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19 Interesting Facts About Pork

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Pork is the culinary name for meat from domestic pigs (Sus scrofa domesticus). It’s a versatile meat that’s consumed across the world. Here are 19 interesting facts about pork.

1. Pork is the Most Widely Eaten Meat in the World

Pork is the most widely eaten meat in the world by volume. People consumed over 100 million tonnes of pork in 2021. China consumes the most pork, followed by the European Union and the United States.

2. A Pig’s Diet Affects Pork’s Taste

A pig’s diet can significantly impact how the pork tastes. Pigs fed on acorns and nuts produce pork with more fat and flavor. This pork is used for premium dry-cured hams like Jamón Ibérico from Spain.

3. Almost Every Part of a Pig is Edible

Raw pork
Raw pork

Pigs are sometimes referred to as “walking larders” because nearly all parts of a pig are edible. Pork, ham, and bacon come from muscle tissue. Organ meats like liver, kidneys, and heart are also consumed. Even a pig’s skin can be fried into pork rinds.

4. Pigs are Omnivores Like Humans

Pigs are omnivores with a diet similar to humans. They eat a combination of grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, eggs, meat, and even small animals like mice and snakes. This varied diet contributes to pork’s versatile flavor.

5. Some Pigs are Raised on Milk and Grains

Most commercial pork comes from pigs fed on corn, soybean, wheat, barley, and other grains. But some specialty pork comes from pigs fed on milk and whey left over from cheese production. This milk-fed pork is prized for its sweet flavor and tender texture.

6. Pork Can Be Classified Into Different Types

Pork can be classified into fresh and processed types. Fresh pork includes chops, roasts, ribs, etc. Processed pork has been cured, smoked, or otherwise preserved, like ham, bacon, and sausages. Based on fat content, pork can be classified into lean (<10% fat), medium (10-15%), or fatty (>15%).

7. Pork Chops Come From Different Parts of the Loin

The loin section runs from the pig’s shoulder to hip. Pork chops are slices from the loin but come from different areas:

  • Blade chops – from shoulder end, contain more fat
  • Loin chops – from mid-loin, most tender
  • Sirloin chops – from hip end, lean but less tender

So loin chops are the most premium pork chops.

8. Ham is Pork From a Pig’s Hind Leg

Baked pork leg eisbein. Black wooden background. Top view
Baked pork leg eisbein. Black wooden background. Top view

Ham is pork from a pig’s hind leg above the hock. Hams are salt-cured and sometimes smoked for preservation. Hams can be dry-cured or wet-cured. Dry-curing involves rubbing salt on the exterior to draw out moisture. This creates an intense, concentrated flavor. Wet-curing involves soaking the ham in a saltwater brine.

9. Bacon Comes From a Pig’s Belly and Back

Traditional bacon is made from pork belly meat from the side of a pig’s torso. It can also come from pork loin on the back. Bacon is cured in a salt solution then later smoked to add flavor. The smoking process gives bacon its signature reddish-pink color.

10. Baby Piglets are Called Shoats

A baby pig is called a piglet. But baby piglets less than 6 weeks old are specifically called shoats. At about 2 months old, male piglets become known as hoggets. Female piglets are called gilts. Castrated males are called barrows.

11. Pigs Have an Excellent Sense of Smell

A pig’s sense of smell is very acute, even better than a dog’s. They have over 1,700 taste buds compared to a human’s 9,000. But their heightened sense of smell makes up for fewer taste buds. Their excellent sense of smell helps them find food buried up to 6 inches underground.

12. Certain Breeds are Known for Higher Quality Pork

While commercial pork often comes from mixed-breed heritage hogs, certain pure breeds are known for providing higher quality pork. These premium breeds include Berkshire, Duroc, Hampshire, Tamworth, and Mangalitsa. They produce pork with more intramuscular fat, enhancing flavor and tenderness.

13. Pigs Cannot Sweat and are Sensitive to Heat

Pigs do not have functional sweat glands. They are not adapted for dealing with heat. When temperatures reach over 70°F, they need access to water or mud wallows to regulate body temperature and avoid heat stress. This makes them susceptible to heat stroke.

14. A Pig’s Skin is Used to Make Footballs

Pig skin is very durable and abrasion-resistant. Historically, inflated pig bladders were used as footballs. Today, American footballs are still constructed using pig skin for the exterior layer. The tough skin can withstand the wear and tear of being thrown and kicked.

