The tradition bacon that we are used to which is heavily streaked with fat comes from the underside of the pig – along the belly. Canadian bacon comes from the eye of the lion which runs along the back. Have a look at our article on where on the animal the bacon comes from to see a visual representation.
What does this have to do with Canada?
In the UK, they refer to a very similar cut as ‘back bacon’ which makes sense becomes it comes from the back of the animal. So where does the Canadian part come in?
Well, that’s where it gets a little odd because if you were to go to Canada and ask for bacon at a restaurant, you’d get the regular streaky kind of bacon that you’d get in the US!
It actually comes from something called ‘peameal’ bacon which originated in Canada in the early 20th century. Even though it’s actually not that common these days, the name stuck and people in the US now just refer to this kind of bacon as ‘Canadian’ even though you’d get some strange looks if you actually went to Canada and asked for it!
What is peameal bacon?
This cut is a wet-cut loin of pork cut from the back of the pig and trimmed of almost all visible fat and then rolled in ground cornmeal which creates a yellow crust.
Cornmeal? Well, not always. When it was first originated, yellow peas were crushed and used and that is where the name ‘peameal’ came from and the name stayed with it even though it is far more common these days to use cornmeal. The crust was originally added as a way of preserving the meat further.
The way in which this kind of bacon is brined makes it very juicy and easy to cook as it is not prone to burning. It is typically cut in quite thick slices and it is very lean due to the removal of the fat.
The inventor of this kind of bacon was a man named William Davies, though it is not easy to get a true account of the story. He made his fortune with bacon and other pork based products.
Although born in England, Davis emigrated to Canada in 1854 and setup a stall in the famous St. Lawrence Market in Toronto where he sold cured hams and bacon.
His stall did very well and he realised that there was great commercial opportunity to export pork products from Canada back to England. By the early 1900’s he’d created the largest pork packing company in the British Empire and Toronto has gained the nickname of ‘hogtown’ due to the huge number of hogs that his company processed each year.
So even though the cut has changed a bit over the years, it’s called Canadian bacon in the US because of it’s origins in Toronto.
Is Canadian bacon the same as ham?
Close, but not quite! As described above, Canadian bacon comes from the pork lion, where as ham comes from the leg, thigh or the rump of the pig.
In terms of taste and texture however, it is very similar because both are salt-cured. If you’re looking at recipes that call for Canadian bacon, in most cases it would be perfectly fine to substitute with a thick slice of ham.