It’s safe to say that bacon is a universally worshipped food item and people are obsessed with it. Literally. There is even a name for this obsession — Bacon Mania! But what is it that makes this thin strip of meat so mouth-watering and… simply irresistible? Turns out, there’s more to it than meets the eye.
The chemistry is right
When you put bacon under heat, the fats melt and the sugars and amino acids have a very unique chemical reaction, called the Maillard reaction. This reaction is what gives browned foods their desirable flavour, such as seared steaks, pan-fried dumplings, toasted mashmallows… you get it.
The smell alone can make you desire it
Here’s the deal with bacon: it is not only the flavour that you desire. The Maillard reaction also releases a medley of ~150 volatile organic compounds from the bacon, which float through air and create this amazing, amazing smell.
So when these compounds reach your nose, they stimulate particular pathways in your brain, and make you physically crave bacon.
But of course, it looks and tastes unreal
You know bacon is delicious just by looking at it. Typically, meats turn grey-ish when being cooked, but somehow this never happens to bacon; It is always in the perfect shade of brown and pink. When pan-fried, bacon sizzle and shrinks into a crispy, wavy structure, layered in grease. It will even shimmer under light.
Crispy outside and chewy on the inside, bacon also nailed the perfect taste combo. The fatty acids that disintegrate during cooking yield a bouquet of flavorful compounds like aldehydes, furans, and ketones. By themselves, the individual molecules have distinct flavours – furans is sweet, nutty, caramel-like, aldehydes is green and grassy, and ketones tend to be buttery; but the real magic seems to happen when they are put together.
Unlike other meats, it also have the right fat:meat ratio, with marbled fats perfectly distributed across the entire strip.
Now, is eating bacon good or bad?
As with all things beautiful, bacon has its less desirable characteristics: All bacon is high in calories and fat.
A single strip of bacon contains about 43 calories, and four strips of it is equivalent to half a person’s recommended daily salt intake! (And that is if you could stop at four…)
Furthermore, scientists claimed that 68% of these calories come from fat and that over 50% of that lipids are saturated.
Besides being high in calories and fat, bacon is also being treated with sodium nitrate, which keeps the meat looking pink. These nitrates react with amino acids during cooking, forming nitrosamines, which can increase your risk of developing cancer and cause other health problems.
To sum it up, bacon smells irresistible, looks irresistible and tastes irresistible. Despite health concerns associated with eating bacon, it’s almost impossible not to love them — blame it on the chemistry. In fact, people around the world are so obsessed with bacon, they created all kinds of (ridiculous) products after its flavour — ranging from bacon cologne, bacon vodka, bacon lip balm, and my personal favourite… Bacon toothpaste.
To me, that’s just borderline disgusting. but if it’s your kind of thing, you can get your bacon toothpaste here. (You are welcome?)