Who Invented Bacon? (Invention Timeline Explained)

Bacon is a popular staple food in the United States and other parts of the world. It is made from different pork cuts but is cooked to a crisp and, coupled with other breakfast items, forms one of the best offerings to perk someone up for the day ahead. 

Have you ever wondered how bacon came to be? How did we become so enamored with such a pork cut that it’s singularly one of the best-selling products annually? In this quick dive, we’ll explore a little bit about bacon’s history and how it got us hooked.

Who invented the first bacon?

No person could lay claim to being the inventor of bacon. However, in terms of adding salt and curing pork, the ancient Chinese did it first, as they did it in 1500 BC. The Romans had a version of bacon they called petaso. Petaso was the shoulder meat of a domesticated pig which they boiled with figs and then browned and eaten with pepper sauce. 

Historical accounts also point out that one of the breakthroughs in bacon production happened in central Europe when the farmers cured pork using the salt mined within the area. The salt’s high nitrate content greatly improved the color and flavor of the pork as it made it cleaner, safer to eat, and pinkish.

Bacon came to the Americas via Christopher Columbus and Hernando de Soto. Columbus brought eight pigs to Cuba in 1493 upon the insistence of Queen Isabella. De Soto brought 13 pigs to Tampa Bay in 1539, which rapidly grew in population as the settlers and farmers understood that the pigs were an excellent and cheap source of meat. 

In the 1770s, John Harris of Wiltshire began the industrial production of bacon alongside his brother, using their Wiltshire cure. This cure was a special brine that created low-salt bacon with a deliciously sweet flavor. The sliced, packaged bacon that most people are familiar with was patented in 1924 by Oscar Mayer. 

Bacon’s key contributors (and evolution)

  • 1500 BC
    Ancient Chinese cure pork with salt

    While pigs were domesticated previously in China, it was in 1500 BC when the Chinese began to rub and use salt to cure pork. The salt preserved the meat and added flavor to it.

  • Roman era
    Romans and their version of the bacon, petaso

    Ancient Romans probably learned how to make petaso, their version of bacon, when they conquered territories during their expansion. Petaso was made using pork shoulder, and they boiled it with figs until it was browned enough and ready for consumption. Then, they ate petaso with pepper sauce.

  • 1600s
    Central Europeans add nitrite-rich salt to make better bacon

    Central European farmers added salt sourced from the mines in their locality, not knowing that it was high in nitrate. The resulting cured pork was cleaner, safer to eat, and pinkish.  

  • 1770s
    John Harris and the Wiltshire cure

    Before the invention of the Wiltshire cure, butchers had their way of curing meat. The Wiltshire cure was originally a dry cure wherein people applied salt to the pork shoulder or belly and let it sit for 10-14 days. However, the Wiltshire cure developed by Harris was a wet cure as the pork was immersed in brine for 4—5 days.

  • 1924
    Oscar Mayer starts selling pre-sliced bacon in groceries and the rest is history

    Before 1924, Oscar Mayer and his company were already huge players in the food industry. However, when butchers and other shops began to sell pre-sliced bacon, Mayer saw an opportunity and capitalized on it. Carl Mayer, Oscar’s nephew, came up with the idea that bacon would sell better if they were pre-sliced. The idea germinated and paved the way in 1924 for packages of pre-sliced bacon wrapped in cellophane backed by a cardboard frame. The rest, as they say, is history.

When was the first bacon invented?

No one could point out with enough conviction when people invented bacon. However, historical accounts say that the ancient Chinese had a hand in curing pork in 1500 BC, and as time passed, the technique spread. People became innovative with the process, adding ingredients to make their recipes. The Romans had their version, which they called petaso. The petaso was made from pork shoulder, boiled with figs, and browned until it was ready to eat. They sprinkled the petaso with pepper sauce for added flavor. 

Central Europeans accidentally added salt sourced in their localities and made better bacon. The salt was high in nitrates, creating salted, cured pork that was pinkish and safer and cleaner to eat. Bacon was also famous among the English masses, and even explorers Christopher Columbus and Hernando de Soto had a hand in bringing pigs to the Americas. Columbus brought eight pigs to Cuba, while De Soto brought 13 pigs to Tampa Bay. The pigs they brought became the original breed of animals in the region, and their population multiplied. 

John Harris of Wiltshire is known as the father of industrialized bacon because he pursued the Wiltshire cure. Previously, the Wiltshire cure used salt to dry cure pork for 10-14 days. However, Harris developed a wet cure where they immersed the pork cuts in brine for 4-5 days, making the process faster and the product better.

Oscar Mayer was already a player in the food processing industry, but they innovated the market when they sold pre-sliced bacon in cellophane backed by cardboard in 1924. The popularity of bacon grew even faster, and the food product became a breakfast staple. 

A brief history of bacon

The ancient Chinese began to cure pork in 1500 BC, and their technique became more popular as other civilizations learned about it. The Romans had a version of bacon which they called petaso. Petaso was made of pork shoulder, which the Romans boiled with figs. They cooked it until browned and fit for consumption. Then, they sprinkled pepper sauce on it for better flavor. 

The Central Europeans also cured pork but accidentally made a better version using the salt sourced from their local mines. They didn’t know that their salt had high nitrate content. The resulting cured pork was pinkish and was cleaner and safer to eat. Bacon also gained popularity among the English and European masses as pigs were easy to raise and could dry-cure pork using their family recipes. 

