In recent years, bacon seems to have become everyone’s favorite food. It’s not hard to see why -- bacon is quite tasty --but for the organic-minded folk, it can be hard to find a variety of bacon that suits our foodie philosophies. Labels can be hard to navigate, and even terms that we think we're familiar with can be confusing. But never fear! It's time that you wrapped your head around everything you ever needed to know about bacon.
Organic bacon seems like a user-friendly enough title. Organic bacon is quite simply bacon that comes from pigs that have been raised just like any other meat that is labeled organic. Organic bacon should be free of antibiotics and preservatives, and organic pigs should be fed organic feed.
However, when it comes to bacon, there’s a second issue to consider, even when it comes to organic bacon: the question of nitrates.
By now, you've probably heard about the big bad wolf when it comes to bacon: nitrates. But the first question when it comes to nitrates should really be… what are they? Nitrates have been turned into the enemy, but the truth of the matter is, quite simply, that nitrates are merely substances that help cure foods. The problem is that nitrates used in the curing of meats are often in the form of sodium nitrate, an additive that has been linked to cancer. Some nitrates, however, are naturally occurring, such as celery juice and sea salt, which can also be used to cure some meats, including bacon.
The moral of this story is that if bacon is cured, it cannot be “nitrate free,” although many brands have started using this wording to attract buyers. Bacon can, however, be free of artificial nitrates, which is something to bear in mind. Whether the nitrates are artificial or natural, however, they only become carcinogenic when burned. Keep your bacon from smoking, and choose natural nitrates when possible.
Grass Fed Bacon
We’re used to seeing grass-fed beef on the supermarket shelves, but grass-fed bacon? This is perhaps the newest fad in bacon marketing, but it’s a hoax.
Think about it: cows, as ruminant animals, naturally survive eating grass. But pigs spend their lives foraging for things like nuts, roots, fruits, and yes, the occasional blade of grass. But trying to raise pigs that survive entirely off of grass – the way that cow farmers do with cattle – makes no sense. It's not a natural diet for the pigs; even if "grass-fed bacon" does sound like an attractive slogan, it's merely a marketing ploy.
What does make sense is “Fresh Air Pork” or pork that is fed an all-natural vegetarian diet, made up of the sorts of nuts and berries that hogs forage for in the wild. Like free-range chicken or pasture-raised cows, happy pigs make tasty bacon.
Here are some great brands making organic, natural bacon that you can be proud to feed your family:
And as always, when in doubt of the quality of any product, you can always roll up your sleeves and make your own organic bacon!
Image: Kjetil Ree