For all of us bacon-lovers, it is hard to imagine the world without bacon. Because this food has become such a key part of our diets and is ever more considered an important part of our very culture, picturing a time before bacon is difficult to fathom, But just like such seemingly indispensable items like the toothbrush and deodorant, bacon was something that has to be invented. And, also just like the toothbrush and deodorant, we’re also very glad that we exist is a time in history well after the discovery of bacon.
That said, it is still important to have an awareness of history, even those dark, bacon-less times far in the past. Learning about the historical significance of bacon can give us a great appreciation for it here and now.
It turns out that the historical origins of bacon are very old indeed. The Chinese were curing pork bellies with salt, and therefore creating a very early form of bacon, as far back as 1500 B.C.E. Bacon may be even older that that, but those are the first records that we have that refer to bacon in any recognizable form. Ancient Romans also had their own version of bacon, which was taken from the shoulder of the pig. This meat, called “petaso,” was typically boiled with dried figs, then browned and served with wine. Bacon as well as bacon fat where incredibly important ingredients in peasant cooking in for the Anglo-Saxons and throughout the Middle Ages.
The word bacon itself comes from a combination of french and Germanic dialects. The French word “bako,” Common Germanic “bakkon” and Old Teutonic “backe” have all been flagged as sources of the word, and all refer to the back of the pig, and date back to well before the 12th Century. However, well into the 16th Century in England, bacon or “bacoun” was colloquially used to refer to any kind of pork. In the 17th Century, we finally see “bacon” being used exclusively to refer to salted and smoked pork belly, what we would recognize as bacon.
Bacon and WWII
Bacon also played an important role in the Second World War. Bacon gained in popularity as a reasonable meat for families during the time of rationing. After cooking their bacon, people would return the bacon fat that rendered off the strips of bacon to their butcher, who would subsequently donate it to the war effort. The bacon fat was used for many things, including incendiary devices. It turns out that bacon can be explosive (as anyone who has accidentally started a grease fire in a pan can tell you). Wow!
Today, bacon is a delicious and beloved food that is consumed all over the world. I hope knowing a little bit more about bacon’s history make it a little more interesting, as well as tasty!