15. Pigs are Very Intelligent and Social Animals

Many people think pigs are dumb, dirty animals. But pigs are actually considered the 5th most intelligent animal. The animal cognition scientist Donald Broom states pigs are “more intelligent than dogs”. Pigs also form complex social networks and strong bonds with each other.

16. Pork is an Excellent Source of Thiamine and Protein

Pork is packed with nutrients. A 100g serving of cooked pork provides 26% of the RDI for thiamine and 32% of the RDI for protein. Thiamine is an essential nutrient that plays a vital role in energy metabolism. Pork protein is as easily digested and absorbed as other meat proteins.

17. Trichinosis Has Been Eliminated from Commercial Pork

Trichinosis is a foodborne illness caused by a roundworm parasite in undercooked pork. Due to improved production practices, trichinosis has been completely eliminated from commercial pork in developed countries. The CDC estimates only 12 cases per year in the U.S.

18. “The Other White Meat” was a Clever 80’s Marketing Campaign

Raw meat. Beef and pork steaks on a wooden tray.
Raw meat. Beef and pork steaks on a wooden tray.

In 1987, The National Pork Board launched their “Pork. The Other White Meat” campaign to position pork as a healthy alternative to chicken and fish. At the time, medical data showed links between red meat and heart disease. The campaign was a huge success, significantly increasing pork demand.

19. Pork Consumption Varies Greatly Between Religions

Religious dietary laws greatly impact pork consumption across the world. Islam and Judaism prohibit pork consumption outright. Hindus disfavor, but don’t forbid pork. Buddhism has no restrictions on pork. So pork consumption is highest historically Christian regions like Europe, North America, South America.

Frequently Asked Questions About Pork

Is today’s pork safe to eat?

Yes. Today’s commercial pork is very safe to eat thanks to improved farming practices and government oversight. Trichinosis and other parasites have been eliminated from commercial pork in developed countries. Pork is thoroughly inspected and monitored for safety.

Is pork unhealthy compared to other meats?

No. Lean pork is just as healthy as other lean meats. While pork used to have a bad reputation for being high in saturated fat and cholesterol, today’s pork averages 75% leaner due to selective breeding and improved feeds. Pork provides high-quality protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Does pork need to be cooked well-done?

No. The safe minimum internal temperature for pork is 145°F with a 3-minute rest time. This produces a light pink color rather than well-done. Cooking pork beyond well done causes it to become dry and tough. Use a meat thermometer to ensure pork reaches a safe internal temperature.

What are some good pork recipes for beginners?

Some easy pork recipes for beginners include pan-fried pork chops, pulled pork sandwiches, bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin, and basic pork stir fry with vegetables. Marinating pork before cooking helps keep it juicy and tender. Slow-cooking methods like braising work well for tougher cuts.

What’s the difference between ham and Canadian bacon?

Ham is from a pig’s hind leg and is cured and sometimes smoked. Canadian bacon is made from pork loin that has been cured and smoked. So while they are both cured and smoked types of pork, ham is from a pig’s leg and Canadian bacon is from a pig’s back.

Why does cured pork last longer than fresh pork?

Curing pork preserves it by reducing moisture content and adding salt, nitrates, nitrites, and sometimes smoke. This makes it impossible for bacteria to grow. So cured pork products like ham, bacon, and sausages can be stored unrefrigerated for long periods without spoiling.

Can pigs eat a vegetarian diet?

No. Pigs are omnivores, not vegetarians. While they enjoy fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts, pigs also need to eat some meat and/or eggs to get certain nutrients not found in plants. Removing all animal products from a pig’s diet will lead to nutrient deficiencies over time.

Is pork healthier grilled or pan-fried?

Grilled pork is healthier than pan-fried. Frying pork can create carcinogenic compounds from fat dripping on hot pans. Grilling allows fat to drip away from the meat rather than reabsorbing. Choose lean cuts, trim visible fat, and avoid charring to make grilled pork even healthier.

What’s the most tender cut of pork?

The most tender cuts of pork come from the loin. This includes pork chops and roasts from the loin and tenderloin areas. These areas don’t get much exercise, so the muscle tissue is very tender. Chops from the sirloin end have the most tender and flavorful meat.

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