Pork – tradition and nutrition

  • Afifah on Radio 4’s Any Questions
  • Nutrients in pork
  • Latest research into eating pork shows positive health potential
  • Red meat and bacon may not be linked to colon cancer after all
  • Pig domestication and history of pig rearing
  • Where to find the best pork in West Sussex

I was fortunate enough to be in the audience of the most recent edition of BBC 4’s Any Questions. Along with dozens of others I popped my question into a little box on the way in, and was then lucky enough not only to be among the ten selected, but also to be one of only four to actually put my question to the panel! My question was:

“Should publishers, such as the Oxford University Press, be warning authors of children’s books, to avoid mention of pork products, even though pork is a cultural norm to the majority of Britains?”

You can listen to the panel’s response by playing the youtube ‘video’ (actually, an audio recording) above. The original article from the Daily Mail that stimulated my question can be read here. Better still, Jonathan Dimbleby returned to me after the panellists had had their say, asking if I had any comment. Me? Have a comment? You bet! I managed to squeeze in a plug for the nutritional value of pork (starting at 4min 50sec on the video). The ‘meaty’ bit of my comment was:

“I happen to also be a food science researcher, and I happen to know that pork is an extremely nutritious food, and if the pigs are reared outdoors their fat has vitamin D in, so we should be encouraging the use of the pig.”

Having made such a bold and, to some, controversial statement, I thought I ought to back it up with a bit of the research about the nutritional value of pork. So here goes…

Nutrients in pork

Pork is a nutrient dense food. As an example consider a relatively lean cut – a  3-oz serving (85 g) of roasted pork tenderloin – which provides 22 g of high quality protein and approximately 3 g of fat, (1 g saturated), with next to no carbohydrate, while also providing an excellent source (≥20% of the daily value) of selenium, thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6, and phosphorus and a good source (10% to 19% of the daily value) of riboflavin, zinc, and potassium (ref). That said, nutrient levels vary considerably with breed, cut of meat, rearing system and feed stock; An example of the variability with feed is the PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acid) omega- 6 to 3 ratio, which can vary from 40:1 (not good at all)  to 1.5:1 (excellent) (ref). Free-ranging swine typically have better 6 to 3 ratios and much higher levels of long chain omega-3 fats than confined animals (ref), although confined animals can be fed supplementary omega-3 feed to improve their 6/3 profile.

Vitamin D In Pork

Pigs create vitamin D in their skin when exposed to sunlight, just like humans do. However, unlike other farm animals, they are not covered in thick hair, wool, feathers or fur (umm, which farm animals have fur?), so synthesise this vital hormone/vitamin particularly efficiently. Consequently, the more time they spend outdoors between April and September, the better their vitamin D levels (i.e. the same as us). In the quote below they are referring to the active form of vitamin D (25-hydroxy vitamin D, (25-(OH)D for short) aka calcidiol), which is relevant for the pig’s health, but as vitamin D accumulates in fat stores, it gives some indication of the levels likely to be found in the meat:

“…normal vitamin D levels to have ranges of 25-30 ng/ml serum 25(OH) D for 3- to 4-week-old pigs. We found that most pigs reared in confinement systems had levels below 10ng/ml. Literature states that <15ng/ml would be considered deficient and cause bone deformation. Pigs reared outdoors (a rarity in large-scale production these days) had high levels (>50ng/ml) of 25(OH)D.”

The pig farming community is increasingly aware of the importance of vitamin D for health of their animals, so many supplement their feed. However, as this does not appear on the labelling, you are better off looking for “outdoor reared” or “free range” pork products, indicating that the animals had free access to sunlight – better for the animal’s welfare, and more vitamin D for you. Note, that “outdoor bred” only means that piglets are born and kept outside until weaned. After that they spend the rest of their days in barns. They will likely have low vitamin D levels once they reach the supermarket. (For more information on pork labelling in the UK, see here)

Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin and accumulates in fat stores. Pig fat (lard) ought therefore be a significant dietary vitamin D source for us. It is surprisingly difficult to find any reliable estimates for the vitamin D levels in typical lard, with quoted values varying from 5 IU (negligible) to 500 IU (significant) per teaspoon (5ml) of lard, perhaps reflecting indoor v free-ranging pigs? Who knows?

But shouldn’t we be avoiding red meat?

It is dismaying how often newspaper headlines alert us to the ‘dangers of red meat’. These nearly always come on the back of a new observational study reporting that those who eat the most red meat were found to be at a “highest risk of …” (fill in the blank: cancer, obesity, heart disease etc). Funnily enough, the studies that show the opposite relationship, or no statistically significant effect, rarely make the headlines – and there are many such studies.

