Taste Test: J&D's Bacon Salt
Due to popular demand and the fact that we love trying weird foods and candies, The A.V. Club will now regularly feature "Taste Tests." Feel free to suggest disgusting and/or delicious new edibles for future installments: E-mail us at email@example.com.
J&D;'s Bacon Salt Sampler Pack
Somewhere along the line, it became a running Internet meme that bacon improves any and every food flavor. While A.V. Club taste tests have generally suggested that this isn't actually the case—we were kind of indifferent to bacon chocolate, we loathed bacon mints, we were pretty mixed on Bacon Maple Lollipops, and we thought Bacon, Egg And Cheese Combos tasted like cat vomit smells. Granted, some of that is the fault of inferior fake bacon, or attempts to mix bacon with inferior ingredients that probably wouldn't have been tolerable without bacon, either, but when you start out with a broad, sweeping statement like "Bacon makes everything better," you have a lot to prove.
Which means that "bacontrepreneurs" (yes, they call themselves that) Justin and Dave of J&D;'s have a heavy burden of proof when it comes to the company tagline, "Everything should taste like bacon." Should everything really taste like bacon? Wouldn't that get boring? And more importantly, should everything really taste like J&D;'s artificial approximation of bacon? Because, see, J&D;'s Bacon Salt isn't made with real pig product—it's kosher and vegetarian, created with spices and artificial flavoring. Which is good for observant Jews and meat-craving but staunch ethical vegetarians, but is bad for people who like bacon largely because it tastes like delicious, delicious actual bacon, and not because it tastes like bacony chemicals.
Still, bacon salt is far more portable and convenient than real bacon, and far less messy, greasy, fattening, and packed with cholesterol. We figured that might even up the score quite a bit. Bacon salt also seemed like a good, low-fat way to lay the initial groundwork for our eventual "Should Everything Taste Like Bacon?" junior-high science-fair project. So Josh Modell and I hied ourselves hence to the local grocery store and came back with a pile of non-bacon-flavored foods to test with bacon salt. We started with mild, bland-ish foods that seemed to lend themselves well to a bacony upgrade: mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, muenster cheese, hummus. We added a few things that go well with ordinary salt, and might be interesting with bacon salt: popcorn, French fries, and—for the Southerners in the audience—watermelon. Finally, we bought some things that we figured would really strain the "everything should taste like bacon" rubric: vanilla ice cream, fresh pineapple chunks, strawberries, melon slices, and—because Josh is a big ol' joker—a slice of ham.
So should everything taste like bacon? The tasting chaos that followed suggested otherwise, but we understand if J&D;'s doesn't feel like "Some fairly specific things should taste like bacon" isn't a sufficiently enthusiastic slogan.
Taste: The J&D;'s Bacon Salt variety pack comes in three varieties: Original, Hickory, and Peppered. (They also currently market a "natural" flavor, which is low-sodium and gluten-free.) All three are extremely coarse and variegated in texture, like Mrs. Dash, a good barbecue rub, or other mixed-spice treatments, not fine and regular like table salt. This results in some inconsistency of flavor from use to use. The Peppered in particular is never the same twice: Sometimes it tastes like the Original, while sometimes it's like a mouthful of crushed peppercorns with a vague bacon aroma. The Hickory tastes much like the bacon products we've tried in the past: like sour liquid smoke, overwhelmingly artificial and more like very old cured game meat than like bacon; tasters either loved it or hated it. Original tastes much like bacon bits: that sort of surprisingly regular, meaty but not exactly bacony flavor. None of the three have a significant salt flavor, even though the first ingredient is sea salt. (Which helps explain the rough-grained texture.) The overall effect is more bacon-bits dust than bacon or salt.
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— "Is someone geared up to say 'I can't believe it's not bacon?'" "I believe that someone is you."
— "The salt is sticking in my throat."
— "How do you spell 'Ullllk?' Because that's what this tastes like."
— "Mashed potatoes and bacon salt pair well together. Much better than bacon salt with macaroni and cheese, which is already nature's perfect food."
— "Mashed potatoes and bacon salt for the win. I wish the bacon salt was more like bacon and less like Bac-Os, though. This doesn't make me want to buy bacon salt and put it on potatoes, it makes me want to go home and make mashed potatoes with real bacon. Mmmm."
— "The original on the popcorn is definitely tasty. Bacon-corn!"
