Bacon is a wonderful thing. It satisfies on many levels. It’s smoky, salty, meaty, slightly sweet, and crispy — unless it’s only lightly cooked, and then it’s just deliciously, unctuously fatty. It’s an indulgent pleasure, a food that always seems a little sinful — which, of course, only adds to its appeal.
We’re talking conventional American-style bacon here, the kind the Brits call “streaky bacon” to distinguish it from the leaner back bacon they favor (which is more like Canadian bacon, but with a bit more fat). Our kind of bacon is basically cured, smoked pork belly, sometimes with black pepper or herbs added to its exterior, traditionally cut into long, thin strips, and fried.
Bacon is also one of those foods that has an absolutely distinctive, unmistakable flavor — and of course, an irresistible aroma. This aroma, in which more than 150 compounds have been identified, can more or less be successfully mimicked by food scientists. As Advanced Biotech, a company that manufactures raw materials to the food industry, puts it, “Fortunately for flavor creation teams, bacon is a relatively easy flavor to replicate.” That fact, of course, has given rise to the phenomenon of bacon-flavored everything.
A surprising number of “bacon-flavored” foods aren’t made with real bacon, and many are even vegan — among them Ritz Bacon Crackers, Jim Beam Bacon Mustard, and Kettle Brand Maple Bacon Potato Chips.
How do you give something bacon flavor without meat? Through the magic of chemistry. One example is Olive Nation’s Natural Bacon Flavor, a substance sold as an additive to various foods. It contains “Bacon Flavor (autolyzed yeast extract, sorbitol, hydrolyzed soy protein), lipolyzed butter oil (milk), natural smoke flavor, soy lecithin, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (soybean and/or cottonseed), natural flavors and mixed tocopherols.”
At 24/7 Wall St., we love the way bacon tastes and smells as much as anyone — maybe more — and we appreciate the creativity of the food-centered scientific community and the product development teams who work for big food companies. And we enjoy a hint of bacon in some non-bacon products, including snack foods like the aforementioned crackers and chips. But some bacon-flavored products just plain have no reason to live. They take bacon where it doesn’t belong.
1. Adagio Teas It’s…Bacon!
The self-described “small but nimble family-owned” Adagio Teas company makes a bacon-flavored tea that involves no bacon, not even some artificial essence. It’s based on the fact that Lapsang Souchong tea, grown in China’s Fujian Province, is notoriously smoky in character — to the point that it is sometimes called “smoked tea.” Apparently worried that Lapsang Souchong wasn’t smoky enough, Adagio blended it with black tea, apples, caramel and caramel apple flavors, and cinnamon bark to amplify the effect, and bestowed upon the results that magical word, “Bacon!” Now maybe some artisanal bacon-maker will produce a bacon called “Lapsang Souchong!”
2. Archie McPhee Bacon Candy Canes
Nothing says Christmas like a dancing pig label and red-and-white-striped meat candy laced with artificial bacon flavor, right? If you agree with that assessment, you might want to fill out your holiday gift list with other Archie McPhee bacon-themed products, including an ornament, a scarf, gift wrap, lip balm, dental floss, and even an “extra manly” bacon-scented false moustache.
3. Bacon Hot Sauce
Hot sauce is pretty good with bacon and eggs, and some have been known to add it to a BLT or grilled cheese and bacon sandwich. If your hot sauce comes already enhanced with bacon (or at least with “natural flavor” that mimics it), though, why would you need the bacon itself? And you know you want the bacon.
4. Bakon Vodka
Produced by Seattle-based Black Rock Spirits (the company’s other brand is Sparkle Donkey Tequila), Bakon Vodka is a potato-based spirit, redistilled with a bacon infusion. Its porky flavor is said to enhance Bloody Marys. Maybe so. And maybe, as the Bakon website claims, mixing savory ingredients with alcohol is a time-honored practice (the company cites 17th-century savory ales). But if you want meat in your cocktail, why not just order that popular Mad Men-era cocktail, the Bullshot — vodka with beef bouillon or consommé, spiked with a dash or two of Worcestershire sauce and sometimes Tabasco. Sounds weird? It is. So maybe think twice about vodka with cured, smoked meat.
