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Exploring Bacon: A Centuries-Old Food Fad

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.

exploring-bacon-centuries-old-food-fad

That Unmistakable Aroma!

The Saturdays of my childhood began with the scent of bacon frying.

Still nestled snug and warm under the covers, before I heard the sounds of my parents downstairs, or saw the daylight peaking through the curtains, I knew that it was time for breakfast. I could smell the smoky sweet aroma of bacon frying in the kitchen.

The question that women casually shopping for perfume ask more than any other is this: "What scent drives men wild?" After years of intense research, we know the definitive answer. It is bacon.

— Tania Sanchez, Perfumes: The Guide

Why Does It Smell So Good?

Bacon contains six (yes, six) types of umami.

When bacon is heated, the fats and sugars in the meat undergo a chemical reaction which releases more than 100 volatile organic compounds into the air.

In other words, we simply can’t help ourselves when assaulted by the aroma of bacon frying.

exploring-bacon-centuries-old-food-fad

How Much Do We Love Bacon?

  • Bacon has its own holiday—the first Saturday before Labor Day is ‘International Bacon Day.’
  • Over 1.7 billion (yes, billion with a B) pounds of bacon are used each year in restaurants (including fast-food restaurants). That’s equivalent to the weight of 8 ½ Nimitz-class aircraft carriers.
  • The average American eats 18 pounds of bacon per year. That’s about 5,608,654,506 lbs for the entire U.S., which is equal to 7.68 Empire State buildings. (Holy skyscraper Batman!)
  • In the United States, more than half of all homes (53 percent) always have bacon on hand.
  • Packaged, sliced bacon is a $2.1 billion market.

But Have We Become a Bit Too Crazy About This Smoked Porky Goodness?

I did a Google search on "Unique Bacon Items." Within seconds, I had 534,000 results.

Bacon-flavored candy bars are not that much of a stretch of the imagination, and those who love salty-sweet might even appreciate bacon-flavored lollipops. We also have bacon mints, bacon toothpaste, bacon soda pop, and bacon dental floss!

Have we gone insane?

And then, there is "Baconnaise." The manufacturer claims that it is vegan and Kosher (how do they accomplish THAT?!).

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Fun Facts About Bacon

  • Bacon contains choline, which has been shown to improve fetal brain development. (So, pregnant women should eat bacon?)
  • A 250-pound pig produces on average 23 pounds of bacon.
  • Oscar Mayer patented the first packed, sliced bacon in 1924.
  • Saint Anthony the Abbot is the patron saint of pigs, swine herders, and butchers. So, one might call him the Patron Saint of Bacon.

How Did This All Begin?

Bacon, and the love of bacon, is not a recent food trend or culinary fad. In fact, food historians say that it was the Chinese who came up the concept of slicing and smoking pork. (I wonder if a wild boar got a bit too close to a fireworks display?) around 1,500 B.C.

We know that the ancient Romans were bacon enthusiasts (but they called it petaso). In the Middle Ages, bacon was a standard food for the Anglo Saxons—cheap and easy to produce, but tasty enough that it was enjoyed by kings and commoners alike.

Three Methods to Achieve Perfect Crisp Bacon

On the stove top in a skillet

  • Start your bacon in a cold pan.
  • Don't crowd the pan; your bacon slices can touch, but should not overlap.
  • Cook over medium-low heat, turning often times until evenly crisp and brown.

This is the best method for you if you enjoy the sensory experience of cooking bacon. Not only is the aroma amazing, but you can see the browning, hear the sizzle (and perhaps feel the heat if a bit of grease pops, so be careful).

In the oven

  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Arrange bacon slices on a slotted broiler tray or a rimmed baking sheet lined with a cooling rack.
  • Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, but keep a watchful eye on it; bacon baked in the oven can go quickly from crisp to cremated.

This is the best method for you if you need to cook a large amount of bacon at one time; this is the method that restaurants use. By the way, cooking the bacon on the broiler tray or cooling rack elevates out of the grease and helping it to crisp more quickly.

In the microwave

  • Place 3 paper towels on a plate.
  • Place the bacon on top of the towels in a single layer. Top with 3 more towels.
  • 4 to 6 slices of bacon (the maximum you should attempt to cook at one time) should take 4 to 5 minutes, depending on the wattage of your oven.

This is the best method for you if you want just one or two servings of bacon; it eliminates the need to dirty a skillet or baking pan, and is quicker than waiting for the oven to preheat.

Now That You Know How to Cook Bacon...

...let's start creating some interesting foods using this savory, crispy food of Romans, royalty, burghers, and beggars.

Bacon appetizers

  • bacon bourbon meatballs
  • bacon-wrapped water chestnuts

Bacon plus (even more meat)

  • bacon-brown sugar pork tenderloin
  • cheesy bacon chicken

Bacon and veggies

  • asparagus bacon bundles
  • Brussels sprouts with bacon

Sweet bacon treats

  • candied bacon
  • salted maple bacon truffles

Vegetarian bacon

  • 3-way vegetarian bacon (coconut, mushrooms, and rice paper)

Bacon Bourbon Meatballs

Serene is a cook, photographer, blogger, and the brains behind Hous Of Yumm. And not only does she create amazing Tex-Mex foods, write about them, and take beautiful still photographs—she has videos of these amazing creations too!!