Explorers Christopher Columbus and Hernando de Soto also had a hand in the propagation of pigs in the North American territory. Upon the insistence of Queen Isabella, Columbus brought eight pigs to Cuba in 1493, while de Soto brought 13 pigs to Tampa Bay in 1539. The pigs they brought were the first animals on the continent and became the first breed whose population proliferated. 

John Harris of Wiltshire was also credited with the bacon industrialization as he pursued the Wiltshire cure. Before their cure, people used dry aging techniques as they rubbed salt on pork and let it sit for 10-14 days. The Wiltshire cure became a wet rub, where they immersed pork cuts in brine for 4-5 days, sped up the process, and made better meat. 

Oscar Mayer, both the man and the company, were already players in the food production industry even before they innovated bacon for households. Before introducing pre-sliced bacon packaging, butchers and other vendors sold bacon differently. Carl Mayer saw the advantage of selling pre-sliced bacon, and Mayer grabbed the opportunity. In 1924, they introduced pre-sliced bacon in cellophane packaging backed with cardboard. The rest, as they say, is history as bacon became more popular and cemented it’s being a breakfast staple.

The bacon timeline

  1. 1500 BC
    Ancient Chinese started the pork curing process

    Ancient Chinese rubbed salt on pork belly and shoulder and cured them. The preserved meat was a precursor to modern-day bacon.

  2. 1600s
    Central Europeans and their bacon innovations

    Central European farmers cured pork with salt from their local mines, unaware that it was nitrate-rich. The resulting cured pork was pinkish and safer to eat. Cured pork was also popular with English and other European families who had their recipes.

  3. 1770s
    John Harris industrialized bacon production

    Harris and his company introduced the Wiltshire cure, which sped up the production process. They immersed pork cuts in brine for 4-5 days, faster than dry-aging it for 10-14 days.

  4. 1924
    Oscar Mayer revolutionized bacon consumption

    Oscar Mayer introduced the pre-sliced bacon package to the masses, which skyrocketed the popularity of bacon tremendously. In addition, it made bacon a breakfast staple.

Where was bacon invented?

Although no culture could claim to be the first to invent bacon, the ancient Chinese were among the first to rub salt on pork to cure them. The Romans also had a version of cured pork which they called petaso. Petaso was made from pork shoulder, boiled with figs until browned, and ready to consume. The Romans added pepper sauce to the cooked petaso for flavor. 

The importance of bacon

  • Preserved pork longer

    Salted and cured pork lasted longer when there wasn’t refrigeration. So it made for a cache of food during the winter months of ancient times.

  • Made food transport possible

    With cured pork lasting longer, it also made meat easier to transport. As long as the meat was cured or immersed in brine, it didn’t spoil during long journeys.

  • Protected people from ingesting spoiled pork

    The curing process made the pork surface inhospitable to microbes which caused diseases and other gastrointestinal discomforts.

  • Improved the availability of food and serves as a culinary inspiration

    Cured meat, or bacon, also made food available during the lean months of ancient times. However, in modern times, bacon has helped culinary experts create their types of food centered on the product.

Bacon by the numbers

  • 18 This is the estimated consumption per annum per person of bacon in the US – 18 pounds. That’s quite a lot!
  • 120 This is the average number of calories for every three slices of bacon served which is lower than a can of soda.
  • 70 This is the estimated daily percentage of bacon consumed during breakfast. The rest, of course, are eaten during lunch, snacks, and dinner.
  • 1493Christopher Columbus brought the first pigs (eight in total) to the New World upon the insistence of Queen Isabella. Together with Hernando de Soto (who brought 13 pigs to Tampa Bay in 1539), they jumpstarted the pig species in the North American continent.

Five facts about bacon

  • There are preferred pig breeds for bacon production 

    Bacon manufacturers prefer Yorkshire, Duroc, and Berkshire for their lean meat and flavorful taste. Hampshire, Poland China, and Spotted are also breeds selected for bacon.

  • Bacon is a popular food staple

    According to studies, Americans spend an annual estimate of $5 billion on bacon and its attached products.

  • Bacon is a favorite pork cut

    An estimate says an average person eats about 18 pounds of bacon annually.

  • The term bacon has Middle English and Germanic roots

    In the 1500s, bacon or bacoun was used to refer to pork. The term has roots in the Germanic bacho, which means buttock. In the 1700s, the English called cured pork bacon.

  • Bringing home the bacon was a challenge

    The term bringing home the bacon originated in 12th century England where a church gave away a side of bacon to any man who could swear that they haven’t fought their wife for a year and a day.

FAQs about bacon

  • Is bacon healthy?

     Although high in saturated fat, bacon contains essential minerals and vitamins such as protein, vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and B12, phosphorus, selenium, potassium, iron, zinc, and magnesium.

  • Are there differences in bacon from other countries?

     Although bacon is from a pig, there are slight differences in the cut of meat used. Some bacon comes from pork shoulders; others from the back meat; others from pork belly. 

  • How much bacon is produced in the US annually?

    According to statistics, manufacturers churn out about 2 billion pounds of bacon annually.

  • How many cuts of bacon are there in one pound?

     If you have thinly sliced bacon, expect about 30 pieces per pound. Regular sliced bacon yields about 16 slices, while thickly cut bacon is about ten slices per pound.

  • Who made bacon popular?

     Several people contributed to bacon’s popularity, but Oscar Mayer made bacon highly available with their pre-sliced bacon packaging in 1924. 

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