Oh bacon, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways. There's Beer-Candied Bacon, Candied Pepper Bacon, and Bacon-Wrapped Beer Can Burgers. The bacon flavor is welcome in so many dishes. However, not every recipe gets a dose of real bacon. Let's be honest, your baked potatoes wouldn't feel complete without sour cream, cheddar cheese, and a topping of crispy bacon bits, right? Bacon bits serve their purpose well, perfect as a salad topping or added to veggie chowders. but you might be surprised when you find out what some of those bac'n bits are made from, especially when it's not real bacon.
We know that eating bacon every day isn't a healthy lifestyle practice. Bacon as a food is delicious, but does a number on your body in a variety of ways, from increasing your cholesterol to unhealthy weight gain. So while you might think you're doing yourself a favor by picking up bacon pieces instead of making the real thing at home, this might surprise you. I checked out three popular brands of bacon bits to see just what they're made of.
1. Oscar Mayer Real Bacon Bits
In Oscar Mayer's crunchy version of bacon bits, the fully-cooked meat is 100% real bacon, cured with water, sugar, sodium phosphates, sodium ascorbate, and sodium nitrite. Artificial hickory smoke flavor is added, along with artificial maple flavor.
While that ingredient list might confusing, the sodium additives are FDA-approved for cured meats so that they stay fresh. However, sodium nitrite has been medically reported to cause fatigue and headaches in those who consume it often. The real bacon is a good sign, but it's highly processed.
2. Hormel Real Bacon Bits
The next contender was Hormel Real Bacon Bits, a fairly familiar pantry staple. The ingredient list here is much longer than Oscar Mayer. Bacon is the first and only ingredient listed, but it's cured with water, sodium erythorbate, sodium nitrite. It may also contain smoke flavoring, sugar, dextrose, brown sugar, sodium phosphate, and potassium chloride.
The product information seems promising at first, with bacon as the only real ingredient and hardly any carbohydrates. However, the cured aside also shows sodium nitrite. Again, this version is highly-processed and you would be best making your own at home. You can even find nitrite-free bacon strips in grocery stores or on Amazon.
3. McCormick Bac'N Pieces Applewood Smoked
The ingredient listing for this popular McCormick version isn't very promising, though vegans can rejoice because these are vegan bacon bits. There's no real crumbled bacon in these bacon-flavored bits. The full ingredient list reads textured soy flour, canola oil, salt, caramel color, natural and artificial flavor, yeast extract, FD&C Red 40, natural applewood smoke, disodium inosinate, and disodium guanylate.
The disodiums are common flavor enhancers, but the dye used to provide that caramel color is alarming because it can harbor dangerous levels of lead and arsenic. For imitation bacon bits, you're best following along with a recipe to make your own vegan or vegetarian bacon bits.
This exercise proves that it's important to look over the product packaging and read labels because you never know what you're consuming, even if it's in little bits of "bacon". Before you add crispy bacon bits as a topper to your potato salad, be sure to check the packaging!
This post was originally published on May 12, 2020.
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