5. Bones Coffee Co. Maple Bacon Coffee
Perusing the Bones Coffee Co. product line might make your teeth ache. Flavored coffee is nothing new, but French toast, salted caramel, strawberry cheesecake, white Russian, bananas Foster, peanut butter and jelly? And, er, maple bacon? Just plain coffee boasts some of the best, most complex flavors in the world. It doesn’t need this kind of help.
6. Boss Hog’s Bacon Olive Oil
Olive oil is one of the world’s healthiest foods, full of fatty acids and other beneficial compounds, including antioxidants. Some studies have even suggested that it might help prevent cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s. It’s the much-praised Mediterranean diet in a bottle. Introducing bacon into olive oil, even as mere flavoring, sort of seems to miss the point.
7. Capsule Depot Bacon Flavored Capsules
Capsule Depot, based in Ontario, Canada, describes itself as the world’s largest online supplier of empty capsules. These are bought wholesale by health-related businesses, are filled with some kind of medicine or nutritional supplement, and end up at your local pharmacy or nutrition store. For some reason, the Depot folks thought that flavoring some of their capsules with bacon would encourage consumers to take more pills. Actually, as Mary Poppins taught us long ago, it’s a spoonful of sugar, not a capsule of bacon, that helps the medicine go down.
8. Chocolate Storybook Bacon Cotton Candy
Cotton candy is basically threads of spun caramelized sugar, so light that when it was invented in the late 1800s, it was called “fairy floss” (the term “cotton candy” gained currency in the 1920s). Standard pink cotton candy is flavored with vanilla, but the Iowa-based confectionery Chocolate Storybook creates more than 50 other flavors. Some of these, like banana, grape, Key lime, and pumpkin pie, seem perfectly reasonable. Others — chardonnay, margarita, spicy jalapeño, buttered popcorn — are a little more questionable. But bacon? Fatty and crispy grafted onto light and flossy? No.
9. The Cravory Pancakes and Bacon Cookies
Pancakes and bacon, yum. Pancake-dough cookies embedded with shards of real bacon, as made by The Cravory, a group of cookie shops in the San Diego area? Well, okay. But when the pancakes and bacon are in cookie form, you can’t very well add butter and maple syrup — at least not with any dignity — and butter and maple syrup are half the fun.
10. Firehouse Flavors Bacon & Cheese Crick-ettes
It is said that at least 2 billion people worldwide eat insects regularly, and scientists tell us that they’re a nutritious and an environmentally friendly food source. Ohio’s Firehouse Flavors, which sells a wide range of flavoring mixes, seasonings, and spicy foods, is apparently trying to lure us all into the insect camp by enhancing crickets with bacon and cheese (among other flavorings) and positioning them as crunchy snacks. Sorry. We’ll just have the Doritos, thanks.
11. Funky Buddha Brewery Maple Bacon Coffee Porter
Pumpkin spice, chocolate, coconut, coffee, cinnamon, chiles, maple syrup… Sometimes it seems as if there’s no food craft brewers won’t toss into their ales, stouts, and porters. Funky Buddha’s Maple Bacon Coffee Porter, released once a year by the Florida-based brewery, seems like it’s trying to put actual breakfast into the suds. If you’re going this route, why stop with just maple bacon and coffee? Why not add eggs and toast, maybe sausage, maybe a couple of Eggos?
12. Kibbles ‘n Bits Bacon & Steak Flavor Dry Dog Food
It has long been established that variety in pet food flavors is meant to appeal to the animals’ owners, not the animals themselves, and it’s not clear that cats and dogs need or appreciate dietary variety. If they did, would dogs like bacon, or even bacon and steak? Could they tell the difference between the two meats? Who knows? They’re not talking. And they’re certainly not ordering Chef’s Choice Bistro Oven Roasted Beef Flavor Kibbles ‘n Bits or Homestyle Meatballs & Pasta Dinner with Real Beef in Tomato Sauce, which are two of the company’s other offerings — are they?
13. Lester’s Fixins Bacon Soda
Lester’s Fixins is a house brand for Rocket Fizz Soda Pop & Candy Shop, a chain with some 90 locations around the country plus one in Canada — and 50 more U.S. outposts in the works. Rocket Fizz, which launched in California in 2008 with the promise to stock some 1,400 different sodas, obviously likes to have fun with its own bottlings. Other Lester’s flavors include sweet corn, peanut butter and jelly, Buffalo wing, and ranch dressing. There are also bacon variations with chocolate and with maple syrup. Sorry, but carbonated bacon doesn’t do it for us. At least Rocket Fizz hasn’t duplicated the Thanksgiving-themed soft drink released in 2009 by another company, Jones Soda: Tofurkey and Gravy Flavor.
