People often think of it as being as American as apple pie, but many cultures around the world bring home the bacon.
The largest pork-producing nation is China, clocking in at 51.6 million metric tons, according to the USDA’s Foreign Agriculture Service. After that comes the European Union at 22.6 million and the U.S. at 10.5 million. Brazil, Russia, Vietnam, Canada, Japan, the Philippines and Mexico round out the top 10.
In China, bacon is actually called “lop yuk,” which is air-cured bacon with soy sauce, brown sugar and spices. In Japan, you pronounce it “beikon.”
In the U.K. they call it a “rasher”; in Germany it’s “speck;” in southern Switzerland and southwestern Austria it’s “bauchspeck,” which is air-cured, birch-smoked pork belly. In Italy, it’s called “pancetta,” and they also have “guanciale,” a dry-cured pig jowl, and lardo, which is “dense, white, delicate fat from pig rump cured for months with salt, spices and herbs and served raw paper-thin on toasted bread,” according to the RepublicofBacon.com. (See their infographic on bacon around the world.)
In France, it’s called “lard salé,” and a popular dish is “petit sale,” which is salt pork with lentils. in Hungary they have garlic bacon, which is bacon soaked in a garlic saline solution that is dry-cured for several days, coated with beef blood and paprika and then heavily smoked to “dry-burn the coating,” according to RepublicofBacon.com.
“America is pretty much the only place where bacon is from the belly — in other countries, it’s typically from the loin like Canadian bacon and Irish bacon,” said Heather Lauer, author of the book “Bacon: A Love Story” and the "Bacon Unwrapped"blog. “But while we may not agree on the cut, we all agree that anything from the pig that has been cured and/or smoked is always delicious!”
Brooks Reynolds, chairman of the Iowa Bacon Board and co-founder of the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival, said the main difference is that American bacon tends to be crispier than bacon in other countries, where it’s thicker and less crisp.
In Canada, they use back bacon, which can be smoked or unsmoked.
“Canadian bacon’s just ham,” Reynolds said.
Though, in their defense, they also have peameal bacon, which is back bacon, brined and coated in fine cornmeal. It used to be made of peameal (ground up dried peas), hence the name.
“I taught English in Korea” where it’s called “Sam Gyup Sal,” Reynolds said. “That’s some great stuff. It’s not cured. It’s pork belly. It’s different. They cook it on the grill right there — like Korean barbecue!” he said. (See pics at koreanbacon.com.)
“I was in Austria and Hungary last December — their bacon is so unique, it varies from town to town. More of a thinner and not as heavily cured or smoked,” Reynolds said. “Mexico has the ‘chicharron’ – pork belly. I love this little Mexican tienda (shop) — I eat half a pound of chicharron and a Mexican Coke for lunch sometimes!” he said.
And, of course, there’s that time he ate whale-wrapped bacon in Iceland. There, bacon is thin and cooked like a rasher — English-style.
“Here (in the U.S.) bacon is very crisp. There, it’s a rare bacon and kind of limp. They don’t have a lot of fruit wood like applewood or cherrywood to smoke it with. The cure isn’t as strong and prominent,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of hogs in Iceland!”
And while Reynolds has indulged in porcine delights all over the world, he says the best bacon in the world comes from Des Moines, Iowa. Well, he IS from Iowa, the nation's No. 1 pork-producing state, where I believe there's bacon in the tap water, so he may be partial.
There’s only one way to find out: It’s time to hit the road and bacon up!
More Bacon News From CNBC.com: