“Globally inspired flavors for bacon are an easy way for consumers to try something new without fully committing to a new cuisine,” said Roger Lane, marketing manager of savory flavors for Sensient Flavors. “Top a grilled chicken breast with ancho chili bacon and a few slices of avocado and you’ve created a south-of-the-border sandwich.”
Lacey Eckert, market development specialist for Kalsec, said, “Since the popularity of bacon has moved it out of the ‘breakfast only’ realm, consumers are on the lookout for easy ways to add the flavor hit and protein boost that bacon offers to other dishes, including dessert. Microwavable or ready-to-use bacon in a variety of flavors meets this need. The go-to-flavors for bacon are wood smoke and sweet, but to get better noticed, bacon producers may add specificity to the wood or sweet element, calling out the wood type or adding sweetener names, such as maple or brown sugar."
For example, Milktooth, a casual-dining Indianapolis restaurant, features sorghum-glazed bacon. Denny’s often includes honey jalapeño bacon on its special menu. This past summer, Chick-fil-A introduced its first seasonal entrée, the Smokehouse BBQ Bacon Sandwich, which included bacon coated in a brown sugar pepper blend.
Sensient offers a smokeless smoke technology that mimics the smoky flavor consumers love without any smoke. This appeals to consumers who equate smoke with carcinogens.
“It can be customized to mimic the flavors of many of the most popular wood smokes,” Mr. Lane said. “It’s declared as natural flavor, so label-reading consumers do not see any smoke callout.”
Rubs work great on bacon, too. They not only provide flavor, but they also offer visual sensory cues.
“They differentiate the bacon from standard smoked options because the flavors are on the surface of the product providing immediate taste impact,” said Michelle Wetzel, research development and applications director of meat for Kerry Group. “Rubs have particulates, cracked spices and herbs. These give the consumer a visual cue to the flavor and taste of the product.”
Popular combinations include maple bourbon, hatch chili and jalapeño, and smoked black peppercorn. Hormel Foods Corp. offers a number of flavor rubbed bacon slices under its Black Label brand. Naturally smoked before the rub, varieties include jalapeño seasoning and maple black pepper.
Sensient Flavors has a range of seasoning blends that can be adapted as rubs to give consumers the global flavor experiences they’re craving. Vietnamese pho, Cuban mojo and Filipino adobo are just three examples of meat-centric profiles that can be achieved.
“Jalapeño and chipotle flavors and seasonings are increasingly being added topically to bacon,” said Robert Johnson, business development director for Red Arrow Products. “Because of the fattiness of bacon, using ingredients higher in ‘hot flavor notes’ are better tolerated. They also create very desirable means of delivering hot notes in a delicious manner. Taking this one step further, barbecue is very popular at the moment, and rubbing the bacon with a barbecue rub provides both uniqueness and familiarity in flavor. As we look at layering other flavors onto bacon, citrus glazes, honey, bourbon, hot sauces, bloody mary, teriyaki and soy are but a few of the flavors being advanced onto bacon intended to be used for a variety of menu applications.”
In small, craft operations, rubs are applied manually. Commercial operations typically use an automated shaker.
“Seasonings are best applied to the lean side of the bacon belly,” said Bruce Armstrong, research and development manager of protein for LifeSpice Ingredients. “It binds to the protein and stays on during the smoking and cooking operation.”
Challenges may be encountered during the slicing operation. It is easier to maintain integrity with thicker slices.
“Large particles may separate from the bacon, and sometimes the slicing knives wear out from the spice particles,” Mr. Armstrong said. “Still, you want to avoid fine particle seasoning blends, as they will give a muddy look and color.”
Farmer John offers steakhouse seasoning-rubbed sliced bacon. It’s described as being so thick it should be served with a baked potato. The company also offers a number of flavored wood smoked bacons including applewood and pecan wood.
The Wright Brand bacon from Tyson Foods Inc., which is known for its fuller-flavor, thick-cut slices, often offers limited-edition flavored products. Currently there’s a naturally hickory smoked barrel-aged bourbon variety as well as a five pepper-infused offering.