You’d think that turkey bacon could just be the skin of the turkey, which is arguably the most desired part at every Thanksgiving dinner. But that is not the case. Pork bacon is made from the belly fat of pigs. Traditionally, turkeys don’t have belly fat—though I’ve seen some pretty thick turkeys—so turkey bacon is made from chopped up and processed white and dark turkey meat.
There are some differences between pork bacon and turkey bacon outside of the obvious fact that they’re made from different animals. First, turkey bacon has slightly less fat than pork bacon. Two slices of turkey bacon have about 3g of fat, whereas two slices of pork bacon can range from 4-5g of fat. This creates a difference in texture as well; when cooked, turkey bacon doesn’t shrink because it is releasing very little fat, whereas pork bacon will curl and get crispy when it’s cooked. Turkey bacon is less caloric than pork bacon, but it also tends to have more carbohydrates and sodium.
Turkey bacon is often marketed as a healthier option to pork bacon, but that isn’t always the case, as evidenced from above. Sure, you’re getting slightly less fat, but the higher sodium and carb contents aren’t doing you any favors. Just something to keep in mind when deciding between the two.
One true benefit of turkey bacon is as a stand-in for people with pork allergies or pork-restrictive diets. Turkey bacon is both halal and kosher.
How is turkey bacon made?
Producers finely chop turkey meat, then season it with spices, oil, sometimes sugar, and preservatives. They form the meat into a block and thinly slice it into bacon-shaped strips. Many commercial turkey bacon brands will create a white bar in this meat block to slightly resemble the fat coloring in pork bacon. This bar is usually the white meat of the turkey.
Cured vs uncured turkey bacon: What’s the difference?
Here’s a dirty little secret of the bacon world: All commercial bacon, whether it’s made from pork or turkey, is cured; that is an inherent part of what bacon is. So what is curing, and how do brands get away with saying that their turkey bacon is uncured?
Curing is the process of preserving meat and it is usually done by packing the meat in salt or by smoking it. In the case of bacon, the curing process uses a salt mixture that includes sodium nitrites. These nitrites are a preservative that also gives bacon its pink color. There was an uproar about sodium nitrites in the health community with claims that they’re not good for you. That’s not entirely true; you need sodium nitrites in your diet. However, you don’t need the amount of sodium nitrites that can be found in cured bacon. There’s actually USDA limits on the amount of sodium nitrites that can appear in any bacon.
So, when you see turkey bacon that is labeled “uncured,” what that means is there are no sodium nitrites added to the salts used in curing. Problem solved, right? Not necessarily. Sodium nitrites still appear naturally in many vegetables, including celery. Guess what’s added to the curing process of “uncured” turkey bacon? Celery powder. So, uncured turkey bacon still has an overload of sodium nitrites, they just come from a “natural” source. And that’s how they get you.