Prosciutto vs. Bacon (Similarities and Differences Explained)

Prosciutto and bacon are two exceptionally popular types of cured meat. They can even look and taste somewhat similar.

However, they’re each unique in their flavor, texture, curing process, and how they’re eaten.

If you’re wondering what those differences are, read on as these meats go head-to-head in this prosciutto vs. bacon article. Here, I’ve covered everything you need to know about their similarities and differences.

prosciutto vs bacon

What Is Prosciutto?

The word “prosciutto” in Italian means “ham.” There are two types of prosciutto: “crudo” and “cotto” (Italian for “cooked” and “cured,” respectively).

Crudo was born during pre-Roman times when villagers in Italy started to age pork legs to stretch their meat reserve for the winter.

Over time, the traditional way of making prosciutto was refined, and today the skill is celebrated globally.

Prosciutto cotto is not as famous as crudo, but it’s just as delightful. Like crudo, it was produced by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago. They boiled it with dried figs and laurel.

During the Renaissance, it was considered a luxury and enjoyed by Italian aristocrats.

How Is Prosciutto Made?

It’s made from premium pork legs. The pork is coated in salt then left for several weeks.

Throughout this time, the moisture and blood are drawn out by the salt, preventing bacterial growth. That’s why it can be eaten raw. The salting process also enhances the pork’s flavors.

After this, the meat is washed, seasoned, then left to dry-age in a regulated atmosphere for 14 to 36 months.

Thus, the sweetness and subtlety of prosciutto are due to the combination of air, salt, and time.

How Does Prosciutto Taste?

Prosciutto is salty and delicately sweet. Some variations are marinated with herbs and spices like garlic, juniper, black pepper, and rosemary for a more fragrant and distinctive taste.

The longer the meat is left to age, the more flavorful it will be.

What Is the Best Way to Eat Prosciutto?

It’s suggested to serve it as wafer-thin slices and allow the fat to melt on your tongue. This maximizes the flavor.

The creamy texture will cover your palate as you taste the leaner parts of the meat, which are a salty and sweet flavor.

You can have it with mozzarella di bufala or melon for an appetizer or snack. It can be served as-is or paired with vegetables, fruit, cheese, bread, and wine.

prosciutto legs hanging in rows in smokehouse

What Is Bacon?

On the other hand, bacon is a type of salt-cured pork taken from the belly. The meat is cured, either dry or pickled, and smoked.

Various types of wood like maple or apple are used to smoke bacon, giving it the flavor of that particular tree.

The process involves cold smoking, which means the meat isn’t cooked.

After the smoking process, the bacon is a deep pink with a golden rind and is ready to be cut.

This type of bacon is called “American bacon” or “streaky bacon” outside the U.S.

Some varieties, especially Canadian bacon, are cut from the animal’s loin, which is leaner.

For centuries, bacon was the primary meat consumed by western European “peasantry.”

The types were distinguished by cut or curing process and became associated with individual regions or countries, like the Irish or numerous Italian methods.

In the late 19th century, due to its long shelf life, it became the only meat to achieve prominence as an international trade commodity.

How Is Bacon Made?

The pork is cured and soaked in a solution of nitrates, salt, and occasionally sugar. It is often smoked.

The fat in bacon provides the most flavor and allows it to be crispy but tender when cooked.

A generous fat to meat ratio for good bacon – typically one-half to two-thirds fat to meat is essential.

However, as bacon needs to be cooked before consumption, a lot of fat is rendered out.

What Does Bacon Taste Like?

Bacon offers three of the five basic tastes: savory, salty, and sweet. Also, we can’t forget the delicious taste of fat.

Salt is a nutrient we are naturally drawn to. It blends and enhances the savory flavors while simultaneously complementing the sweetness.

What Is the Best Way to Eat Bacon?

Bacon can be considered finger food when it’s dry, crisp, and served whole.

But if it’s cut into pieces, thick slices, or cooked but still limp, it should be consumed using cutlery.

It can be served on its own, incorporated into meals, or used as an ingredient in dishes like soups, salads, and even desserts like maple bacon ice cream.

cuts of bacon stacked on table

What Are the Similarities Between Prosciutto and Bacon?

