From breakfast to burgers, maple doughnuts to bacon-wrapped just about anything…seems like there’s no shortage of opportunities to tantalize your taste buds with those savory, crispy, and greasy strips of BACON! But should you indulge? Will each bite of that chocolate-covered bacon effectively remove five years from your life expectancy? Is bacon a secret conspiracy to control the masses? Can bacon be enjoyed, like most any indulgence, in moderation (spoiler alert, it’s this one)?
Perhaps the biggest concern with bacon is the association between nitrite intake and cancer. Nitrites in cured meats like bacon, ham, pastrami, or hot dogs preserve flavor, give them an appealing pink color, and prevent bacterial growth. All good things. It gets complicated, however, when those nitrites are converted into nitrosamines, a potent carcinogen. Nitrosamines are formed when amines (part of protein) react with the nitrites used to cure the bacon. That reaction happens more readily at high heat (cue frying bacon sound). That’s why, of all the processed meats, bacon gets such a bad rap. Bacon is generally cooked at higher temperatures so often has higher levels of nitrosamines.
What about uncured bacons? You’ll see them on the shelves
touting, “no nitrites added” or, “all natural.” Unfortunately they’re not the
answer to our cured meat woes. Most of these products use celery powder. Celery
is rich in nitrates (that’s nitrate with an A). To act as a preservative,
however, the nitrates in the celery are converted to nitrites before being used
to cure bacon. Nitrites from celery seem to form nitrosamines just as readily
as sodium nitrite added to conventional bacons. There are truly nitrite-free
bacons, however (read on for our recommendation). As for turkey bacon, we’ll be
pitting the various bacon options in an epic cage match for breakfast
domination on social media later this week.
What about USDA regulations? One glimmer of sunlight in the
bleak nitrite storm engulfing bacon are the regulations imposed by the USDA,
not only limiting the amount of nitrite that can be added to bacon but also
requiring that certain curing methods more prone to nitrosamine formation also
contain sodium ascorbate or sodium erythorbate (antioxidants shown to limit the
formation of nitrosamines). Limit but not eliminate. And the effects may not
apply to other carcinogenic byproducts of nitrites like notrosyl-haem. USDA
regulations help, but they don’t completely eliminate the risk.
What’s to be done? Let’s put things in perspective. Eating
two strips of bacon daily has been shown to increase the risk of
gastrointestinal cancer by about eighteen percent. Cut that to two strips a
week and your risk becomes much much smaller. Combine it with a diet rich in
fresh fruits and vegetables and your risk virtually disappears (studies have
found those with low fruit and vegetable intake have the highest risk). You can
also reduce the formation of nitrosamines by cooking your bacon at low
temperatures (under 300° is ideal) for longer (may take up to twenty minutes on
the stovetop for those crispy strips). Microwaving is also a good option that
produces few nitrosamines and can speed up the cooking time to about five
Still worried about nitrites? Truly nitrite-free bacon is
available in your butcher block. Try Daily’s natural bacon with no added sodium
nitrite or celery powder. The bacon has a slightly grey cast but don’t let that
scare you, it’s one of the most delicious bacons you’ll ever eat. Plus, the
grey color is how you know it’s truly nitrite-free. You can also swap bacon for
sausage (which are typically nitrite free) at some meals (vegetarian breakfast “meats”
are also a great option with the added benefit of less fat and sodium).
Though bacon is excellent on its own, we often forget about the extremely versatile drippings it leaves behind. Instead of discarding your bacon drippings, save them or use them immediately to enhance your favorite dishes. We have included our favorite ways to use bacon drippings below.
Prepare homemade Hatch Chile sauce that you can add to enchiladas, marinade meats in and simply top your favorite tacos with.
10 Hatch Green Chiles, roasted, peeled and chopped
3 tbs. veggie oil
1 yellow onion, chopped finely
8 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. flour
2 cups vegetable stock
pinch of salt
In a large saute pan, heat vegetable oil over medium- high heat.
Add onions and salt, and sweat until soft. Add garlic and saute until fragrant.
Add flour and stir for 1 minute (be sure to not let the flour burn)
Once the flour has lumped to the onions and garlic and thickened, slowly add vegetable stock and continue to stir. Once fully added, add chopped chiles and bring to a simmer for 20 minutes until thickened.
Use immediately, store in the fridge for up to 5 days, or freeze for up to 6 months.
Spice up this comfort food classic with the addition of seasonal Hatch Chiles!
1 box spiral noodles
4 tbs. butter
4 tbs. flour
3 cups milk
3 cups cheddar cheese
5 Hatch Chiles
Heat the oven to 375 degrees and grease an 9×11 dish.
Follow the instructions on the pasta box and cook noodles until al dente and chop Hatch Chiles.
In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Once fully melted, add flour and stir for 3 minutes until thick. Slowly add milk and continue to mix. Once all milk has been added, add cheddar cheese and chopped hatch chiles.
Add noodles to the greased dish and top with cheese mixture.