What Are Bacon Bits Made Of?

alexbf/iStock via Getty Images
alexbf/iStock via Getty Images / alexbf/iStock via Getty Images

One of the more mystifying innovations of the processed food era has been shelf-stable bacon bits in a jar. Whether you sprinkle them onto your salad bar lunch or your baked potato side, the convenience item can be used anywhere you would add crumbled bacon cooked at home. Though they look and taste like bacon, the ingredients lists of these products are often more complicated than their name suggests. Some so-called "bacon" pieces don't even contain meat.

According to Mashed, the components of your pre-made bacon bits vary by maker. McCormick Bac'n Pieces—one of the more popular brands—are 100-percent vegan. In place of cured pork, the food item contains textured soy flour and canola oil. Caramel color, red 40 dye, maltodextrin, lactic acid, yeast extract, and the flavor boosters disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate are added to give the soy flakes their meaty taste and appearance.

Other bacon bits on the market are decidedly not vegan-friendly. Hormel Real Bacon Pieces are made from actual pork that's been cured with salt, sodium erythorbate, and sodium nitrite—preservatives that are also used to cure the bacon you find in the refrigerated section of the grocery store. Other flavors and preservatives added to the condiment include smoke flavoring, sugar, sodium phosphate, and potassium chloride. The ingredients list for Oscar Mayer's Real Bacon Bits, another pork-based product, looks similar.

The variation in bacon pieces can be confusing to consumers, but there's a rule of thumb you can follow when shopping for bits that aren't made from meat (or when looking for ones that are). Jars advertising "real bacon" contain real bacon, while labels that spell bacon differently (like McCormick Bac'n Pieces) are likely made with meat alternatives. Of course, you should double-check the ingredients if want to avoid animal products. If artificial additives are your biggest concern, you're better off buying nitrate-free bacon and making your own crumbled bacon at home.

An item's true ingredients aren't always evident from its name. Here's what really goes into the imitation crab you find in supermarket sushi.

[h/t Mashed]