Wendyl Wants To Know

Each week, Wendyl Nissen takes a packaged food item and decodes what the label tells you about its contents.

Wendyl wants to know: Bacon sammy addict gets a better option

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Each week, Wendyl Nissen takes a packaged food item and decodes its content

Henderson's Middle Bacon. Photo / Supplied
Henderson's Middle Bacon. Photo / Supplied

Henderson's Hand Made Original Dry Cured Middle Bacon - $7.66 for 300g

There are some things you just have to eat, no matter how bad they are for you. For me, bacon sandwiches are squarely in that category.

But for years I have avoided them because traditionally supermarket bacon products have preservatives such as sodium nitrite, added colour, mineral salts, loads of salt and come to you swimming in a sealed packet of slimy water.

By the time I've got the slice of bacon out of the packet I'm quickly reviewing my need to eat the slippery thing, and if I proceed to the stage of frying it I inevitably end up with a pink slice of meat which refuses to crisp as it gives off even more water when faced with the heat of the frying pan.

So bacon sandwiches are usually made only if I've made my own bacon or I've bought it from my butcher in Grey Lynn, who makes her own.

But recently the desire for bacon came at a time when I hadn't made my own, the butcher was shut, but the supermarket was open. That's when I discovered this product and found a different type of bacon and a healthy bacon sandwich for lunch.


Ingredients

Naturally cured and smoked pork - All bacon is made out of pork. This isn't free range pork however, which puts me off as there are now lots of bacon products made from free-farmed pork. By buying free-range pork you are sending a message that you don't want pigs kept in crates any longer. However, the website for this producer says it does offer a free-range alternative when available, so look out for that.

Sea salt - Salt is an important part of the curing process. Until the 19th century, the only way to preserve meat or fish was by salting, which can be done dry - as this bacon is - or in a brine as you would a corned beef. Salt draws water out of the meat, inhibiting the growth of micro-organisms. Smoking in combination with salt also helps to prevent bacterial contamination.

Most of the bacon available in the supermarket today is made with preservatives instead of salt, such as sodium nitrite (250) which kills bacteria which cause botulism and also acts as a colour fixative. There is concern that it can react with stomach acid to form carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds during digestion.

A study has found that adults who consumed the highest amounts of nitrate and nitrite were almost 30 per cent more likely to develop bladder cancer than those who consumed the lowest amount of the compounds.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency says: "Exposure to higher levels of nitrates or nitrites has been associated with increased incidence of cancer in adults, and possible increased incidence of brain tumours, leukemia, and nasopharyngeal (nose and throat) tumours in children in some studies but not others."

The EPA concluded that there was conflicting evidence as to whether exposures to nitrate or nitrites are associated with cancer in adults and in children.

Our own Food Standards points out that nitrite and nitrate are also found naturally in vegetables and says that conditions related to overexposure to nitrates and nitrite are rare.

This bacon tasted a lot less salty then other bacons yet the sodium levels are still quite high at 1060mg in 100g, as you would expect with a salt-cured product. I can only assume that the mineral salts used in other bacons such as salts of phosphoric acid don't show up at sodium yet taste salty.

Raw brown sugar - Sugar is used in the curing process to alleviate some of the harsh flavour of the salt.


My recommendations

I think a bacon which has just three ingredients - pork, salt and sugar - is far superior to another bacon product I found on the same shelf which had water as its second ingredient, plus not one but four mineral salts, two thickeners, a starch, dextrose, sugar, sodium nitrite and yeast extract for flavour.

That's 16 ingredients when you include the pork, compared with just three.

Despite sodium nitrite being allowed in our foods I'm not interested in eating anything which is linked to studies indicating concerns about cancer.

Eating too many processed meats is not a great idea so this product is a great option for bacon sandwich addicts.


Highlights

• No preservatives
• No added water
• Only three ingredients compared to 16 for another bacon product.


Make some yourself

You can make your own bacon if you like. This is a recipe from my book, Wendyl Nissen's Supermarket Companion, which you are welcome to try.


Home-made bacon

Ingredients

• 1 free-range pork loin (you will often find it rolled and tied with string so cut it free, unroll it and spread the loin out.)
• Sea salt

Take the pork and slit the fat on the top with several deep gashes. Get the salt and pat it all over the meat on all sides until they are well covered. Put it in a plastic container with an upturned saucer in the bottom so that the meat doesn't sit in the juice that will drain out of it. (We found a great Tupperware container with a grid in the bottom of the container.) Put the lid on and put it in the fridge. Check each day and drain any fluid which is sitting in the bottom. By day four it should be quite dry and ready to be sliced and fried. If you want you can smoke it at this stage for an even tastier bacon. This will keep in the fridge for a week or two.

• You can add a tablespoon or two of brown sugar as well as the salt to add extra flavour.


Do you have a food product you would like to feature?
Email wendylwantstoknow@gmail.com with suggestions. Unfortunately, Wendyl cannot correspond with readers.

- NZ Herald

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