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Bacon is a meat product prepared from a pig and usually cured. 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, or it may be boiled or smoked. Fresh and dried bacon is typically 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 flavour dishes. Bacon is also used for barding and larding roasts, especially game, including venison and 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, part of the pig is not usually 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 flavour. 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, both of which prohibit the consumption of pig. 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 may 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 potassium nitrate (saltpeter); sodium ascorbate or erythorbate are added to accelerate curing and stabilise colour. Flavourings such as brown sugar or maple are used for some products. Sodium polyphosphates, such as sodium triphosphate, may be added to make the produce easier to slice and to 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.
In America, bacon is usually cured and smoked, and different flavours can be achieved by using various types of wood, or rarely corn cobs; peat is sometimes used in the United Kingdom. This process can take up to eighteen hours, depending on the intensity of the flavour desired. The Virginia Housewife (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 flavouring, 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 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.
Rashers differ depending on the primal cut from which they are prepared:
Bacon joints include the following:
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 and sausages as part of a full breakfast.
A side of unsliced bacon was once known as a 'flitch'; it is now known as a 'slab'. An individual rasher of bacon is known as 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 flavourings such as red pepper, maple, brown sugar, honey, molasses, and occasionally cinnamon. They vary in sweetness and saltiness and come from the Ozarks, New England, and the upper South (mainly Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia).
An individual piece of bacon is a 'slice' or 'strip'. In Canada:
Grilled or fried bacon are included in the traditional full breakfast. An individual slice of bacon is a 'rasher', or occasionally a 'collop'. Bacon is made in a wide variety of cuts and flavours:
Middle bacon is the most common variety and is 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 with the rind removed.
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 or 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 rashers, known as bara (バラ), are very popular in Japan and are used in a variety of dishes (e.g. yakitori and yakiniku).
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", which 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 (which are fried, then battered and fried again); 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 and Canada have seen an increase in the popularity of bacon and bacon related recipes, dubbed "bacon mania". Dishes such as bacon explosion, chicken fried bacon, and chocolate-covered bacon have been popularised over the internet, as has using candied bacon. Recipes spread quickly through both countries' national media, culinary blogs, and YouTube. Restaurants have organized and 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 being 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".
Alison Cook, writing in the Houston Chronicle, argues 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. "Bacon jam is also a commercially sold food."
In the U.S. and Europe, bacon is commonly used as a condiment or topping on other foods. Streaky bacon is more commonly used as a topping in the U.S. on such items 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 flavourful 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 flavouring, 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 rashers of bacon or other fats over a roast; a variation is the traditional method of preparing filet mignon of beef, which is wrapped in rashers of bacon before cooking. The bacon itself may afterwards be discarded or served to eat, like cracklings.
One teaspoon (4 g or 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 disputed health risks of excessive bacon grease consumption, it remains popular in the cuisine of the American South.
One 20-gram (0.7 oz) rasher of cooked streaky bacon contains 5.4 grams (0.2 oz) of fat, and 4.4 grams (0.2 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.
Judaism prohibits the consumption of bacon as part of the Kashrut, the Jewish dietary laws, that are derived from the Book of Deuteronomy. In kashrut, pig is not kosher, which means it is not fit for consumption. Deuteronomy 14:3-10 states, "Do not eat any detestable thing. ... The pig is also unclean; although it has a split hoof, it does not chew the cud. You are not to eat their meat or touch their carcasses." The Islamic faith also prohibits the consumption of bacon: The Quran: Surah 2:172-173 states, "Allah ... hat only forbidden you [to eat] Dead meat, and blood. And the flesh of swine..." Texas A&M's Meat Science defines the Quran's objection to swine on the basis that swine are filthy animals with its flesh contaminating its consumer, swine are more vulnerable to disease, and the flesh is more fat than muscle. Some Christian churches also prohibit the consumption of pork: the Seventh-day Adventist Church prohibits the consumption of swine as taboo. While not prohibited, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria discourage pork consumption.
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. Bacon is usually high in salt and saturated fat; excessive consumption of both is related to a variety of health problems.
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.
Bacon has received mixed reviews from the public.
On one hand, bacon has received a positive reception by the public. Bacon Today states that bacon has a very valuable amount of protein that is "valuable to maintaining our energy levels and a fully functioning, healthy body, with a minimum of those nasty, waist, thigh and butt expanding, fat building carbohydrates." Everything Tastes Better with Bacon, a book by Sara Perry, is a cookbook that compliments bacon's many uses in cooking.
On the other hand, as with most meat products, producers of bacon have received heavy criticism for how their pigs are treated. Many petitions and protests have occurred trying to raise awareness and change how producers treat their pigs. Many of these protests have turned out successful: for example, following NBC News's report of an undercover investigation of an abusive pig farm, Tyson Foods terminated their contract with the pig farm. Similar to NBC's investigation, The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) investigated Seaboard Foods, one of the pig breeding facilities that supply Walmart. According to HSUS, the pigs were treated poorly and abused. Walmart spokesperson Diana Gee said, "As soon as we were made aware of the allegations, we immediately reached out to Seaboard to begin investigating the issue...Pending our review, we will take any action necessary." A large amount of petitions also exist that oppose poor treatment of pigs, many of which state that how many pigs are currently treated is cruel and unethical.
The popularity of bacon in the United States has given rise to a number of commercial products that promise to add bacon flavouring without the labour involved in cooking it or the perceived negative qualities of bacon. Some of the more unusual products are evidence of the recent bacon fad, including Bacon vodka, bacon peanut brittle, bacon toothpaste, baconnaise (bacon mayonnaise), bacon salt, bacon popcorn, and bacon mints. A range of inedible products are also available including bacon band-aids, dental floss, scarves, soaps, perfumes and air fresheners.
Bacon bits are a frequently used topping on salad or potatoes, and a common element of salad bars. They are usually salted. Bacon bits are made from either small, crumbled pieces of bacon (ends and pieces) or torn or misshapen rashers; 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 flavoured to resemble bacon.
Turkey bacon and vegetarian bacon are popular alternatives to real bacon. There is also a wide range of other bacon-flavoured products, including a bacon-flavoured salt (Bacon Salt), Baconnaise (a bacon-flavoured mayonnaise), and Bacon Grill (a tinned meat, similar to Spam).
Many internet memes exist related to bacon. A popular meme is the "you had me at bacon" meme, which places said text on top of a picture of bacon. Another popular bacon meme is the "Push Button, Receive Bacon" meme: this meme has a picture of a human hand pushing a button with the text "Push Button" below the picture. The next picture features the generic hot air symbol: red wavy lines (red because the color red is relatable to the word 'hot') with two humans hands rubbing against each other, and the text "Receive Bacon" below the picture. The hot air looks similar to bacon, so it is as if the bacon is falling into the hands.
Epic Meal Time, a cooking show based on YouTube, features bacon in many of their episodes. In one episode entitled Bacon Tree, Epic Meal Time creates a tree made out of bacon using over 2,000 strips of bacon. In another episode entitled Boss Bacon Burger, over 400 strips of bacon are used to make a gigantic hamburger with bacon and other toppings.
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