Her bacon bourbon meatballs look absolutely transforming!

Bacon-Wrapped Water Chestnuts

My sister-in-law made these for our family Christmas gathering. Water chestnuts on their own are rather boring, ho-hum. But these babies wrapped in bacon were addicting. They disappeared long before the cheese ball, chips, and dip, or even the Chex Mix.

I don't know for sure if she got her recipes from Marissa Says, but I'm pretty sure these are what we were so blown away by at our recent family gathering.

Bacon-Brown Sugar Pork Tenderloin

Nealey Dozier is a former wedding planner turned chef, culinary instructor, recipe developer, food writer, and contributor to the website TheKitchn. Her recipe for bacon-brown sugar pork tenderloin hits all the rights notes. Wrapped in crisp, smokey bacon, the tenderloin is succulent, incredibly moist, and tender. Cayenne pepper and smoked paprika provide a subtle bite and the Major Grey's chutney is a surprising pop of tamarind tartness. Of course, I think that the bacon is the star of the show!

Cheesy Bacon Chicken

Holly created this wonderful recipe. Let me share with you the introduction to her blog:

A wife, mother of 4, and blogger. Wine and cheese lover, recipe creator, shopping enthusiast and self appointed foodie. I am the recipe creator and photographer behind SpendWithPennies.com.

Her recipe combines chicken (which I eat at least 3 times per week), with cream cheese (oh yum), garlic and jalapenos (spicy), and then she wraps up the gift with bacon!

exploring-bacon-centuries-old-food-fad

Asparagus Bacon Bundles

I believe that there are two types of people on this planet—those who love asparagus, and those who despise it. There is no in between, no middle ground, no compromise.

I wonder, however, if those in the "haters" camp could be enticed over to the other side if that spear of asparagus was wrapped with crispy, crunchy, savory, smoky, yummy bacon?

Ingredients

  • thick asparagus spears (save the pencil-thin ones for another recipe)
  • center-cut bacon (center-cut has more lean, less fat. I'll explain why this is important below)

Instructions

  1. Wash the asparagus spears carefully (you don't want to accidentally snap off those tasty tops). Slice off the woody bottom part. (Usually about 2 inches of the bottom).
  2. Slice each bacon strip in half, from end to end, so that you have two long thin strips. Cutting the bacon into thin strips ensures that it will cook quicker. And that is also why you need to use center-cut bacon. The fatty part of most bacon takes longer to crisp up--too long, in fact. So center-cut bacon is required for this recipe to work.
  3. Wrap one bacon strip around each asparagus spear.
  4. Place the wrapped spears on a rimmed baking sheet lined in parchment paper or with a Silpat.
  5. Place in a COLD oven. Turn the oven on to 400 degrees F. (Yes, the bacon and asparagus start out in a cold oven which heats up slowly).
  6. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until bacon is crisp and asparagus is tender.
exploring-bacon-centuries-old-food-fad

Brussels Sprouts with Bacon

I created this recipe for my Brussels-sprouts hating friends. Everything's better with bacon!

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 4 slices turkey bacon, diced
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 pound Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed and sprouts cut in half vertically
  • 1/2 cup diced yellow onion (more if you are an onion lover)
  • freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add turkey bacon and cook until crisp. Remove from pan and set aside.
  2. In same pan melt butter. Add onions and sprouts and cook, stirring occasionally, until sprouts are golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  3. Season with black pepper; return cooked bacon to the pan, toss and serve.
  4. NOTE: You may replace turkey bacon with real, bacon. If you do, you won't need the 2 teaspoons of olive oil and you should leave the bacon drippings in the pan.

But, in the words of Emeril Lagasse, do you want to 'kick it up a notch?' Might I suggest adding the following:

  • a drizzle (about one tablespoon) of balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup Gorgonzola cheese
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries

Oh, bliss!!

Candied Bacon

Lisa and Anna are two Minnesota moms who share a love of good food and creating family meals. And they share the blog Garnishwithlemon where I found this over-the-top recipe for candied bacon. This stuff is dangerous (in a good way).

Salted Maple Bacon Truffles

Twins Jo and Sue love food—they love talking about food, preparing food, eating food, and blogging about food at Joandsue.blogspot.com. And they created these addictive maple-bacon truffles. I dare you to eat just one, and only one.

Coconut, Mushroom, or Rice Paper Bacon

For my vegetarian friends and family members, here are three different ways of creating what my daughter loving calls "fake-un" (fake bacon). The same umami-rich marinade of soy and seasonings helps create vegetarian bacon bits and strips that just might fool your carnivore friends

© 2016 Linda Lum

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