Observational studies suffer from inherent shortcomings: they cannot distinguish causation from association; they struggle to eliminate confounders (e.g. Western diet meat eaters often have lower fruit and vegetable consumption and are more likely to be smokers); they use notoriously weak data collection methods (food recall questionnaires). Furthermore, the various forms of red meat are often lumped in together (beef, lamb, pork), yet pork is the least ‘red’ of the three, as it contains the lowest levels of iron. It’s not just pro-meat paleo-types that question the validity of these studies, good scientists of all stripes are critical of these methodologies. Take a look at this peer-reviewed critique of the red-meat studies. The Authors conclude:

“the currently available epidemiologic evidence is not sufficient to support an independent positive association between red meat consumption and colorectal cancer”

What about nitrates and nitrites in bacon and preserved pork?

Meats have been preserved by many methods, including air drying (biltong), smoking (ham) and brining. Dry curing of pork with saltpetre (sodium nitrite) goes back to the middle ages, but the more reliable preservative potassium nitrate is relatively new, only going back a couple of centuries. These curing salts have the advantage of not only killing bacteria, thereby preserving the meat very effectively – especially against Clostridium botulinum –  but they also make the cured meat an attractive red colour rather than grey.

There is a lot of controversy around nitrates and nitrites in meats for a couple of reasons. Firstly, population studies often find an association between ‘processed’ meat consumption and bowel cancer – but as we saw for red meat such findings are neither consistent nor reliable due to confounders and inherent limitations.

The second factor contributing to concerns is that nitrites can react with amines in meat to form carcinogenic nitrosamine compounds. These form particularly readily under the high temperatures at which bacon is usually cooked. However, studies in the 1970s and 1980s established that the risk could be reduced by lowering the amount of nitrite to minimum effective levels – this is now mandatory, effectively reducing dietary nitrosamine exposure by a factor of ten. Also it was found that the addition of ascorbic acid (good old vitamin C) virtually eliminates nitrosamine formation, so many producers now include this in their curing mix. Does that put bacon in the clear? Probably, but the following points are worth considering:

  • Nitrites have been shown to play a crucial role in human blood pressure regulation with some scientists suggesting that their cardiovascular benefits could easily outweigh any cancer risk (see our post on this fascinating topic here)
  • Nitrites are formed continuously by bacteria in our mouths from nitrates secreted in our saliva – a deliberate adaptation, apparently, to increase our nitrite intake.
  • Many ‘healthy’ vegetables such as celery and beetroots contain large amounts of nitrites and nitrates.
  • These alternative sources also form nitrosamines in the stomach so even if you avoid bacon you can’t avoid nitrosamines (ref).
  • Cooking bacon at lower temperatures and for less time reduces nitrosamine (and lipid peroxide) formation.
  • Calcium in the diet protects against nitrosamine formation (ref) – (Cheese topped bacon is a favourite with our kids)
  • Most nitrite is absorbed high up in in the digestive tract and does not even reach the colon (ref)

However, on the basis of the epidemiological data and the putative cancer causing mechanisms of nitrosamines many authorities hypothesise that there is probably a credible risk, and advise against consuming preserved meats, or recommend cutting down. But are they right? Studies investigating the processed-meat-leads-to-cancer hypothesis are throwing up surprising results. Whilst high meat, and especially (nitrite preserved) meat diets do indeed show increased formation of a range of putatively carcinogenic compounds (multiple haem, nitro and lipid peroxide based), evidence of associated cancer markers often are absent, or reversed.

“A bacon-based diet appears to protect against [colon] carcinogenesis”

For example, one study comparing colon cancer markers in rats on specific controlled diets of: casein, red meat (beef), white meat (chicken) or processed meat (bacon), found no difference in early cancer markers between each diet, except for the bacon group, which was protective! The study found that markers of colon cancer were “reduced by 12% in rats fed a diet with 30% bacon and by 20% in rats fed a diet with 60% bacon”.

A more recent study in humans gave volunteers either a vegetarian diet, a high meat diet or a high preserved meat diet for fourteen days. As expected, compared to the vegetarian diet group, higher levels of multiple suspected carcinogens were detected in the stools of the meat, and especially preserved-meat eating volunteers. However, what was not expected was that markers of DNA damage were highest in the vegetarians! And DNA damage is a hallmark of cancer. The authors commented that they have “no explanation” for this, but point out that the 2009 EPIC study found “higher colorectal cancer incidence in vegetarians than in meat eaters”.

“The link between dietary nitrite and cancers of the gastrointestinal tract is inconclusive, which may be because most nitrite is absorbed early and the majority does not reach the colon”

Some good news about pork, cancer and metabolic health

The first bit of recent good news comes from a hot off the press meta analysis published this month in the International Journal of Cancer, which attempted to separate out the different types of meat and their relationship to bowel cancer. In short, they found no association at all between pork consumption and colon or colorectal cancer.

