Pork continues to lag behind the popularity of beef and chicken in South Africa – at least in part because of the many local myths which still surround the meat. But amidst soaring costs of living, it’s time for cash-strapped and health-conscious consumers to place pork back on the table.
This is the view of Melindi Wyma, professional food scientist and group technical manager of Eskort.
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development estimates that South Africans are currently each consuming just 3.8kg of pork compared to 35.1kg of chicken and 12kg of beef every year. This compares to the annual average of 11.1kg of pork consumed worldwide.
“Despite its great nutritional and taste benefits, pork still suffers from a poor reputation. But with pockets under pressure, pork represents a highly cost-effective protein option for a healthy, balanced diet,” notes Wyma.
“With that in mind, it’s time to dispel the many lingering misconceptions to give consumers peace of mind when adding pork to their monthly groceries.”
Myth 1: Pork is a fatty, unhealthy meat
One common misconception is that pork is an unhealthy meat that contains a lot of fat. However, many lean pork cuts have a similar calorie composition to chicken breasts and lean beef, such as tenderloin (fillet), loin chops, loin roast, sirloin roast, and rib chops.
In fact, for each 100 gram serving, chicken breasts contain 172 kilocalories (kcals) and 9.25 grams of fat, compared to 154 kcals and 4.33g of fat in pork tenderloin.
“Lean pork cuts are extremely protein-rich and nutrient-dense, leaving you satiated for longer and reducing your likelihood of reaching for unhealthy snacks and food as often,” explains Wyma.
“Pork is also an important source of key B vitamins which are crucial for healthy cell functioning, and for the health of your nervous system.”
These include vitamin B1 or thiamine, which enables the body to turn carbohydrates into energy, and is required for the optimal functioning of your heart and muscles. Pork is also an important source of vitamin B12, which assists in keeping blood and nerve cells healthy, and further provides other crucial nutrients such as iron, magnesium, zinc and phosphorus.
Notably, the iron contained in pork meat, known as heme iron, is easily absorbed and used by the body, unlike the nonheme iron found in plant foods.
Myth 2: Viennas are made from offal and other offcuts
One of the most pervasive myths about pork is that viennas are made using the offcuts from the pig carcass that no one wants to eat, such as feet, lips and noses.
Wyma emphasises, however, that viennas are instead made by using the trimmings from primal cuts when meat is deboned and portioned into retail cuts.
“A selection of this meat and other ingredients is then ground up extremely finely, before being seasoned, filled into casings and cooked. Once cooked, the viennas are left to cool, the casing is removed, and then the viennas are ready to eat.
“Rather than a way of getting rid of offal, viennas are actually a smart way of using meat that would otherwise go to waste. This makes for an extremely affordable, ready-to-eat source of protein for busy families.”
Myth 3: If you pour a fizzy drink on pork meat, worms will crawl out
This rumour has been making the rounds for years but is no truer now than when it was debunked in the 2000s.
“This myth stems from the mistaken belief that pigs are very dirty animals that are brimming with parasites. But like any other animal, pigs that are raised in healthy conditions on responsible farms should not have any harmful parasites or diseases. There is also strict legislation regarding the way in which pigs should be kept and what they should be fed,” says Wyma.
“This means that as long as you buy high quality pork from a reputable brand, there is no need to cook it at extreme temperatures or to overcook the meat to make it safe to eat. It’s also important to note that all you’ll manage to do by pouring a fizzy drink on the raw meat is to tenderise it.
“Ultimately, pork is a highly versatile ingredient that offers great taste, cost and nutritional benefits, which is exactly why it should be a staple ingredient in your meal planning. And with so many recipes available from across the world, you’ll be sure to find a number of new favourite pork dishes whilst simultaneously stretching your budget further,” she concludes.
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