HealthY choice

The healthy brigade is affecting the way we make our bacon

While some may think it perverse to reduce the ingredients that make bacon what it is, the healthy eating steamroller is making inroads into the sector.

If you would like to offer your customers the choice of a healthier bacon, there are two ways to do it. The first is reducing fat. Many consumers trim the fat off their bacon once cooked anyway, but you can also offer back bacon from leaner pigs, selected for this purpose. You may also choose to emphasise the fact that pork is lower in fat than lamb and beef.

However, salt is where the biggest changes can be made. If you mix your own cure you can adjust the salt levels, but this must be done with care, according to Kim Matthews, meat scientist at the Meat & Livestock Commission (MLC): "It's possible to reduce the sodium content of bacon, but you have to be mindful of the impact that might have on its shelf-life. You can't just take it out and not worry about it. It needs to be done in a careful way."

Broadly speaking, the less salt used, the shorter it will last, so this must be factored into calculations about the amount you make and how quickly you are able to sell it. If salt is reduced too much, pork will not cure at all and just go off.

There are also replacements for salt. If you buy your cure ready-made, talk to your ingredients supplier, says Matthews: "Alternatives are available and there are some that are based on potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride." The flavour of potassium-cured bacon is "equivalent", says Matthews, but it is likely to cost you more.

Bacon has a reputation for being unhealthy but, as Matthews says: "At the risk of sounding clichéd, there's no such thing as good food and bad food. There's no reason why bacon shouldn't form part of a balanced diet."This doesn't mean improvements cannot be made and Matthews thinks the meat industry is all too aware of this: "Everybody making meat products is aware of the concern about salt in the diet and is considering what options are available for reducing it. Average salt levels have started to go down," he says.

In addition, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) introduced voluntary salt reduction targets in 2006 for food manufacturers, with the aim of improving public health, as too much salt causes high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and strokes. For bacon, the recommended maximum amount of salt is 1.4g of sodium per 100g of bacon (excluding dry-cured) and the British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has committed to reaching these standards by 2008.

There will always be those who argue the moreish, succulent flavour of bacon is precisely because of the salt and fat. "There is a big range of salt content out there," says Matthews, "so at the top end, I'm sure there is scope to reduce."

And once you do that, bacon from an independent butcher is the perfect product for our times: healthy, convenient and high-quality.

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