“no association was found between pork consumption and colon or colorectal cancer”

Considering the number of observational studies flagging red meat consumption as a possible risk factor, there are surprisingly few intervention trials testing the hypotheses by actually feeding pork to people and measuring the effect.

Fortunately, this 2013 systematic review looked at the few intervention trials that have been carried out concerning the effects of pork on metabolic risk factors. It found that fresh pork consumption for 1 day to 6 months (depending on the trial design), “did not show a significant impact of pork on the components of the metabolic syndrome, with the exception of a possible benefit on waist circumference and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol”. i.e. only null or beneficial effects were reported.

One of the longer (3 month) studies involved 164 overweight adults (mean BMI 32) who were randomly assigned to incorporate up to 1 kg of pork per week into their diets by substituting it for other foods, or, as a control group, to maintain their habitual diet. After three months there were significant (p ≤ 0.01) reductions in weight, BMI, waist circumference, percentage body fat, fat mass and abdominal fat in the pork eating  group relative to the control group, which persisted for a further 3 months after the study period had ended, when the researchers checked again. There was no change in lean mass, indicating that the reduction in weight was due to loss of fat mass. There were no significant effects on other metabolic parameters. The authors concluded “Regular consumption of lean fresh pork may improve body composition.”

How pork may help in weight loss

Recently, a possible mechanism for the putative metabolic benefits of pork consumption has been uncovered.

“Regular consumption of lean fresh pork may improve body composition”

A 2014 study, comparing consumption of a chicken meal with a pork meal found that pork caused a greater rise in the amino acid histidine. Previously, a 2012 study of older women found that histidine was negatively correlated with inflammation and oxidative stress, i.e. those with higher levels of histidine had less inflammation. They also found that the obese women had lower levels of histidine. The authors followed through with a histidine supplementation trial in 2013: Compared to controls receiving placebo, women receiving the histidine supplement had reduced BMI (-0.86 kg/m²), waist circumference (-2.86 cm), and fat mass (-2.71 kg), as well as markers of inflammation and oxidative stress.

Downsides to pork

Taking the long view – say the last 10,000 years or so – the switch from hunter-gathering to domestication of livestock brought its problems. The main issue with animal domestication was that repeated close contact allowed parasites, bacteria and viruses that would usually only be adapted to one species to mutate and jump to humans. Such zoonotic diseases were able to get a foot-hold in the dense populations that followed the agricultural revolution.

Modern diseases with evidence of zoonotic origins include measles, smallpox, influenza, HIV, and diphtheria, the common cold and tuberculosis. New-kids-on-the zoonotic block include Lyme’s disease, spread from wild deer by ticks, and the recent not-quite pandemic bird flu. Outbreaks specifically associated with pig farming have included the milder-than-expected swine flu pandemic of 2009, and the Nipah virus outbreak in Malaysia in 1999, in which 105 farmers died.

Hepatitis e virus (BMJ, 2014)Of current concern is the widespread detection of hepatitis E in pigs. This virus is found around the world in many strains in many different animals from deer, rat and rabbits to wild boar and chickens. Some strains are infectious to humans, especially where there is close contact with these animals. In some developing countries hep E infections have a high mortality rate. It is particularly serious for pregnant women.

So it is concerning to learn that hepatitis E is present among farmed pigs, and that live virus was detected in 2% of the pig livers sold in grocery stores in Japan (tested in 2003) and 11% in the United States (2007). (ref) I suspect the high prevalence in American pig livers is related to their low animal welfare standards. Transmission of virus from domestic pigs to humans is common and higher rates of HEV seroprevalence are detected in slaughterhouse workers and vets. It is estimated that one third of the world’s human population has been in contact with the virus. In poor countries, HEV infection is endemic and spreads mainly through contamination of water supplies. The mortality rate is between 1% and 4%, and can reach 25% in pregnant women.

According to an article in the BMJ in 2014, Richard Tedder, of University College London, estimated that around 100,000 infections a year occur in the United Kingdom—the vast majority undiagnosed and possibly not even noticed by the people infected, clearing within a few weeks naturally. But in immunocompromised patients or those with existing liver damage it can persist and pose a serious threat to life. The authors recommend that all pork products are thoroughly cooked. Cooking so that all parts reach 100°C for 5 minutes completely inactivates the virus. The main risk is from medium and rare cooking at lower temperatures.

The hepatitis E issue is not widely known by the public or chefs, indeed, several years ago I phoned the BBC after they screened an episode of Ready Steady Cook where Ainsley Harriott was recommending rare pork. I rang in to say that it was not wise because of the possibility of pork borne viruses and was told that this was now considered an ‘old-fashioned’ concern about pork. Moi, old-fashioned? I call it ‘ancestral wisdom’, and in fact this is good solid current science too. If this is enough to put you off eating pork its worth considering that whilst hepatitis E prevalence is lower in vegetarians, it is not zero, as it can be spread via other routes too.

