The irresistible flavour of bacon has created such passion that the term “bacon mania” has been coined to describe its popularity.
The global market for bacon is steadily growing, and projected to reach US$84.7 billion by 2027.
Many consumers now understand that bacon is high in cholesterol and saturated fat, but there is less awareness of its dangerously high level of sodium.
How much salt is in bacon? A UK study revealed that two bacon rashers can contain more than two-thirds an adult’s entire daily recommended salt intake (6g) – more than the salt in 12 packets of crisps.
Let’s look at the scale of bacon’s salty problem and what can be done to reduce sodium without comprising its iconic flavour.
Aside from the traditional packs of raw bacon, new products like ready-to-eat “convenience” bacon and “microwave ready” single-serve packs have arrived for consumers needing a quick bacon fix without the frying pan!
No matter the format, all the bacon we found was undeniably salty.
Most of the bacon we found in supermarkets exceeded the lower WHO benchmark by a significant margin. More surprising were the many examples of bacon that exceed the higher FDA guidance.
Among these were UK and European bacon products with 2120mg of sodium per 100g, and a popular US bacon with 2266mg of sodium per 100g.
Yes, even vegans crave that seductive bacon flavour. Amid the recent wave of plant-based products, several bacon alternatives have emerged.
Vegan bacon can be made from a wide range of ingredients. It’s commonly based on soya or pea protein, or wheat gluten, with a big dollop of bacon-style seasoning.
While these products can be high in protein and low in fat, many of them fall down nutritionally with excessively high sodium levels.
What is the sodium recommendation for PB bacon products? The FDA sets guidance of 660mg per 100g for all meat substitutes, including imitation bacon. The WHO gives this category a sodium benchmark of 250mg per 100g.
Products that exceed both of these targets are easy to find. A leading UK plant-based brand has a bacon alternative with 1080mg of sodium per 100g, and another vegan bacon pieces product has 1319mg of sodium per 100g – nearly twice the WHO benchmark.
Bites and bits
Lardons are chunks of a bacon slab cut into small cubes. Used in many favourite French dishes like Coq Au Vin and Beef Bourguignon, or combined with greens like brussels sprouts, they are a tasty and versatile ingredient to have in the kitchen.
Since they both start as cured pork belly, lardons and pancetta are very similar. The difference is that pancetta is further prepared in a process of air-drying, and it’s more often served raw in thin slices on a charcuterie platter.
Both lardons and pancetta are included in the bacon category and have the same sodium guidance as bacon.
And, just like bacon, lardons and pancetta products typically exceed WHO sodium benchmarks.
So-called “bacon bits” are a popular topping for salads and baked potatoes. As an analogue product, their ingredients vary and often they don’t include actual bacon. In fact, some “bacon flavoured” bits are suitable for vegans as they contain no animals products at all.
Other “bits” products have bacon as their main ingredient, or turkey for a lower saturated fat option.
The FDA puts bacon bits, including imitation products with no bacon, into their own category with an even higher sodium guidance level than bacon itself. This is 2740mg of sodium per 100g. In WHO terms, bacon bits without bacon fall into the meat analogues category, which has a lower sodium benchmark of 250mg per 100g.
We found an extremely salty bacon bits product from a leading UK seasoning brand with 2800mg of sodium per 100g – exceeding the FDA guidance and over 10x the WHO benchmark.
This type of bacon comes from the pork loin, whereas the traditional US style of bacon (also called “streaky bacon”) comes from the pork belly. Because of this, Canadian bacon is a leaner cut of meat with a flavour that is sweeter and more similar to ham.
The FDA puts Canadian bacon (sold outside the US as “back” bacon) in its own category with sodium guidance of 1360mg per 100g, while the WHO includes it in the main bacon category with a benchmark of 950mg per 100g.
Although it’s often considered a healthier bacon, we found Canadian bacon products be just as salty as the streaky variety, with a typical value of 2120mg of sodium per 100g.
Turkey bacon is made from a blend of light and dark turkey meat, seasoned and processed to look and taste like bacon. With less fat and calories, turkey bacon has emerged as a popular alternative to pork bacon. But often it has just as much sodium.
In fact, depending on the brand, turkey bacon can have even more sodium than pork bacon, and can be a greater risk to heart health as people are more likely to have extra servings, believing it to be a “healthier” option.
And just like pork bacon, most turkey bacon exceeds the WHO sodium benchmark by nearly double.
Making bacon better
Whether it’s pork belly, pork loin, turkey, or soya – bacon products are ready for a lower-sodium revolution. But how can food manufacturers tackle this big salty problem without depriving their customers of that special bacon taste?
There’s an easy and all-natural solution in SALTWELL®.
A simple 1:1 replacement of the added NaCl with SALTWELL® delivers sodium reduction of 35% – without compromising function or sensory aspects.
SALTWELL® is an ideal ingredient for formulating both meat and PB bacon products. It performs consistently well in a range of processed meat applications, with many sensory studies reporting superior flavour compared to other salts.
And because it’s a 100% single grain and natural ingredient it is be declared on pack simply as “sea salt” – perfectly suited to clean label branding.