Pork, the meat product of the domestic pig (Sus scrofa domesticus), is highly prized across the world for its unique flavor and exceptionally wide variety of culinary applications. But how much do you really know about your bacon and hocks?
In this article, we’ll be exploring the most fascinating facts about pork meat — from its origins in wild hogs to its many applications in food cultures across the world. By the time you’re finished reading, you’ll know more than ever before about pigs and pork, so let’s get started!
1. Pork Is the World’s Most Popular Meat
In statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, pork reigns supreme. Accounting for 36% of meat intake worldwide, it’s the undisputed champion of proteins in cuisines from Europe to Asia and everywhere in between.
Poultry is a close runner up, though, accounting for around 35% of meat intake; beef comes in third, at about 22% of total meat consumption.
In their last estimate of population numbers for meat-producing animals, the FAO cites 966 million pigs (of all breeds from Duroc to Berkshire) in the world at any given time. There’s a recipe for every part of the pig from the bacon to the neck bone.
2. Mexico Holds the Record for Largest Serving of Roast Pork
Cochinita Pibil is a Mexican delicacy from the province of Yucatan — a bright orange preparation of roast pork seasoned with an acidic marinade, annatto seed, and spices.
And while it usually tops street tacos and enchiladas or empanadas a few ounces at a time, the Fundación Produce Yucatán, A.C. had their sights set higher: A record-breaking serving of roast pork. Weighing in at over 14,000 pounds, it was prepared in 47 ovens and served on a dish over 150 feet long.
3. The Most Expensive Pork Carcass Ever Was Sold in Japan
Wagyu beef might be the first meat that comes to mind when you think of Japan, but it’s far from being the only protein that commands a staggering price.
Case in point: The most expensive pork ever sold was a full carcass produced by Hitachi Farm Co., Ltd. which was sold at the Tokyo Meat Market. The price? An astonishing $12,756!
4. Charcuterie Is the Art of Preserving Pork (and Other Meats)
Coming from the French term for “charred flesh”, charcuterie is a fine culinary art that seeks to preserve seasonal meat harvests in the most durable and delicious way possible –by using careful production methods that maximize beneficial enzymatic activity while preventing spoilage.
Pork is the star of the show in most charcuterie, featuring in sausages, pates, rillettes hams, and more — but more rarely you’ll find beef, poultry, or fish used as well.
5. Jamon is Spain’s Signature Preserved Pork Product
Considered one of the finest examples of the art of charcuterie, Spain’s jamon serrano and jamon iberico have an almost legendary status among chefs and gourmets.
A dry-cured ham made from the meat of indigenous Spanish pigs, it is prized for its complex flavor and smooth, buttery texture.
They’re air dried for a minimum of 252 days, and considered a protected product category by the Spanish government.
6. Salt-Cured Pork Belly Is An American Obsession
Better known by its common name, bacon, the salt- and nitrate-cured belly of a pig has developed a cult following in the United States.
With phrases like “everything’s better with bacon” coming into vogue in the early 2000s, it seems that Americans’ love for the crispy stuff is here to stay. Loaded with fat, salt, and umami, it may not be a healthy option — but it sure is delicious.
7. Apples Are A Classic Pairing With Pork
Prior to the advent of globalization and mass refrigeration, pork was primarily a seasonal product. After being slaughtered each fall, urban and rural gourmets could enjoy fresh cuts of pork for a limited time unless the hog was preserved as charcuterie.
This, in turn, led to one of European cuisine’s most delectable combinations: Fresh, juicy, fatty pork paired with crisp, aromatic apples, harvested at the same time that the pig was slaughtered. Apple flavoring is even popular with pork skins.
8. The National Dish of Brazil Is Made With Pork
Cooking and eating meals together is a huge part of Brazilian culture — and this is especially noticeable in the preparation and serving of feijoada, the official national dish of Brazil.
It’s a soup filled with black beans and assorted pork sausages, cooked down over a low heat throughout most of a day before being served with rice, sautéed greens, and/or slices of orange.
9. Chinese Cuisine Has A Unique Way of Cooking Pork
The region of Canton, China is home to a particularly interesting way of preparing and eating barbecued pork: Char siu.
Cuts of pork are taken from the loin, belly, butt, and neck before being cut into long strips, seasoned with a rich blend of Chinese five spice, sugar, and hot chilis, and roasted to a red-skinned crisp. Delicious eaten on its own, char siu also plays a starring role in the famous char siu egg rice or Chinese sausage.
10. Some Religions Forbid Eating Pork
Though pork is held in high esteem in many of the world’s food cultures, two stand out as exceptions.
Jewish Kosher guidelines and Muslim Halal rules both explicitly forbid the slaughter and consumption of pigs and their meat. Not all Jews or Muslims observe these guidelines (just like some Christians do observe the guidelines), but there is still a substantial market for products that are certified Kosher or Halal.
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