Everything you WANT to know about BACON!
Bacon is technically, by today’s definition, pork that has been salt-cured, usually using a salt brine. Brine is simply a liquid, like water, made with a high concentration of salt (usually sodium chloride) and often used specifically to cure meats or to flavor them before cooking.
Typical bacon as we know it today mostly comes from a pig’s stomach area, pork belly, due to the high fat content. There is also a common “back bacon” that comes from cuts of meat from the back of the pig. And as we know, it is used in a ton of ways from just eating it right out of the pan to flavoring any dish to give it a great salty pork flavor.
Today, due mostly to the bad press bacon has gotten over the years as being a very unhealthy food due to its high levels of sodium and corporate store brand’s way of processing their bacon, all forms of “healthy” bacon have popped up like turkey or venison bacon.
Some other different types of bacon include;
Bacon is typically made in either of two ways, either wet curing or dry curing.
Wet curing is when your choice of meat is either soaked or injected with brine. Other ingredients can also be added like brown sugar or molasses to flavor the meat further.
Dry curing consists of simply packing the cut of meat in salt and letting the salt naturally remove the moisture in the meat through osmosis. The salt helps kill any bacteria and with the moisture removed, the meat is able to be kept without refrigeration for a longer period of time.
It’s believed that bacon got started in China around 1500 B.C. when the Chinese were creating an earlier form of bacon by salting pork bellies. Since they were also the first to domesticate pigs, this makes sense that they would be considered the original inventor’s of bacon.
From there it’s believed (I keep saying “believed” because it’s very difficult to find actual documentation) that the Greeks and Romans learned how to salt pork after invading parts of the middle east where it was a common form of preserving pork.
Both empires helped spread the use of salting pig meant and therefore the first forms of bacon.
The actual word “bacon” comes from the Germanic root “-bak,” meaning the back of the pig, although most bacon today is from the belly of the pig. “Bakko” became the French “bacco,” which the English then started using sometime around the 12th century, which in turn became “bacoun.”
Up until the sixteenth century the Middle English term or “word” “bacoun” meant any cured or salted meat, regardless of the animal. It was used to describe the process, not the actual product.
Bring Home the Bacon!
You’ve probably heard it a million time, but do you know where the phrase comes from? Surprisingly it had nothing at all to do with the concept of money. Rather, it was used by the church in the twelfth century as a way of rewarding a good couple. The idea was if for a year and a day the couple didn’t fight and the man was willing to swear to that fact before God, then the church would award the man with a “flitch” of bacon, or by today’s standards, a side of bacon.
To be able to receive a side of bacon from the church at this time meant that you were indeed a good husband and man and could “bring home the bacon.”
Streaky Bacon or Side Bacon are the types most people in the United States will be familiar with. This is they type of bacon that is cut into strips that have an alternating layers of meat, the muscle of the hog, and fat, the white part of the strip – the “streaks”. The streaks or fat are what gives you all that flavorful lard after cooking. Click here to see some ways you can use you bacon grease!
This is the most common type and what is normally purchased in big supermarkets and comes from the belly of a pig, or “pork belly”.
The Italian “Pancetta” bacon is a kind of smoked or unsmoked cut of side bacon rather than the fattier belly cut. After curing it has a very strong flavor and is often used in Carbonara and Matriciana pasta dishes to add flavor, and even on pizzas. It’s also used like bacon to add flavor to meats like chicken by wrapping the meat and cooking, similar to using bacon to wrap chicken to add flavor.
This type is often found in Ireland and the United Kingdom. Although still pork, the cut is from the loin in the middle of the back of the pig. It has less fat content than it’s streaky bacon cousin and is often touted as a “healthier choice” on packaging. And although it may contain less fat, it is still made the same way so it has the equivalent of the “normal” bacon as far as sodium is concerned.
If you’re talking bacon and you’re actually in Canada, then what you are talking about is side bacon. It’s no surprise that Canadians often flavor their cured pork with maple syrup. It gives it a nice sweet flavor that goes great with breakfast foods.
Turkey bacon is the world’s answer to regular pork bacon being labeled as an unhealthy food. And while it may be somewhat better for you due to the decreased amount of fat, as much as 90%, it is still as high in the Sodium used in the curing process.
But for those “health conscious” people, do what makes you feel good. And if you’re doing it for other reasons like religion, I guess it’s the next best thing to the real food. Although it’s my belief nothing can take the place of great bacon.
Obviously the turkey isn’t made the same way as a pig, so the “strips” you get in a package in the store are made that way through being processed. The entire turkey is used to make turkey bacon, and it can be cured, uncured, smoked, unsmoked or a scrabble of different methods.
No article on bacon would be complete without mentioning those tasty little bacon bits that make any boring salad a pleasure to eat.
Bacon bits are actually made from little bits of real bacon. And just like any other bacon sold in stores, they come in all of the varieties that “regular” bacon comes in, cured, turkey, vegan, etc…
But remember, they are made the same, so they will still have the same health benefits or drawbacks depending on your stance with bacon.