Bacon is a cured cut of pork, but the cuts differ between regions. In the United States bacon (called “streaky,” “fatty,” or “American style” outside North America) is produced from the pork belly. Canadian bacon is produced from the pork loin. In much of Europe, and Great Britain in particular, bacon generally refers to Wilshire bacon. This bacon is produced from a Wilshire side, which is basically the loin and belly. Unlike Canadian and US bacon which are almost always smoked, Wiltshire bacon may or may not be. (Pearson and Gillett, 1996)
|A Wilshire Side, with the ribs and backbone still in place.|
Anyway, I started wondering about the need for, and history of, meat preservation. Particularly about smoking and curing. How long have humans been practicing these arts? Is bacon truly primal / paleo?
All of this reminded me of the fact that a ready supply of fresh meat has not been the daily reality for most of mankind’s existence. And it still isn’t for a substantial portion of mankind. Modern refrigeration and freezing has eliminated the need for the heavy salting and smoking that were once needed for preservation. Prior to modern refrigeration and freezing, animals would be slaughtered in the cooler fall, at the end of the growing season. One reason for today’s conventional animal production practices is to provide a year-round supply of slaughter animals and fresh meat and milk.
The origin of meat preservation, and therefore processing, is lost in antiquity. Perhaps it started when our distant ancestors learned that cooking prolongs the keeping quality of fresh meat. Perhaps that was followed by the discovery of the preservative action and desirable flavor imparted to meat that was hung near their fires. The discovery that salt acted as a preservative came later, but there are records of salt being used to preserve fish dating back as far as 3500 BCE (Pearson and Gillett, 1996). The ancient Egyptians recorded the preservation of meat products by salting and sun drying. It is interesting to note that the salt used frequently contained sufficient nitrate to produce the color-preserving, flavoring, and preservative effects that saltpeter and vegetable extracts are used to produce in today’s meat curing processes (Pearson and Gillett, 1996). So the smoking and curing of meat have been practiced since at least the beginning of recorded history. They are probably not ‘paleo’ in the strictest sense, but they are ancient.
Natural refrigeration and drying are two equally ancient preservation methods for meat. The early Romans are credited with being the first to use ice and snow as a means of preserving food, although that is surely due to the fact that their accounts have survived while those of the various peoples of northern Europe, Asia and North America, if they were written, did not (Romans and Ziegler, 1974). While the native people of North America dried meat to preserve it for later use and for making pemmican, drying meat seems a widespread practice (Pearson and Gillett, 1996).
Pearson, A.M., and T.A. Gillett. 1996. Processed Meats. Chapman & Hall. New York, NY
Romans, J.R., and P.T. Ziegler. 1974. The Meat We Eat. Interstate Printers & Publishers, Inc. Danville, IL