who invented bacon bits

The Tasty History Behind Bacon Bits: Who Invented This Beloved Topping?

If you’re like me bacon bits are the perfect topping to add a delicious crunch and salty flavor to salads baked potatoes, burgers, and more. Those crispy little bacon crumbles can instantly elevate an ordinary dish into something special. But have you ever wondered – who invented bacon bits? How did this genius invention come about?

In this article, we’ll trace the fascinating history of bacon bits, from their early origins to how they became a kitchen staple. We’ll learn about the first bacon curing facility, find out when bacon bits were first sold commercially, and explore how production methods have evolved over time.

So grab a bowl and sprinkle on some bacon bits as we uncover the story behind one of the tastiest inventions ever!

The Early History of Bacon

To understand how bacon bits were invented, we first need to go way, way back to the early origins of bacon itself. The curing and smoking of pork bellies dates back thousands of years to 1500 BC in China. Pig domestication also began in China around 4900 BC, and had spread to Europe by 1500 BC.

The Romans and Greeks likely learned bacon production and curing methods through conquests in the Middle East. They improved pig breeding and expanded pork production throughout their empires.

The word “bacon” derives from various Germanic and French words, like bacho and bacun, referring to the back or buttock. But the cut used for bacon actually comes from the belly or side of the hog.

For centuries, bacon was produced by local farmers and butchers to feed their communities. But things were about to change.

The First Bacon Curing Facility

In the 1700s, an Englishman named John Harris changed the bacon industry forever. He opened the first organized bacon curing facility in Wiltshire, England in the mid-1700s.

Harris had developed a special brining technique, now known as the “Wiltshire cure.” It uses a mild brine to produce low-salt bacon with a sweet, subtle flavor. The Wiltshire cure is still used today to make some of the world’s best bacon.

By centralizing bacon processing, Harris laid the groundwork for large-scale production.The English also identified pig breeds that produced the finest bacon, further enhancing quality.

Bacon Arrives in America

Bacon arrived in the Americas in the 1500s when Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto brought 13 pigs on his expedition. By 1542, just 3 years later, America’s pig population had skyrocketed to nearly 700!

Bacon grew popular in the colonies and pioneers embraced salt-cured and smoked pork belly as an easy, tasty protein source. Different bacon styles emerged as America expanded westward and new curing techniques were developed.

When the pig slaughtering season arrived each fall, American families would salt and smoke large quantities of pork to last through winter. Bacon grease was also treasured for cooking and lamp fuel.

The Rise of Commercial Bacon

Up through the 1800s, most bacon was still cured and smoked at local butcher shops and farms. Then, in 1924, Oscar Mayer opened one of America’s first major commercial bacon plants in Madison, Wisconsin.

Oscar Mayer used refrigerated trucks and railroads to ship their bacon nationwide under the famous slogan “My Bologna Has A First Name.” Machine slicing made uniform bacon slices affordable for the average consumer.

The 1950s brought ramped up breeding programs and feeding systems that produced leaner, meatier hogs. This allowed higher yields of bacon per pig and decreased production costs.

As bacon grew in popularity across America, new ideas emerged, like bacon-topped burgers. And this eventually sparked the brilliant idea of crispy, crunchy bacon bits.

The Origin of Bacon Bits

Most sources agree that bacon bits were invented by the U.S. chain restaurant A&W in the 1960s. According to legend, A&W wanted to add bacon flavor to their hamburgers and realized crumbled bacon bits were the perfect solution.

The bacon bits could be efficiently mass-produced and distributed to their restaurants across the country. The bacon cheeseburger was born and bacon bits became a signature item at A&W.

Pre-made bacon bits offered consistency, cured meat flavor, and convenience. They were an instant hit with customers who loved the crunchy bacon taste on salads, baked potatoes and more. Diners had never experienced this tasty new bacon format before!

Commercially Produced Bacon Bits Emerge

Seeing the success of A&W’s bacon bits, food companies raced to produce and market their own versions. In the early 1970s, commercially packaged bacon bits first appeared on grocery store shelves.

These mass-produced bacon bits were made from lower quality bacon scraps trimmed from slicing operations. The meat was cured, smoked, crumbled, and cooked in continuous microwave tunnels.

Preservatives were added to prevent spoilage and extend shelf life at room temperature. The crumbled bacon was packaged in plastic bags or glass jars for retail sale.

This revolutionary product gave consumers pre-cooked bacon bits whenever they wanted. No more frying bacon just to crumble it on top of food!

New Types of “Bacon Bits” Emerge

The popularity of bacon bits skyrocketed through the 1970s and 80s. To keep up with demand, companies began developing “bacon bits” made from non-bacon products.

Textured vegetable protein became a popular bacon bit substitute. It was much lower cost than real bacon and appealed to vegetarians. Soy protein bacon bits were positioned as a healthier, lower fat option.

Cooking techniques were used to recreate the smoky, salty taste of bacon bits. There was also turkey bacon bits, marketed as a leaner alternative while still delivering true bacon flavor.

However, not all bacon bits substitutes work well in recipes calling for real bacon bits. The look and texture might seem right, but the taste is often not comparable.

When a recipe calls for bacon bits, it’s best to use real pork bacon crumbles to fully deliver the intended flavors.

The Evolution of Bacon Bit Production

To produce bacon bits quickly and affordably enough for grocery shelves, new manufacturing methods were needed.

Originally, bacon bits were made by hand. Workers would manually slice and crumble bacon into small bits – a slow and labor-intensive process.

By the 1950s, machine slicers automated much of the bacon slicing process in large factories. But crumbling still had to be done by hand.

Eventually, specialized equipment was developed to automate crumbling. Bacon pieces were fed into heavy-duty shredders which chopped the bacon into uniform bits.