— "Bacon salt and popcorn isn't bad, but because the bacon-salt particles are so big, I can imagine working my way through a bowl of popcorn and finding a pool of bacon salt at the bottom. This leads to a dilemma. Do I toss it, eat it, or save it for another popcorn session? Maybe I feed it to my cats."
— "Salt is good on everything. Bacon salt on everything is not good."
— "Original is clearly just obliterated bacon bits, right? It doesn't taste like real bacon, but it's kind of bacony."
— "Ritz crackers plus hummus plus bacon salt equals bacon-flavored cardboard. Without the bacon salt, that's just nasty."
— "Most of these pairings don't work for me. I think pairing bacon salt with anything really sweet like fruit or ice cream is just asking for trouble. And the hummus is overpowered by the bacon-ness."
— "It's good on the pineapple. It just tastes smoky. It's like when you get some kind of wacky breakfast and mix everything together."
— "As expected, the muenster combo works fine. The cheese absorbs a lot of the bacon, though. It brings out the fakeiness of the flavor."
— "I hate Hickory on everything." "Really? I love Hickory on everything."
— "Hickory just strikes me as wrong on everything. I like Peppered best, though it doesn't seem that far off from Original."
— "Original flavor is the best of the three. Hickory is too smoky, and Peppered is just unnecessary. It's like bringing mustard to a ketchup party."
— "The flavors only taste mildly different to me. I'd have to really spend some time trying them by themselves to suss out their differences, and really, that much sodium isn't gonna do me any favors."
— "I think mac and cheese plus the regular bacon salt is the winner. This is absolutely something that should taste more like bacon."
— "The cantaloupe with bacon salt is not a winner. It's totally disgusting."
— "It's actually pretty tasty on the ice cream. It's like a smoky ice cream with salted peanuts on top."
— "No. Absolutely not. Bacon salt and ice cream do not go together at all." "Why are you so prejudiced against flavor?" "I'm prejudiced against shitty flavor."
— "I think my experimentation with Original and cantaloupe was the worst. Those flavors definitely don't belong together. The semi-mushy cantaloupe texture didn't help, either."
— "Doesn't really work on the strawberries, either. The fakeness of the bacon really comes out when compared with the sweetness of the strawberry. And the salt feels extra-chunky when compared to how smooth fruit is."
— "It's really grainy, gritty salt. It's not something where you'll only notice the taste; you're going to notice the texture going down, too. It's about as thick as beach sand."
— "The ham completely cancels out the bacon and leaves no flavor, just grit."
— "The hickory tastes like that nasty liquid smoke. It's disgustingly artificial, as opposed to the other flavors, which are about normal levels of artificial."
— "Even after a glass of water, my mouth and throat still feel coated in a disturbing artificial bacon-y flavor."
— [An hour later, via e-mail.] "I've got a piece of spearmint-flavored Trident White gum in my mouth, but it seems powerless against the faux bacon that has coated my tastebuds. This is one battle that may be unwinnable for a lone piece of spearmint gum."
— [Also later, via e-mail.] "My hands smell funny after that tasting. It's like standing in my chimney flue."
Bonus level: Hearkening back to our first Taste Test, the Vosges Bacon Chocolate Bar (linked in the first paragraph up top), we bought a random bar of dark chocolate and tried it with bacon salt. While at least one Tester found it repulsive, it turned out to be a surprise hit with almost everyone else:
— "That is not bad! That is not bad!"
— "Yeah, I think we got a winner right here."
— "It comes out like a spicy chocolate that you'd only have a little of, like a hot chili-pepper bar, but it's really shockingly good."
— "This is a left-field winner for me. I couldn't have much of this, but it works in small doses."
— "I think the chocolate really overpowered it. It doesn't taste like bacon so much as spice and pepper."
— "With a cheaper chocolate, like Hershey's, it'd probably be terrible, but a good dark chocolate makes this a really tasty combination."
— "I like it on the chocolate and ice cream best, probably because I like chocolate and ice cream."
— "This is an unexpected treat."
Double bonus level: Inevitably, former financial analyst Dave Chang (who's been promoted to business development—mark your scorecards, all you Dave fans) was challenged to try all three flavors simultaneously. He tasted them on some Goober (a fairly unpalatable peanut-butter-and-jelly-in-a-jar combo) that's been sitting around the office kitchen unopened for a year now. We'll let his reaction speak for itself:
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Where to get 'em: Baconsalt.com does online orders and has a store locator for local-area purchases.