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I love my grilled bacon butties (with Low Carb bread of course!) but the way they taste, and the way they cook is so dependent on the brand and cut of bacon that I use. Why? Surely bacon is bacon, and it all taste just as yummy, and crisps up just the same? Hmmm, apparently not.

Did you know that bacon is one of the most popular foods around; cured and smoked pork bacon seems to be everywhere you turn. Strictly speaking though you can “technically” make bacon out of any meat or protein. The bacon that we omnivores normal consume, and associate with our friendly wee pigs, is classified as “side pork” meaning it comes from the side of the pig, duh. This pork is cured, and usually smoked, before you take it home to cook. You can also get other “bacon” products (although not all of these are at my local Supermarket) such as “beef bacon”, “turkey bacon”, “chicken bacon”, “soy bacon” and “vegan bacon”, which are not derived from pork at all.

So the other day, while out doing my weekly shop, I thought I would do a bit of comparison shopping to see exactly what the difference is between the packaged bacon available.  When comparing the different labels of “genuine pork” bacon, at first glance, the obvious difference is the type of bacon on offer. There are a number of different cuts and cures of bacon, such as “streaky bacon”, “middle bacon”, “back bacon”, “wet-cured” or “dry-cure bacon”, “maple” and “honey cured bacon” and so on. I was surprised to see that at my local market (Pak’n’Save Christchurch, NZ) there are in fact 57 different bacon products in the Deli, ranging from $11.00 up to $39.00 a kilo!

My full list of products sampled is here.

However for my exercise I was only looking at packs of 250 gram Streaky Bacon and Shoulder Bacon. My personal favourite is streaky as this is the type I love to grill and eat with my avocado and Low Carb toast. This was also a more measurable selection, as it cut the number of different items to compare down to 9 different types, from 7 brands. Still there is a range of differences even in this small selection. The most obvious being in the price difference. These range from $2.90 to $9.79 for the 250gms. Why? Well one of the reasons is that the cheapest cut is a Home Brand product, while at the other end it is a “free-farmed” item. Interestingly, from the 7 different brands on sale, only 3 appeared to be purely NZ sourced pork, with the others all marked “Made in New Zealand from local and imported ingredients”.  This shouldn’t be news however, as it was reported recently (Dec, 2017) that the percentage of pork being imported is now at its highest level (52 %). This is due to kiwi farmers having withdrawn from the industry, with most imported pork being used for bacon, ham and other processed meats, rather than fresh cuts such as pork shoulders or chops.

This imported pork is noticeably cheaper than the local product as free farming carry’s an economic cost. As far as “free- farming” goes it is estimated that around 60% of New Zealand’s pigs are farmed indoors, while around 40% of the commercially breed herd is farmed outdoors. For pork to be classified as free-range ( a subset of free farming!) in New Zealand, the pig must have lived its entire life in an open paddock, with access to shelter which they can move in and out of freely. It is estimated that less than 2% of New Zealand’s pigs are farmed this way. In pure practical terms, more feed is wasted with outdoor farming compared to indoor systems, more labour is required and waste treatment is more costly. Ok so some of the extra cost can be explained, but that is not the only reason for the price difference when you drill deeper.

Next, looking at the Nutrition Label information, the number of servings per pack are either 2.5 (100 gms per serve) or 5 (50 gms per serve). This did not appear to correlate with anything obvious so I presume this is a personal choice by the producer of the bacon. Maybe the manufacturer dictating less serves hopes to sell more? In the end it means little because we eat the amount we think we can any way.

Onward and upwards. How do the macronutrients – the fats, protein and carbohydrates – stack up. The comparison here is a bit more significant. Now according to Wikipedia, 100 grams of streaky bacon rashers approximate 27 grams of fat and 22 grams of protein, but will vary depending on the cut and cooking method. If you follow a LCHF way of eating (WOE) you will also be aware that 68% of the food energy of bacon comes from fat, almost half of which is saturated.  Now this is where a BIG difference is noticeable. The fat content from the samples ranged from 13.4 gms to 43.5gms, per 100 gms of bacon, and for protein it was 12.6 to 15.7. Carbs on the other hand were from <.5 to 3.7 gms. It is the fat in the bacon that provides most of the flavour and allows it to cook up crispy, yet tender. Therefore a good ratio of fat to meat is essential to good bacon – and for the LCHF WOE!

The final component I compared, I feel, is quite important because when you buy bacon you are expecting to buy bacon – right? If I buy an apple I expect an apple. But in reality when you buy bacon, often, it is not all bacon as it contains a percentage of water. According to a report by Consumer New Zealand, traditional methods of adding brine and flavour to pork meats have been largely abandoned by the industry, which takes short cuts by injecting brine into meat through needles and adding “smoked flavour”.  The pork industry blames consumers for this manufacturing process, saying this is the only method to provide the cheaper products people are demanding. So much for the quality!

In the case of my sampling, from the ingredient list, 7 of the 9 packets of bacon listed water as an ingredient. The streaky bacon ranged from 85% pork through to 95%, with two having no water listed. The shoulder bacon listed 26% water – yes over a quarter of the weight in that one is water!

The take away from all this? The brand that was the cheapest ($2.90 for 250gms) had the most water added (26%), the least amount of fat at 13.4gms and the highest carb content with3.7gms, being made from both local and important ingredients.  The bacon that was the most expensive ($9.97 for 250gms) was only 85% bacon, had the Wikipedia fat percentage (28%) and the least carbohydrate content at less than half a percent. It is also a Free Farm product made from NZ pork.

The best deal, and my pick as the best bacon for my butty, even though it contained both NZ and imported ingredients, was Grandpas Streaky Bacon Bourbon Infused, at about 10% cheaper than the most expensive one but at 43% fat, .8% carbs and NO water listed, it cooks and tastes  just like bacon should.

My full list of products sampled is here.

Sources:

http://www.cooksinfo.com/bacon

http://www.thenibble.com/reviews/main/meats/pork/types-of-bacon.asp

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bacon

https://shop.countdown.co.nz/shop/searchaisle/19?search=bacon

https://www.nzpork.co.nz/farming-pigs/farming-styles/

https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10576920/What’s really in your bacon

http://bacon.wikia.com/wiki/Cuts_of_Bacon

TC

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