Bacon: The Good, the Bad and the Crispy
In my latest book, The Fallacy of The Calorie: Why The Modern Western Diet is Killing Us and How to Stop It, I discuss in depth the role and importance of fat in a healthful diet. This also includes a discussion about the role of different proteins, including red meat, in the pursuit of health and wellness and all things scrumptious. In defiance of the conventional wisdom, the data continues to define a neutral and in some cases potentially positive health benefit for those that consume fresh red meat. However, there seems to be a clear association with respect to consumption of highly processed foods, especially heavily processed red meat products, and the development of certain disabilities and diseases.
But what about the gray areas?
What about something like…bacon?
Pork bacon is cured and in fact is defined by the USDA as “the cured belly of a swine carcass.” In other countries, other parts of the pig are used; for example Canadian bacon comes from the pork loin. For those more deeply interested in the aged but divinely delicious, including how to make your own, I suggest Michael Rhulman’s enjoyable and definitive tome on the topic; Charcuterie
Commercially produced meats like bacon undergo extensive processing and are often subject to a number of artificial preservatives, flavorings and modifiers. With an ingredient list that reads like an inorganic chemistry textbook and a shelf life longer than your mother’s memory, these industrial forms clearly march to a processed beat.
But what about the home spun versions?
What about a slab of pork belly from an organically raised, free pasture, heritage breed?
This porcine portion requires only the addition of salt, herbs, spices and a touch of curing salt to transform it into one of the most crisp-i-licious concoctions ever to cross the palate. Curing salt is a slightly pink mixture of salt that contains sodium nitrite at a concentration of 6.25%. This correlates to concentration of only about 120 parts per million.
But the amount of nitrite we consume is substantially less. This is because during the curing process, most of this nitrite will be converted to nitric oxide. The nitric oxide then binds to the iron in the meat giving cured foods like bacon their pinkish hue. The remaining amount of nitrite is estimated to be only about 10 parts per million. This curing process, by the way eliminates pesky little inconveniences, like botulism and listeria.
Part 2 to follow….