5 Things You Didn't Know About Bacon

Bacon is loaded with two ingredients that enhance the flavor of almost all foods: salt and fat.  Tannis Toohey/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Bacon is loaded with two ingredients that enhance the flavor of almost all foods: salt and fat. Tannis Toohey/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Bacon has been having a moment over the past few years. Make that more than a moment. Although it's been a presence on American breakfast tables for decades, it also endured a bad rap for being unhealthy. Now its image is being rehabilitated. Here are five tasty facts on bacon.

1. Bacon Enhances Everything.

We know that bacon (or bacon flavoring) has been added to tons of products, even ones that make no sense. But why? Apart from simply being a newfound fad, the truth is bacon is loaded with two ingredients that enhance the flavor of almost all foods: salt and fat. "Salt brings out flavor and fat carries flavor to our taste buds," the late Sara Perry wrote in her book "Everything Tastes Better With Bacon." "But not only that — bacon has bite. It's chewy and crunchy. Savory. Slightly sweet." In other words, it's hitting all our flavor receptors at once.

2. It's More Than 4,000 Years Old.

Bacon is basically cured pork, and in the days before refrigeration, the only way to preserve meat was to cure it (i.e., dehydrate it with salt). The Chinese had techniques for curing pork 4,000 years ago and until the 16th century, all pork was referred to as "bacon." However, "real" bacon comes from the side or belly of the pig. Canadian bacon is closer to ham and comes from the loin of the pig.

3. It's Not So Bad for You.

We're not going to say bacon is a healthy choice, but it's not the worst thing you can eat, either. Two average strips of raw bacon have 234 calories and 36 percent of your daily allowance of saturated fat. But two strips of fried bacon have 86 calories and 10 percent of your daily allowance of saturated fat, as well as 6 grams of protein. Bacon is a processed meat, which means it's been treated with nitrites for preservation. Eating lots of processed meats has been linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer, as well as heart failure and other diseases. However, two strips of bacon — with the grease poured off — along with a fried egg once a week is probably OK. Speaking of which ...

4. Marrying Bacon With Eggs Was a PR Stunt.

Edward Bernays, who's been called the "father of public relations," was the person responsible for pairing bacon with eggs on American breakfast tables. He'd been hired by the Beech-Nut Packing Company, a producer of bacon in the 1920s, to increase demand for the porkly product. At the time, Americans ate a light breakfast — maybe coffee and a roll. Bernays asked the agency's physician whether a heavy breakfast was better than a light one since "the body loses energy in the night and needs it in the day." Unsurprisingly, the company physician agreed.

"We asked him whether if he'd be willing — at no cost — to write to 5,000 physicians and ask them whether their judgement was the same as his. He said he'd be glad to do it," reminisced Bernays in an interview decades later. "Obviously, all of them concurred." This news was reported in newspapers throughout the country, many of which added that bacon and eggs should be part of the "healthier" breakfast. Sales of bacon went up and bacon became embedded with eggs.

5. The Phrase "Bringing Home the Bacon" Doesn't Have to Do With Bacon.

Joe Gans (R) shakes hands with "Battling" Oliver Nelson before the fight at the Casino Amphitheatre, on Sept. 3, 1906, in Goldfield, Nevada. Gans won by a DQ 42.
Joe Gans (R) shakes hands with "Battling" Oliver Nelson before the fight at the Casino Amphitheatre, on Sept. 3, 1906, in Goldfield, Nevada. Gans won by a DQ 42.
The Ring Magazine/Getty Images

Back in the 12th century, the Prior of Little Dunmow in Essex, England offered a "flitch" (or side) of bacon to any couples who could prove that after a year and a day of marriage they have "not wisht themselves unmarried again." These "marriage trials" are still held every four years in Great Dunmow, Essex. Though some people think this is the origin of the expression, "bringing home the bacon," it appears to have a more recent history.

"Bacon" has been a slang term for "body" (and by extension "livelihood") since the 17th century, but the entire phrase seems to have first appeared in a 1906 news article about a boxing match between Joe Gans and "Battling" Oliver Nelson. The Post-Standard in New York reported: "Before the fight Gans received a telegram from his mother: 'Joe, the eyes of the world are on you. Everybody says you ought to win. Peter Jackson will tell me the news and you bring home the bacon.'" Gans indeed won the fight. Whether he took home some actual bacon is unrecorded.