Bacon: Ingredient of the Year

Continuing The Year That Was with our pick for Ingredient of the Year.


I know it seems like a cliche and passé at this point, but I have to call a spade a spade, or perhaps I should say I have to call a pig a pig (but maybe not, more about that later).

Bacon is most assuredly the ingredient of the year.

Every important, influential, and innovative chef, from David Chang to Grant Achatz to Thomas Keller, made substantial use of bacon in 2008. It was used in appetizers, main courses, and desserts: bacon cookies, peanut butter and bacon "Elvis"cupcakes, and brittle, anyone? It even showed up in cocktails (bacon martini, anyone?).

It's used unadorned and as a mix-in, and served plain and fancy. It's used in cuisines around the world, from China to France to Italy to Mexico. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, brunch, snacks, small plates, big plate, medium plates, in diners and four-star restaurants, bacon is served anytime, anywhere, by anybody and everybody.

And not just any bacon. These days we know much more than the brand of bacon. We know who's been making it for how long, who's been raising the pigs, what breed of pig it's made from, what it's cured in, and how long it's smoked for using what kind of wood. We know what the pigs the bacon is made from have been eating. And in fact we know that sometimes it's not even made from pigs. GQ recently named lamb bacon as one of the best foods in the U.S.

So next year don't be surprised if cucumber bacon finds its way to a restaurant table or fancy-pants grocery store. We've even got food writers expounding on bacon fatigue. When someone writes a story about bacon fatigue that's when you know an ingredient is white-hot.

Hell, as I'm writing and thinking about this I'm thinking that we ought to award bacon the ingredient of the 21st century. I know we have 91 years to go, but based on the evidence outlined above, could any serious eater come to any other conclusion?

Bacon's gone from a supporting actor's role in the food universe to flat out cultural icon. Bacon's a star, damn it, and stars have to be treated and recognized as such.