Looking for a wow-your-friends holiday (or anytime) appetizer? I think I found it! Bacon-Wrapped Dates! I found the recipe on the Cheeseslave blog (April 6, 2009). It’s a super easy recipe to make and so far the people I’ve shared it with absolutely loved it. I made a half recipe twice. I like serving the dates warm or at room temperature for dessert or the finale to a breakfast of eggs and vegetables.
The recipe, once prepared, will keep for days in the fridge,. It reheats easily in the toaster oven (although some of the people I shared it with admitted to eating and enjoying the bacon-wrapped dates straight from the refrigerator). They also freeze well.This appetizer is easy to assemble. It’s also great for breakfast. It takes about 10 minutes to prep — plus 20 to 25 minutes to bake. You can have them on the table in half an hour.
Is nitrate free bacon better?
Ann Marie, the author of the Cheesesalve blog recommends nitrate-free bacon, ideally from a farm or producer you trust. She likes bacon from Rocky Canyon Farm in Los Angeles because they don’t feed their pigs soy, it’s not genetically modified, and they don’t use hormones or antibiotics. She says their bacon and sausage is nitrate free, but I think she means “cured with vegetable-based nitrates” based on what I’ve read about this issue. She also recommends Nieman Ranch bacon and bacon from US Wellness Meats. I’m sure these brands of bacon are tasty and I think she has, like most of us, been misled about the nitrate content of bacon from the natural foods store. Bacon sporting the no-nitrate label actually does contain nitrates, they’re just derived from vegetable and mineral sources: usually beet juice, celery, and sea salt.
She mentions research linking cured meats to cancer and that purposed that“Processed meat consumption results in 67% increase in pancreatic cancer risk.” I’ve also heard people cite a 59% increased risk of developing cancer from eating processed meat. However, these figures are flawed in two ways. However there are serious flaws in these frequently cited stats.
Flawed data leads to unreliable reports
These stats are based on correlation not causation; they’re not based on actual studies showing that rats developed more cancers on bacon rich diets. They’re just surveys of food consumption data in which researchers tried to figure out which foods were correlated with the highest risk of cancer (or some other disease).
“Correlation doesn’t mean causation, “ says Don Matesz, an adjunct nutrition professor at Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine and Southwest Institute of Healing Arts in Tempe, AZ, and co-author of The Garden of Eating: A Produce Dominated Diet & Cookbook. “It could be that the people who eat cured meat eat or do something else that’s the actual cause.”
“Many people, including virtually all of the medical and nutrition science professions, are confused about the difference between absolute and relative risk,” says Don Matesz. “Correlational studies almost always report relative risk.”
Relative vs. absolute risk & statistical manipulation
“Relative risk refers to the percent increase of incidence of the disease in question in the high consumption vs. low consumption group. So if in the low consumption group two out of every hundred get the disease and in the high consumption group, 3 out of every 100 people get the disease, the relative risk of the high group is 50% greater than in the low group because 3 is 50% greater than 2. But the absolute risk in the low group is only 2% while the absolute risk in the high group is only 3%. So the absolute difference in risk is only 1%. Meaning in the low group 98% of the people didn’t get the disease and in the high group, 97% of the people didn’t get the disease.
“So the researchers get to report it as a 50% greater risk in the high group which sounds impressive and they get grant money to study the question further. But from a consumer’s point of view there’s essentially no difference between the two groups. Relative risk is used to inflate the perceived risk so ask to make it look worthy of increased study. From a consumer’s point of view, very few people would be willing to completely remove a food from their diet to reduce the risk of getting a disease by an absolute risk of 1 percent,” says Mr. Matesz.
Logic man to the rescue
Don Matesz is a former professor of philosophy with expertise in logic. That paired with his extensive study of the science of western and eastern nutrition and medicine makes him my favorite go-to person for nutrition questions. He’s great at simplifying complex nutrition data and theories and explaining them in such as way that people without backgrounds in science or medicine can understand. If you want to learn more check out nutrition and health, visit his blog: Primal Wisdom where he explores food, fitness, pharmacy, freedom, and philosophy using an evolutionary paradigm. Primal Wisdom refers to the accumulated wisdom of our pre-agricultural ancestors as well as the innate wisdom built into the modern human organism through millions of years of evolution.
And now for those delicious dates you’ve been waiting for. If you live in Phoenix, AZ, look for Arizona or California grown dates. Check your local farmers' market or natural foods store. My favorite place to buy dates in the valley is Arnie's Health Foods at 52nd St & Thomas. Dates should not look dry or brittle. Slightly soft is best.
This is just one in a series of posts I'll be making In Defense of Bacon. You can subscribe to receive updates when I make new posts.
FYI: I am not getting kickbacks from the Pork Producers of America, nor the Bacon Board (if there is one) or any other organizations or association affiliated with the production, sale, or promotion of bacon. I am writing about this for my own enjoyment (and yours) and to shatter some of the myths make people afraid of eating perfectly nutritious foods and that encourage people to eat junky foods. So, go ahead, have some bacon....just eat it with a generous amount of vegetables and/or fruits.Bacon-Wrapped Dates
Prep: 10 minutes Cooking: 30 minutes Yield: varies with thickness of bacon
My notes: All I can say is YUM! Oh, if you find these too sweet (the dates), try eating bites of the bacon wrapped dates with toasted walnut or pecan halves. The bitterness of the nuts balances the extreme sweetness of the dates. Alternatively, you could try wrapping each date with a whole slice of bacon rather than just half a slice. Don't try to pour off some of the bacon fat during cooking or the dates won't cook in the requisite time and they won't become as soft or juicy. Wait to pour the fat off until after cooking.
1 package (8 oz) nitrate-free bacon
1 pound dates (organic if possible); I like Medjools or Black Sphinx dates best
- Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
- Cut the bacon slices in half. (I used kitchen shears.)
- Pit the dates with your fingers or with a paring knife.
- Wrap each date with a half a slice of bacon. Use toothpicks if necessary. (If you wrap bacon tightly the dates you won’t need toothpicks.)
- Set on a baking dish, ideally one with high sides, so the bacon grease doesn’t spill all over your oven when it melts. Try a 12x9x2 pan or 10x12x1-inch toaster oven tray. You want at least a 1-inch deep pan.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the bacon gets crispy. I found it took 25 to 30 minutes for the bacon to crisp in my oven and my toaster oven. I tried it both ways.
- Remove pan rom oven and transfer the bacon-wrapped dates to a serving platter.
- Make sure you save that perfectly good bacon grease. I pour it into a custard cup or small widemouth canning jar, then cover and refrigerate it. I use it to cook eggs, burgers, or to roast potatoes to make oven fries or hash browns.
- Refrigerate leftover bacon wrapped dates. Reheat briefly in a heatproof custard cup or on a baking tray in a 250 to 300˚F toaster oven.