Panera Bread announced Wednesday that it will serve clean bacon on its sandwiches and salads that is free of artificial preservatives, flavors, sweeteners, and colors from artificial sources prohibited by the company’s “No No List.” The new product will also be sourced from pigs that meet Panera’s animal welfare standards for reduced confinement and antibiotics.
Panera’s clean bacon is made with six ingredients: pork, water, sea salt, sugar, celery powder, and thyme extract. The clean bacon is cured without artificial additives. Celery powder is used as a natural curing agent, in place of additives common to conventionally cured meats, like sodium nitrite, sodium phosphate, and sodium erythorbate. The new product won’t include any artificial flavors. That means no conventional liquid smoke or artificial flavor enhancements will be used.
Since 2015, Panera’s bacon has been sourced from pigs raised on a vegetarian diet, without antibiotics or gestation crates for pregnant sows. This plan began with Panera’s “No No List” commitment, but became a yearlong passion project for the culinary team when head chef Dan Kish took the opportunity to rethink Panera’s bacon experience. “There are few foods as beloved as bacon,” Kish says. “As we approached the challenge of remaking bacon without artificial curing agents and preservatives, we took another step back to think about bacon as it should be: the perfect slice. My food philosophy is that if you’re going to truly enjoy an indulgence, like salty, smoky bacon, it should be the best you can get.”
Here are some culinary enhancements:
More belly: When making perfectly sized bacon strips, there are often broken pieces and trimmings. It turns out these bits work perfectly as chopped bacon for Panera’s salads, which allows the company to use premium cuts for its crumbles and helps minimize waste.
Herb-brined: Inspired by a Thanksgiving turkey, the clean bacon is brined with aromatics, like thyme, and seasonings, like sea salt and sugar.
Extra applewood smoke: Panera has long used real smoke on its bacon, but chose to develop a deeper, more complex bacon flavor for its clean bacon by applying extra applewood smoke.
The perfect bite: 25 percent thicker than before, for maximum crunch with minimal sliding on a sandwich.
Crispier slices: Instead of being stored in the refrigerator, Panera’s clean bacon is now taken out of the oven and served at room temperature so that each guest enjoys crispier slices.
“Clean bacon is an example of how you can amplify when you simplify,” says Panera founder and CEO Ron Shaich. “By removing artificial additives, we made a switch to better ingredients, better texture and, ultimately, better flavor. We’re not just offering clean bacon; it’s bacon that has been elevated in every way.”
In 2015, Panera served 2 million pounds—or more than 115 million slices—of bacon on its sandwiches and salads including its most beloved sandwich, the Roasted Turkey Avocado BLT. Today, all meats served at Panera are clean by its “No No List” standards and the company is 95 percent of the way to a clean food menu, with just a handful of bakery items left in the works.