Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Bacon [Add Noun]

America has a strange relationship with the meat of the common-or-garden pig.

In contrast to their European counterparts, American sausages, for example, aren't made of pork, but rather beef, chicken, turkey or - in the case of the eponymous hot dog "frank" - meat slurry.

On the other hand, America is also the home of the rack of (spare) ribs, one of my finger-licking barbecue favourites, and one most definitely derived from pork, although beef is sometimes available too.

It is perhaps because of this predilection for the smoky taste of the sauce in which all grilled food is marinated, slathered richly with during cooking and then liberally doused with before (and sometimes after) serving that there is a parallel love of bacon.

Before I go on, I should perhaps explain that American bacon is not the same as British bacon. In the States, they look down on what they see as our half-heartedly cooked, wimpy-looking rashers. Over here, bacon is not bacon unless it is burnt to a crisp, barely recognisable as meat, and shrivelled up like a soft contact lens left overnight in the desert. I guess the British food that most closely resembles proper American bacon is pork scratchings.

Anyway, this week, fast-food chain Jack in the Box began selling a bacon milkshake, containing vanilla ice cream, bacon-flavoured syrup, whipped cream and a glacier cherry. A large, 24oz bacon shake has 1081 calories (the recommended daily intake for an adult is 2000-2500) and 37 grams of saturated fat (RDI: 20).

Gross as this may seem, this is only the latest incarnation of a long-standing trend started, if the legend is to be believed, by a young Jewish man who mused at a kosher dinner about a bacon-flavoured condiment. That idea spawned what is now called bacon salt.

Bacon salt is like garlic salt. Except that it doesn't contain garlic. Or bacon. In fact, it is both kosher and vegetarian. However, it comprises 24 different ingredients, including the gloriously all-encompassing "natural and artifical flavours", the mysterious "smoke flavour" and a lot of monosodium glutamate (MSG), the flavour enhancer commonly found in Chinese food.

Bacon salt has been such a huge success that the manufacturer sent some out to all the troops in Iraq and created a slew of follow-ups, including bacon-flavoured mayonnaise ("Baconnaise") and ketchup salt. But that was merely the pork snowball that triggered the bacon avalanche, as other manufacturers quickly sought to cash in on this bacophilia. And the products now on sale range from the tasty to the bizarre.

Aside from the predictable snacks, you can buy bacon beer, chewing gum, lip balm, toothpaste, mints, toothpicks, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Diet Coke, coffee, air freshener, chocolate and condoms.

But most frightening of all is bacon-flavoured powdered milk for infants (birth to 12 months).

Luckily the latter turns out to have been an April Fool's joke. However, as far as I know, all the other "baconalia" is genuinely on sale.

Get me a bucket!