14. Mrs. T’s Mini Cheddar Seasoned with Bacon Pierogies
Pierogi are Polish dumplings made of dough stuffed with potato, sauerkraut, ground meat, and/or cheese, or sometimes fruit. Variations are eaten all over Eastern Europe. Bacon actually does figure into the dish in Poland sometimes, as pierogi may be served with melted butter and crumbled bacon. But bacon “seasoning” in a mix of “sharp cheddar cheese and creamy whipped potatoes,” as the package says? Bacon as a flavoring might be a fact of life these days, and is certainly a flavoring, but turning it into a mere seasoning just seems wrong..
15. Prego Italian Sauce Flavored with Bacon & Provolone
The Campbell Soup Co.’s Prego line of Italian-inspired sauces includes such never-in-Italy concoctions as Roasted Garlic Parmesan Alfredo Sauce and Pesto Marinara Italian Sauce, as well as this one, flavored with bacon and provolone. Italians don’t eat bacon, at least not the same kind we do. They eat Pancetta (cured but unsmoked pork belly), or Guanciale, (cured but unsmoked pork jowls or cheeks), and Prosciutto, of course. Any of those would go nicely in tonight’s pasta sauce. Save the bacon for breakfast.
16. Seasonal Selections Sugar & Spice Sizzlin’ Bacon Salsa
Since 1992, salsa — which Merriam-Webster defines as “a usually spicy sauce of chopped tomatoes, onions, and peppers [chiles]” — has outsold ketchup as America’s favorite condiment. Though salsa is often made fresh, versions in jars, cans, or plastic tubs are common. Even the packaged examples, though, tend to be fresh-tasting — oh, and all are vegetarian. Salsa may go with meat, but it doesn’t contain it. Anyway, how would you get bacon to “sizzle” in a sauce, unless the stuff were fermenting?
17. Snack Factory Bacon Habanero Pretzel Crisps
Pretzel Crisps are kind of a strange idea to begin with — yet another example of the modern trend of trying to turn almost anything into something resembling chips (rice and beans, kale, coconut, seaweed, chickpeas, all kinds of fruits and vegetables, etc.). Combining habaneros, among the hotter chiles in the world, with bacon (or at least a whole lot of non-bacon ingredients that come together to suggest bacon) seems even stranger. Bacon is smoky and a little sweet, while habaneros are fiery and fruity. Wouldn’t the two ingredients cancel each other out?
18. Sonoran Mushroom Co. Bacon Mushrooms
This is another “bacon” product (like Adagio’s bacon-ish tea above) that contains neither bacon nor artificial bacon flavor. Arizona’s Sonoran Mushroom Co. grows a kind of pink oyster mushrooms that have a smoky flavor the company thinks resembles that of bacon, and it markets them as “bacon mushrooms.” The company should team up with researchers at Oregon State University, who discovered a few years back a variety of dulse seaweed also said to have a bacon-like flavor. Both products might well be godsends for bacon-loving vegetarians (now there’s a concept), but for the rest of us, as long as there’s actual bacon in the world, why bother?
19. Spam with Real Hormel Bacon
Spam — the edible, not the deletable, kind — is made from “pork with ham,” according to brand owner Hormel Foods. (The label suggests that this is a single ingredient, as opposed to, say, “pork and ham.”) There are now 16 varieties of this iconic canned meat. One of them, introduced in 2004, is Spam with Real Hormel Bacon. The meat products this one includes are “pork with ham,” bacon, and rendered bacon fat. That sounds more like the topping for one of those “Meat-Lover’s Pizzas” than something you’d want to fry up by itself.
20. Torani Bacon Syrup
Torani syrups, with its familiar label — red, yellow, and blue bands with a cloud-framed castle image in the middle — are often used in coffee shops, ice cream parlors, and bars all over America. There are more than 100 varieties in all, almost all of them fruit- or spice-flavored. But a bacon-flavored syrup? For what? Bacon lattes? Cured-pork martinis? Not for us, thanks.
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