Today, industrial food processing plants can crank out tons of bacon bits each day. The bacon is precision sliced by high-speed cutters and fed into crushing machines that fragment the slices into bacon bits.

Continuous microwave tunnels then cook the bacon bits to a shelf-stable finished state. Conveyor belts shuttle the cooked bacon bits to packaging machines for retail distribution.

Modern food safety processes also ensure product quality, with metal detectors, magnets and thorough sanitation procedures in place.

Bacon Bits Today: How They’re Used

Walk down the grocery aisle today and you’ll see numerous brands of bacon bits for sale. Real pork and turkey bacon bits have been joined by soy protein and coconut “bacon” varieties. Flavors like hickory smoked, honey barbecue and peppered bacon bits are available.

In restaurants, bacon bits reign supreme as the perfect salad bar topping. They add a pop of smoky bacon goodness to plain green salads. Baked potatoes are jazzed up with a sprinkle of crispy bacon bits.

Recipes regularly call for bacon bits too. They’re great on top of casseroles, baked chicken, roasted vegetables and pasta dishes. Bacon bits add depth to soups and chilis. They can even add a fun crunch to desserts like ice cream sundaes.

When shopping for bacon bits, check the ingredients list if you want real bacon flavor. Some products substitute flavorings for real bacon. And read nutrition labels to compare fat, sodium and preservatives.

No matter what’s on the label, one thing’s for sure – bacons bits have firmly cemented their place in kitchens and restaurants across America!

The Future of Bacon Bits

Bacon bits have come a long way from their early start at A&W restaurants. Today, food scientists are exploring innovative ways to improve the versatility and quality of bacon bits.

Researchers are working on custom 3D printing technology that extrudes plant-based bacon bits from alternative meat proteins. These lab-created bacon bits could replicate the taste and texture of real pork.

There is also development of bacon bits in unique shapes like crumbles, pellets or flakes using extrusion and molding equipment. This could open new possibilities for using bacon bits creatively as garnishes, coatings or mix-ins.

Flavored and infused bacon bits are another growth area, as consumers seek bolder flavors. Imagine maple bacon bits, jalapeño bacon bits or even chocolate bacon bits to sprinkle on ice cream!

One thing is certain – bacon bits have become an indisputable American favorite over the past 60+ years. That craving for crispy, salty bacon taste shows no signs of fading. And innovative bacon bit products will likely keep coming to satisfy our insatiable appetite!

The Next Time You Enjoy Bacon Bits, Thank John Harris!

So there you have it – the full story behind everyone’s favorite bacon innovation. From John Harris’ first organized bacon curing facility to modern manufacturing breakthroughs, the journey of bacon bits is truly fascinating.

The next time you sprinkle those crunchy bits onto your salad or baked potato, take a moment to thank Mr. Harris! Were it not for his ingenious bacon curing methods back in 18th century England, we may never have experienced the joy of bacon bits today.

And whether you prefer real pork bacon or a vegetarian version, bacon bits add special flavor and texture that really completes a dish. Thanks to the inventive minds that brought us this ubiquitous topping, bacon bits have secured a lasting place in our kitchens and restaurants.

So savor a tasty crunch of bacon bits the next time you dig in. And appreciate how a simple but brilliant idea over 200 years ago eventually spawned one of the most beloved foods around!

Is There Actual Bacon In Bacon Bits?


Where did bacon bits come from?

Imitation bacon bits may be made from vegetable protein to resemble the cooked bacon. Real bacon bits are typically made either from grinding raw bacon and cooking it or cooking the bacon, then chilling the bacon and passing the bacon through a grinder or dicer.

Who made bacon first?

Going Way Back: Bacon Origins (1500 BCE) Humankind’s love affair with bacon can be traced back to 1500 BCE, if not before. This is when the Chinese began to salt and cure pork belly. Like nearly all trends in the world, this salting and curing process traveled.

Who makes real bacon bits?

HORMEL® Real Bacon Bits add flavor to all your bacon-inspired dishes. Want the convenience of bacon flavor without the mess of cooking raw bacon? Our Bacon Bits come in an easy resealable pouch so you can sprinkle some on your sour cream topped baked potato or try it on your favorite egg dish!

Is bacon bits fake bacon?

McCormick’s version of the product, labeled as “bacon flavored bits,” do not contain any bacon. In fact, McCormick’s “bac’n” is actually totally vegan. The main ingredient is textured soy flour, a protein-rich meal made from ground soybeans. The soy flour is mixed with canola oil and salt for texture and seasoning.

What are bacon bits made of?

Depending on the brand, bacon bits are made from real pieces of crumbled bacon with the addition of preservatives for safekeeping. Slice bacon and bacon bits. Chocolate-covered bacon: As the bacon craze began to take off in the early 2000s, so did culinary experimentation.

Are Hormel bacon bits real bacon?

Hormel’s bacon bits are made with “real” bacon, which, according to the label, is “cured with water, salt, sodium erythorbate, and sodium nitrite.” The last two ingredients are food additives commonly found in cured meats to enhance flavor and preserve freshness.

When was Bacon invented?

The type of sliced, packaged bacon most people have on hand in their fridge was patented in 1924 by none other than Oscar Mayer. One could say the rest is history, but there have been some important bacon milestones over the past 100 years or so in the U.S., including:

What’s in a jar of bacon bits?

To find out what’s really in a jar of bacon bits, I checked out two popular brands: Hormel Real Bacon Bits and McCormick Bac’n Pieces. Hormel’s bacon bits are made with “real” bacon, which, according to the label, is “cured with water, salt, sodium erythorbate, and sodium nitrite.”

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