Featured food: natural pork


It’s hard to find pork that isn’t injected with salt water.

A funny line in a TV show caught my attention recently: a family was eating dinner, and one of the characters remarked that pork just wasn’t the same anymore since they took all the fat out of it.  Amen.

I think about that when I’m perusing the meat counter at the grocery store.  Lots of pork, but it’s all labeled “Moist and Tender”.  Now doesn’t that sound great?  Who wouldn’t want pork that’s moist and tender?  That’s what pork used to be like when it had a higher fat content.  Now it’s leaner, and the only way to prevent it from drying into shoe leather when cooked is to inject it with salt water.  Pork labeled “Moist and Tender” is enhanced (their word, not mine) with up to 12% salt water.  Once cooked, the salty water tends to stick around in the meat.  Thanks to all that liquid, the pork may not technically dry out, but to my mind, it has a sort of squishy spongy texture, not exactly the melty texture and flavor you’d get from a higher fat pork.  Just another of the unintended consequences of our national fat phobia.

So I look for “natural” pork, which is almost impossible to find.  Not because natural has any official meaning, but because in this case, it means no added salt water.  However, it doesn’t necessarily mean higher fat, so cook natural pork with caution to avoid overcooking.

Pork nutrition

Pork is a significant source of protein, zinc, iron, niacin, B6 and B1.  4 ounces of cooked lean pork has about 200 calories.  Here’s something you may not realize: pork fat (lard) is high in monounsaturated fat.

And of course it tastes good.  Pork — grilled, pulled, roasted, sautéed, smoked or slow cooked on a spit — is versatile.  It’s delicious plain, with salt and pepper, or served with BBQ sauce, mustard, Asian style sauces or Caribbean and Latin American flavorings.

I definitely recommend certified organic or natural, if you can find it.  Organic pork will not have anything added, plus the animals will be raised according to organic standards.  Don’t assume “natural” means anything in particular.  That word is just your starting point.  Next step is examining the label to see if anything has been added.

Why don’t I like “Moist and Tender” products?

To me, it’s sneaky.  First of all, more than 10% of the weight of that product is salt water, that you’re paying for.  Second, who needs more salt in their food?  Third, it doesn’t make the pork tender and flavorful the way fat content does; it just makes it weirdly chewy.  For the record, I don’t like any other meats that are injected with salt water either. such as turkeys.  So, when I buy pork (which isn’t often), I buy quality.  I’m starting to think that’s the best approach to buying meat in general: eat less frequently and in smaller portions, so you can afford to eat quality.


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