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I am aware of many of things that bacon has going for it. It is high in fat, high in salt, and smoked.

But taking a potato, frying it, covering it in salt, and sprinkling on liquid smoke, does not taste like bacon. (Yes I've tried. I try liquid smoke on everything.)

So what is it that yields that characteristic bacony flavor? Obviously it can be isolated since there are a plethora of products that are marketed with a bacon flavor.
http://www.thinkgeek.com/brain/whereisit.cgi?t=bacon&x=0&y=0

How can I impart some quantity of beautiful bacony flavor to other dishes while avoiding all the saturated fat and nitrates? I am asking specifically about isolating the flavor- not more healthy bacon substitutes.

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Well, searching Amazon gives various bacon salts, flavors, syrups, etc... –  derobert May 29 '12 at 21:16
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Brine and smoke some pork, and slice it thinly and cook until sizzling. That should do it! –  TFD May 29 '12 at 21:24
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2 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The big missing thing in your description (fat, salt, smoke) is umami. You can see this in bacon-flavored products. For example, bacon salt (click on a "nutritional info" link) contains monosodium glutamate.

So if you want to make something bacon-flavored, short of using bacon (and possibly draining away a lot of fat), you're generally going to be looking for source of umami; see "What foods are high in umami?" or "What is a good vegetarian source of umami flavour?".

Also, bacon is definitely not acidic, and perhaps slightly sweet. This means, for example, tomatoes are probably not a good way to get the umami, and that whatever you do, you might try adding a tiny touch of sugar to bring out the flavor a little more. Things like shitake mushrooms and nori seem like better flavor matches. (If you've had furikake this shouldn't be too surprising.)

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Interesting. I'll have to redo my french fry experiment with lard, msg, and liquid smoke and see if I get bacon fries. –  Sobachatina May 29 '12 at 22:13
    
Well, lard msg and liquid smoke do not equal bacon. Umami translates to "savoury" It's found in lots of things, like meat, fish, ripe tomatoes, fermented stuff (cheeses, mushrooms, etc...) and according to wikipedia, breast milk. You won't duplicate bacon with purely umami heavy stuff. Bacon is much more complex than that. –  talon8 May 30 '12 at 3:51
    
@talon8: Umami is commonly left untranslated, because savory has other meanings. And yeah, you don't duplicate it with just the addition of msg, but it's by far the largest component of the flavor that's missing - it's quite possibly the largest component of the original flavor too. –  Jefromi May 30 '12 at 4:01
    
I moved my comment to an answer, as I found something interesting... that tells me I was wrong. –  talon8 May 30 '12 at 4:06
    
However, I still don't think msg and smoke would be the sufficient. I eat lots of things with msg in it that don't make me think of bacon. –  talon8 May 30 '12 at 4:07
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I don't think lard, msg and liquid smoke would purely get you bacon. Umami translates (very poorly translated) to "savoury". It's found in lots of things, like meat, fish, ripe tomatoes, fermented stuff (cheeses, mushrooms, etc...) and according to wikipedia, breast milk. Assuming umami (and maybe smoke) are the major flavours in bacon, I'm not sure how much umami you'd need to extract to say "mmmm Bacon".

However, in digging around I found this science video that claims to be able to use roasted shitakes (very high in umami) taste like bacon. Further digging produced this recipe, which is essentially the same with addes soy and liquid smoke (to up the umami even further and add the "smokiness" of bacon).

So, while I'm sketpical... there are at least three people on the internet that think that if you can concentrate enough umami flavour into something, you can make it taste something like bacon. Or maybe it's just shitake mushrooms...

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This becomes a lot less surprising when you think about how large the difference in flavor is, say, between two different cuts of pork, or between pork and beef. Compare that to the magnitude of the blast of umami in bacon. So no, I don't expect that lard+msg+smoke gets you there, but I also think that if you're putting it all into another dish, you should expect to be able to get a lot of the way there without much magic. –  Jefromi May 30 '12 at 6:17
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