/ Food & Drink

There’s not just bacon in your bacon

Bacon frying in oil

Bacon is a bit of a British passion. It’s brown sauce’s best friend, and features in both the fry-up and bacon butty. But have you ever seen it leak white and watery mush? It’s all down to added water…

Although it’s safe to say that this guilty pleasure is practically a household staple, for a while now I’ve found that my bacon seems to be shrinking, leaving me with a white, watery mush in the pan.

How much meat is in your bacon?

Bacon contains water, but under the Meat Products Regulations, uncooked cured meat products, like bacon, that have more than 10% added water should state this in its name – such as ‘Bacon with Added Water’.

Now, you won’t actually find that on a packet of bacon, so that means it should contain less than 10% added water. You can judge roughly how much there is by looking at the meat content – dry-cure bacon for instance commonly contains up to 97% pork and no water, whereas a cheaper cut will contain 87% pork in the ingredients list.

However, when we tested bacon in a lab, we found that some common supermarket bacon, in both the ‘standard’ and ‘value’ ranges, exceeded 10% water.

What about burgers, pies and sausage rolls?

At least bacon is mostly meat though. The regulations also lay out the minimum meat content for other products – these are even more surprising.

Take a sausage roll for instance. To me, they’re roughly half pastry, half meat. Under the regulations, an actual sausage only has to contain 32% meat (unless it has ‘pork’ in the name, in which case we’re up to 42%). But as for my sausage roll, it only needs to have a measly 6% meat to use that name. And it’s the same story for pastries and pasties, except meat pies, which must have 12.5%.

Burgers are another surprising one. I was initially reassured by the 67% meat content requirement, but that drops to 55% for a chicken burger, and 50% if it’s an ‘economy burger’.

Since I’ve learnt all this I’ve started going upmarket for my bacon, and continued my policy of staying away from burgers and cheap sausages.

But what do you think? Did you know bacon contains added water and now that you do, do you think the above meat-content limits are too low?

Comments
Profile photo of Hannah Jolliffe
Admin

I’m always dubious about cheap/supermarket meat, so make an effort to buy from my local butcher – or buy organic in supermarkets. I hope that covers me, but I still think it should be clearer when food products contain hidden ingredients like this – many people just don’t realise what they’re buying.

Profile photo of dyfnwal
Admin

I recently bought Lakeland Dry Cured Back Bacon from one of the cheaper supermarkets.
On cooking it, there was a distinctly unusual smell & taste which may be boar taint. The bacon is not stale, but it has a peculiar odour.
Apparently boar taint is evident in uncastrated pigs or those that are “confined” as opposed to free range.
In future, I shall stick to my local Butcher. Such is his popularity, the queue reaches out onto the pavement.

Profile photo of fresh3
Admin

“dry-cure bacon for instance commonly contains up to 97% pork and no water, whereas a cheaper cut will contain 87% pork in the ingredients list.”

I’m a bit scared to ask, but what did you find in the other 3 / 13 % ??

Profile photo of Nick Frankcom
Admin

Good point! The remainder is a mish-mash of water, salts and nitrates like sodium nitrate and potassium nitrate that act as preservatives. Then, depending on the pack, you may find e-numbers like sodium ascorbate, stablizers like sodium triphosphate, and even sugar in some cases. That won’t depend on the price of the pack either, as often you’ll find the preservative and stabilizers in the more expensive dry-cure bacon as well.

Admin
pickle says:
28 January 2011

Yes, I wonder too!
Ordinary supermarket bacon gives off a lot of water when fried – so it’s really boiled for the first few mnutes – then starts to fry.
Dry cured is better, but even that has some water.
Best bacon comes from farm shops – try it….

Admin
BaconLover says:
28 January 2011

I love Bacon. I eat it every chance I get. But this thread is kind of a wake-up call to people like myself who don’t pay much attention to what they put into their bodies. Reading Nick’s comment above makes me feel kind of queasy about what I’ve been putting inside myself. Ewwww.

Profile photo of privet
Admin

Apart from water,I bought smoked bacon from Tesco but when I read the packet it said ” smokey” Another mild deception?
I also bought a packet of ham described as ” Light Choices ” well I suppose water is light because I had to put in the frig to dry before eating it.

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HappyLittleVegemite says:
1 February 2011

Yes I understand that “Smokey Bacon” and “Smoked Bacon” are 2 altogether different things. One is cooked over smoke to give it’s flavour, the other has some weird paste put on it to add flavour. Which sounds more natural and healthy?

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SteveH says:
13 February 2011

If you take into account the 10% added water that is lost when you cook cheaper bacon the ‘Premium’ dry-cure bacon actually looks like much better value for money.
Adding water to bacon is nothing new. Water is added to other raw meat (especially chicken and pork) and to most supermarket cooked meat (look at a packet of ham). This is an inevitable consequence of consumers’ insistence on having access to cheap food, and to manufacturers’ and retailers’ push to make more money. In my opinion it is dishonest, but if there was legislation against it we would see even greater food price inflation.
On a different point, complaining that dry-cure bacon contains water is illogical: ALL bacon contains water because pigs are 70% water to start with!
Curing (wet or dry) is a _preservation_ process, which is why bacon is so full of preservatives. Without them it wouldn’t be bacon! The use of potassium nitrate is entirely in keeping with the best traditions of bacon curing: it is otherwise known as saltpetre, and has been used for hundreds of years. As have sodium chloride (table salt), sucrose (common sugar), and many other ingredients. Nitrates are particularly effective against botulism. Sodium ascorbate is a salt of ascorbic acid, which is more commonly known as vitamin C, and is an anti-oxidant. If our Saxon forebears had been able to call upon these resources they would have used them … all of them.
My point? Bacon is not natural. It is a man-made product. I’ll join any campaign against the adulteration of bacon with added water, and against the use of preservatives that are dangerous to human health, but complaining about preservatives (such as sugar or saltpetre) in bacon doesn’t make sense.