The Big Bacon Roll Question: Ketchup or brown sauce... or mayonnaise?! – Stephen Jardine

Outside politics, it is the big issue that divides the nation. When it comes to a bacon roll, you are either a brown sauce or a tomato sauce person. Both have their merits.

Brown sauce has that slightly tart, peppery taste that goes well with salty bacon. However, the rich acidity of tomato sauce cuts through the fat of the bacon and that is why a nationwide poll last year put it out in front in the condiment stakes.

About a quarter of people questioned choose neither and prefer to be sauce free and with good bacon, that definitely makes sense. Then there is my friend Sheila.

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Out for breakfast recently, we ordered bacon rolls and, thinking she’d covered all options, the waitress brought ketchup and brown sauce. As she turned to go, my friend delivered the zinger. “Can I get some mayonnaise please?”

This has happened before but it’s always a joy to watch the reaction of those serving which can vary from a zen air of unflappability to a genuine sense that you are about to be asked to leave. This time nothing was said but after the mayonnaise arrived in a little dish, I noticed the waitress withdrew to a safe distance but kept her eyes fixed on our table in case she had to stage some kind of intervention.

No wonder… what fresh hell is this? Even the idea of mayonnaise on a bacon roll is enough to raise bile levels to attack. It’s the oiliness of the mayo on the greasiness of the bacon that’s the root of the problem but the doughiness of the white roll transports things from bad to worse.

I’ve no idea why anyone would ever choose this. When I’ve tried to find out from my friend, she just smiles enigmatically like the Mona Lisa and says “try it”. Clearly, that is out of the question.

Of course, it doesn’t do to be too narrow-minded when it comes to food combinations. Some things that shouldn’t work definitely do. Take cheese on a digestive biscuit or peanut butter with pickles or pineapple on a pizza…. although we might have to disagree on that one.

Modern-day Vikings stock up on bacon rolls before Lerwick's Up Helly Aa Viking festival (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)Modern-day Vikings stock up on bacon rolls before Lerwick's Up Helly Aa Viking festival (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)
Modern-day Vikings stock up on bacon rolls before Lerwick's Up Helly Aa Viking festival (Picture: Andrew Milligan/PA)

But aside from weird personal preferences, there are usually scientific reasons why some food go together better than others. Chef Heston Blumenthal has been at the forefront of testing the food-pairing hypothesis which says some combinations please because they share chemical compounds responsible for flavour. Think strawberries and chocolate but also Heston’s roast marrowbone Welshcake with smoked anchovy, snails, radish and lovage, currently on his menu in London.

Crucially, 80 per cent of our flavour experience comes from our sense of smell so ingredient parings we find most palatable usually have strong aromatic matches. For instance, during cooking roast lamb releases volatile compounds called branched-chain fatty acids. Mint is rich in related branched-chain ketones which have similar if not identical aromas so lamb with mint sauce just works as a combination even if our main motivation is simply that is how we always have it.

So just add some tomato, lettuce and toasted bread to Sheila’s bacon and mayonnaise and the aroma flavour profile changes to give you a classic BLT which is always delicious and not strange in any way. Unless you add ketchup or brown sauce.

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