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'Clean Bacon' Is Panera's New Secret Weapon... But What Is It?

Panera Bread is doing something more innovative than even bacon-flavored envelope glue: it has made a commitment to making its bacon taste just like bacon.

We live in a strange and wonderful world where you can crack open a bottle of bacon-flavored soda, spike it with bacon-flavored vodka, and then try to rinse the taste out of your own mouth with a squeeze of bacon-flavored toothpaste. But Panera Bread is doing something more innovative than even bacon-flavored envelope glue: it has made a commitment to making its bacon taste just like bacon.

How? By eliminating all artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, and sweeteners from the bacon it serves in its restaurants.

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Panera's move to its so-called "clean bacon" is part of a greater effort to remove everything artificial from all the foods it bakes, broils, and serves; its regularly updated No No List details 81 chemicals, additives, artificial colors, and preservatives that are either no longer in its menu items or will be swiftly guided to the exit before the end of this year.

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"Clean bacon is an example of how you can amplify when you simplify," Panera CEO and founder Ron Shaich said in a statement. "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."

So what's left after you strip all of the nitrates, phosphates and other -ates out of the bacon? Pork, mostly; plus water, sea salt, sugar, celery powder, and thyme extract. According to Panera, using nothing but those five ingredients (and a splash of water) will result in crispier, thicker bacon, whether it's in a sandwich or crumbled on top of a salad. MUNCHIES has reached out to Panera for additional information about its "clean bacon," but has not received a response.

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This newly elevated bacon (so elevated it will corner you to tell you how it finally feels centered during its Ashtanga practice) is almost unsurprising to anyone who is familiar with Panera's increasingly ethical practices. In 2015, it began sourcing its bacon from pigs that follow strict antibiotic-free vegetarian diets, specifically from farms that do not use gestation crates for pregnant sows. According to Bloomberg, Panera is the only national chain with such high standards for its pork products.

The only downside to Panera's new-and-improved bacon? That bacon-flavored soda just isn't going to taste right anymore.