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Exploring Bacon: A Centuries-Old Food Fad

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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—September 3 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?!).

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.

List of Recipes Featured Here

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

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.

© 2016 Linda Lum

Comments

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on January 11, 2017:

Lawrence - I'm sure your house smells wonderful on Sunday mornings -- bacon and coffee are two of the most Heavenly aromas. I did not know about the Maori history. Thanks for that.

Lawrence Hebb on January 11, 2017:

Linda

Sunday mornings at our house always start with pancakes and bacon freshly cooked (and a pot of coffee)

By the way, Maori when they made their epic voyage to NZ back in the 13th century, took chickens and pigs with them!

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on December 19, 2016:

Back atcha, my friend. I still have some catch up to do on your 12 days of cookies, so I'm sure we'll "talk" before Christmas!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 19, 2016:

Bravewarrior - I think the bacon shrinks less (or seems to) when cut in half because it fits flat instead of curling up the sides. Good point.

As for chicken livers? I'm sorry, but I doubt that even bacon could entice me to eat offal of any kind. Yes, I know, my bias is probably keeping me from enjoying something wonderful. But consider it my gift--that just means that there's more for you!

Thanks for visiting, and, if we don't "talk" again in the week, I wish you a blessed Christmas.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on December 19, 2016:

I've had bacon wrapped asparagus - yum!

I usually cook bacon in the oven to avoid splatter on the stove top. If I do choose to fry on the stove, I cut the bacon in half. For some reason there's less shrinkage when cut in half. Plus they fit much nicer on bread when building a BLT!

Another bacon-y dish I love is bacon wrapped chicken livers. Have you ever had them, Diva?

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 18, 2016:

Flourish - When I first heard of the combination of bacon plus chocolate (or anything sweet) it sounded dreadful, but honestly, it is soooo good. Consider sweet barbecue sauces--honey and/or molasses with smoky flavors. It's wonderful.

A piece of bacon salt water taffy is what won me over. If you're still unsure, try the bacon-wrapped water chestnuts.

As always, thanks for stopping by. Have a wonderful day and a blessed Christmas if I don't "talk" with you again before the week is over.

FlourishAnyway on December 18, 2016:

Oh my goodness! This has to be my favorite article of yours. So many good ideas (although I will stop at the bacon meets sweets). Amazing, mouth watering and the history behind it was an added bonus.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 15, 2016:

Rachel, you are so very dear to me. It seems I can always count on you to stop by. I was hoping that this topic would catch the eye of a LOT of people, but thusfar not so much. Perhaps because of the holidays--everyone is busy.

Honestly, we don't eat bacon in our house anymore. We do only turkey bacon. But my husband and I went out for breakfast last Saturday at, lets say a nationwide chain that rhymes with Jenny's. Anyhow, he had one of the Senior breakfast plates (which includes a strip of REAL bacon). He gave me a piece saying "taste this! It's SOOO good.".

"Yes, I know honey" I said. "That's what real bacon tastes like. You just forgot."

Rachel L Alba from Every Day Cooking and Baking on December 15, 2016:

For sure bacon with anything makes it better. lol I actually love bacon with Brussel sprouts and I'm sure I would love the bacon and asparagus bundles too. Thanks for the information about bacon. It's one of those foods I can never get tired of.

Blessings.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 15, 2016:

Eric, for the record, water chestnuts are not the chestnuts of song, but I'll let you get away with that considering the Asian influence.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on December 15, 2016:

For sure Chesnuts roasting on an open fire with bacon -- what could be more Yuletide.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 15, 2016:

Eric - I don't know what an Aroma Turbo Oven is (and probably never will), but it feels to me like something that would be shouting to the rooftops COOK BACON IN ME! If nothing else, try the bacon-wrapped water chestnuts. They are ridiculously good!.

Have a great day, and I hope to "talk" with you again before Christmas.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on December 15, 2016:

Oh boy! Great ideas that I will try. Ours is Sunday morning. I get it already and start just before I think my wife and son will arise. My darling bought me an Aroma Turbo Oven - confection I think. It is perfect for us.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on December 14, 2016:

Bill, I could be asking the same question (LOL). How about a few words of love for the bacon candy?

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 14, 2016:

You were on a roll until you got to the sprouts and asparagus. LOL That's when you lost me. :) Sigh! What am I going to do with you?