon; chocolate-dipped bacon; bacon-wrapped hot dogs filled with cheese; brioche bread pudding smothered in bacon sauce; hard-boiled eggs coated in mayonnaise encased in bacon — called, appropriately, the 'heart attack snack'; bacon salt; bacon doughnuts, cupcakes and cookies; bacon mints; 'baconnaise', which Jon Stewart described as 'for people who want to get heart disease but are too lazy to actually make bacon'; Wendy's 'Baconnator' — six strips of bacon mounded atop a half-pound cheeseburger — which sold 25 million in its first eight weeks; and the outlandish 'bacon explosion' — a barbecued meat brick composed of 2 pounds of bacon wrapped around 2 pounds of sausage.
— Arun Gupta
The United States has seen an increase in popularity of bacon and bacon related recipes, dubbed "bacon mania". Dishes such as bacon explosion, chicken fried bacon, and chocolate-covered bacon have been popularized over the internet, as has using candied bacon. Recipes spread quickly through the national media, culinary blogs, and YouTube. Restaurants are organizing bacon and beer tasting nights, The New York Times reported on bacon infused with Irish whiskey used for Saint Patrick's Day cocktails, and celebrity chef Bobby Flay has endorsed a "Bacon of the Month" club online, in print, and on national television.
Commentators explain this surging interest in bacon by reference to what they deem American cultural characteristics. Sarah Hepola, in a 2008 article in Salon.com, suggests a number of reasons, one of them that eating bacon in the modern, health-conscious world is an act of rebellion: "Loving bacon is like shoving a middle finger in the face of all that is healthy and holy while an unfiltered cigarette smolders between your lips." She also suggests bacon is sexy (with a reference to Sarah Katherine Lewis' book Sex and Bacon), kitsch, and funny. Hepola concludes by saying that "Bacon is American":Bacon is our national meat. The pig is not an elegant animal, but it is smart and resourceful and fated to wallow in mud. A scavenger. A real scrapper.
Alison Cook, writing in the Houston Chronicle (she calls bacon "democratic"), concurs with the third of these reasons, arguing the case of bacon's American citizenship by referring to historical and geographical uses of bacon. Early American literature echoes the sentiment—in Ebenezer Cooke's 1708 poem The Sot-Weed Factor, a satire of life in early colonial America, the narrator already complains that practically all the food in America was bacon-infused.
Bacon dishes include bacon and eggs, bacon, lettuce, and tomato (BLT) sandwiches, bacon wrapped foods (scallops, shrimp, and asparagus), and cobb salad. Recent bacon dishes include chicken fried bacon, chocolate covered bacon, and the bacon explosion. Tatws Pum Munud is a traditional Welsh stew, made with sliced potatoes, vegetables and smoked bacon. There is even bacon jam.
In the U.S. and Europe, bacon is often used as a condiment or topping on other foods. Streaky bacon is more commonly used as a topping in the U.S., on items such as pizza, salads, sandwiches, hamburgers, baked potatoes, hot dogs, and soups. In the U.S. Sliced smoked loin, which Americans call Canadian bacon, is used less frequently than streaky, but can sometimes be found on pizza, salads, and omelettes.
Bacon fat liquefies and becomes bacon drippings when it is heated. Once cool, it firms into lard if from uncured meat, or rendered bacon fat if from cured meat. Bacon fat is flavorful and is used for various cooking purposes. Traditionally, bacon grease is saved in British and southern U.S. cuisine, and used as a base for cooking and as an all-purpose flavoring, for everything from gravy to cornbread to salad dressing.
Bacon, or bacon fat, is often used for barding roast fowl and game birds, especially those that have little fat themselves. Barding consists of laying strips of bacon or other fats over a roast; a variation is the traditional method of preparing filet mignon of beef, which is wrapped in strips of bacon before cooking. The bacon itself may afterwards be discarded or served to eat, like cracklings.
One teaspoon (4 g, 0.14 oz) of bacon grease has 38 calories (160 kJ). It is composed almost completely of fat, with very little additional nutritional value. Bacon fat is roughly 40% saturated. Despite the potential health risks of excessive bacon grease consumption, it remains popular in the cuisine of the American South.
Four 14-gram (0.5 oz) slices of bacon together contain 7.45 grams (0.26 oz) of fat, of which about half is monounsaturated, a third is saturated and a sixth is polyunsaturated, and 7.72 grams (0.27 oz) of protein. Four pieces of bacon can also contain up to 800 mg of sodium, which is roughly equivalent to 1.92 grams of salt. The fat and protein content varies depending on the cut and cooking method.
A 2007 study by Columbia University suggests a link between eating cured meats (such as bacon) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The preservative sodium nitrite is the probable cause, and bacon made without added nitrites is available. Bacon is usually high in salt and saturated fat; excessive consumption of both is related to a variety of health problems. See the articles on saturated fat and salt for more details.
Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found in 2010 that eating processed meats such as bacon, preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or with the addition of chemical preservatives, was associated with an increased risk of both heart disease and diabetes. The same association was not found for unprocessed meat.
The popularity of bacon in the United States has given rise to a number of commercial products that promise to add bacon flavoring without the labor involved in cooking it or the perceived negative qualities of bacon. Some new products are evidence of the recent fad, including Bacon vodka, bacon peanut brittle, bacon toothpaste and bacon mints. A range of inedible products are also available including bacon bandaids, scarfs, and air fresheners.
Bacon bits are a frequently used topping on salad or potatoes, and a common element of salad bars. Bacon bits are made from either small, crumbled pieces of bacon (ends and pieces) or torn or misshapen slices; in commercial plants they are cooked in continuous microwave ovens. Similar products are made from ham or turkey, and analogues are made from textured vegetable protein, artificially flavored to resemble bacon. They are most often salted.
Other bacon-flavored products
Turkey bacon and vegetarian bacon fill a niche for alternatives to the meat from pigs. There is also a wide range of other bacon-flavored products, including a bacon-flavored salt, Bacon Salt, and a bacon-flavored mayonnaise, Baconnaise. Jon Stewart satirized Baconnaise in his The Daily Show as a combination of gluttony and sloth: "for people who want heart disease but are too lazy to actually make the bacon." Outside of the United States, baconnaise seems to characterize the U.S. in the same way Stewart proposed, as suggested by the French blog Écrans.
- Zeeuws spek
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