Prosciutto and bacon are both cuts of pork from any breed of pig, and they both undergo a dry-curing process using salt as a natural preservative to achieve the end result.

They look and taste somewhat similar, so they occasionally get substituted for each other as recipe ingredients.

What Are the Differences Between Prosciutto and Bacon?

The two significant differences are the cut of meat and the preparation process used to create them. Here’s how these two delicious cuts of meat differ:

Prosciutto Preparation

To make prosciutto, the meat from the hind leg of a pig is used, it is cured in a lengthy process and it takes over a year to complete:

  1. It starts with the leg being heavily salted and refrigerated for approximately a week.
  2. The meat is salted again, hung, and refrigerated for a further two to three months, allowing the salt to absorb into the meat thoroughly.
  3. The meat is washed thoroughly to remove the salt. Then, it’s hung again for a few more days. The meat is softened with a salt, pepper, and lard mixture to prevent it from drying out too quickly as it’s hung again at room temperature to begin drying and hardening for three months.
  4. It’s moved to a space (like a cellar) with less air and light to cure completely.

It’s left to cure for at least nine months – some are left to cure for up to three years. By law, it must be cured for at least 400 days.

This multi-staged, salt-curing process makes prosciutto safe to eat raw as an antipasto delicacy.

Bacon Preparation

On the other hand, bacon is smoke-cured meat from the animal’s belly.

By definition, bacon is a type of cured meat. It can be dry-cured by seasoning the fresh pork with a combination of salt, sodium, nitrates, and sometimes sugar.

The meat is left for one to two weeks then rinsed off. Then for extra flavor and preservation, a smoker is used, the meat is placed in a conventional oven or left to air dry for weeks or months.

Alternatively, the meat can be “wet cured.” This is a sped-up version of dry curing.

The standard curing ingredients like sugar, salt, seasonings, sodium nitrate, and other chemicals are used for the brine to soak or inject the bacon with.

Then, as with dry curing, the meat is cold smoked.

Taste and Appearance

Prosciutto is a fatty cut of meat that offers a flavorful, delicately sweet and salt taste and buttery texture.

It typically has a salmon pink to rosy color and is sold in wafer-thin slices streaked with fat in each slice.

Bacon is smoked using different types of wood. For example, applewood or  gives it the particular tree’s flavor.

Once smoked, it has a deep pink color, a golden rind and can be cut thick or thinly.

Salt Content

Prosciutto does get a bad rep for its high-salt content. Two slices of prosciutto contain approximately 690 milligrams of sodium.

However, it’s still a healthier option compared to bacon. One hundred grams of bacon contains 1,717 milligrams of sodium, equivalent to 71% of your daily salt allowance.

How to Eat Prosciutto and Bacon

While prosciutto is never cooked, bacon is never consumed raw. Although their taste is similar, the typical dishes that use them as ingredients differ:

As well as a staple delicacy on an antipasto board, prosciutto can be added to a salad as-is or used to add oomph to another dish.

Its delicate flavor works in harmony when collaborating with intense flavors like strong cheeses or tart fruits.

According to the old saying: “Everything is better with bacon.” Although a full breakfast wouldn’t be incomplete without bacon, it’s also an ingredient used to complete other dishes.

Bacon is incredibly versatile whenever a hint of smoky taste is required. Bacon can be used to completely convert cornbread, for example. Or to add richness to a bland dish.

Summary Table: Prosciutto vs. Bacon

The following table is a comparison between prosciutto and bacon:

It is safe to eat raw.Needs to be cooked before eating
It is made from hind leg meat.Uses the meat from the belly
The entire curing process can take between 14 to 36 months.The meat is smoked following a one-week curing process.
Has a sweet and salty tasteHas a smoky flavor

In Summary

Prosciutto and bacon are both tasty types of dry-cured meat, often used in traditional Italian dishes.

However, though they both go through a curing process and are made from pork meat, their unique traits mean that they cannot be easily substituted for one another.

Their main differences are that prosciutto is made from the animal’s hindquarters, it’s cured for up to 24 months, and can be eaten raw.

In contrast, bacon is made from the pig’s belly, is cured for approximately a week before being smoked, and must be cooked.

Now you know the similarities and differences between prosciutto and bacon, from their source to our plates. As the Italians say, “goditi la tua carne!” Enjoy your meat!

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