The bottom line is pork is perfectly healthy if you cook it properly and of course employ good food hygiene practices such as hand/equipment washing after handling any raw meat. (ref)

"Wildboar in Anamalai hills" by PJeganathan - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Wildboar_in_Anamalai_hills.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Wildboar_in_Anamalai_hills.jpg

The Eurasian wild boar was domesticated some 11,000 years ago. (Image, Wikimedia)

Domestication of pigs

Pigs were first domesticated in the middle east about 11,000 years ago at the same time as sheep, goats and cattle. DNA analysis indicates that as farming spread across Europe local wild boars were crossed with the domesticated swine that farmers brought with them, leading to numerous Asian-European hybrids. In the wild both Asian and European wild boars have plain coats, adapted for camouflage in the forests where they live. The colourful patterns we associate with domesticated pig varieties were almost certainly the result of human selection which probably started early on in the domestication process.

By 8000 years ago, the Neolithic farming culture had spread into Northern Europe where the existing, indigenous hunter-gatherer cultures had been established since the migration of homo sapiens from the near-east some 20,000 years earlier. At that time the hunter gatherers had only one domesticated animal – the dog, which probably domesticated itself in a clever trade-off that earned it the epithet “man’s best friend”. The Neolithic farmers, however, had domesticated sheep, cows and pigs, which through selective breeding would have looked radically different to the wild beasts hunter-gatherers were familiar with.

The Mesolithic hunter-gatherers certainly hunted wild boars (Sus scrofa), with up to 30% of the bone assemblages from that period being boar. However, recent evidence from Germany shows that during some seven centuries where these two cultures lived side by side domesticated pigs started to appear in the hunter-gatherers’ diets. Whether they were traded, stolen, escapees or reared by them is unknown, but the authors of the study suggest – rather cutely – that the hunter gatherers may have been attracted to the strange and exotic looking coats of these pigs. Study co-author Greger Larson, an archeologist at Durham University in the UK, said: “It would have been hard for the hunter-gatherers not to be fascinated by the strange-looking spotted pigs owned by farmers living nearby.” (Read the National Geographic article about this study here)

History of pig rearing

There is a long tradition of keeping pigs for food in the UK and Europe. Here in Sussex we have The Weald and Downland open air museum, where examples of buildings from the last 500 years are preserved.

Image of Weald and Downland Open Air Museum pigs is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Pigs main attraction in the middle ages was that they can be kept in quite small spaces by many householders. They will eat just about anything – animal or plant food scraps, farm waste and residues, even human ‘night soil’. So they were a low maintenance, low input source of meat.

The US Environment Protection Agency tells us that:

“For much of the 19th and 20th centuries, pork was the preferred meat in the U.S. Hogs were valued not just for their meat but for the lard, which was used for everything from cooking and lamp oil to baking and making candles and soap.”

Of course, with the misguided panic around animal fats since the 1970’s lard use has plummeted, to be replaced in most peoples diets with vegetable oils and refined carbohydrates. Ironically, those national dietary policies may have inadvertently fuelled the obesity epidemic.

“The replacement of saturated fats in the diet with carbohydrates, especially sugars, has resulted in increased obesity and its associated health complications.” – Advances in Nutrition, 2015

World meat consumption - pie chart

As well as being the most widely consumed meat in the world, several valuable products or by-products, in addition to meat, come from swine. These include insulin for the regulation of diabetes; valves for human heart surgery; suede for shoes and clothing; and gelatin for many food and non-food uses. Swine by-products are also important parts of such products as water filters, insulation, rubber, antifreeze, certain plastics, floor waxes, crayons, chalk, adhesives and fertilizer.

Prior to 2001 pigs in Britain (and Europe) were widely fed swill – domestic and commercial food waste. This ecologically and economically sound process ensured a great diversity in the diet of the pigs whilst simultaneously reducing the waste going to landfill. To minimise risk of disease transmission, all swill was supposed to be processed (sterilised by heating). In the wake of the foot and mouth epidemic of 2001 there were suspicions that unprocessed swill was being distributed, leading to a blanket ban on pig swill. Consequently, and disturbingly, almost all pig farmers are now forced to feed a grain and soy based feed to their animals.

Buying pork

Wherever possible I buy outdoor reared pork (free range and usually organic). I would prefer if they were not fed grains, but since 2001 this has become almost impossible. If any of my readers know of a grain free supplier of free range pork please let me know. I also want pigs that have not been fed genetically modified soy. All organic pork is free-range and GM free. However, non-organic pork is not guaranteed GM free. Consumer demand has, however, led some supermarkets in the UK to reduce GM soy in feed as much as possible. Waitrose for example, is engaged in the development of UK based fava-beans as an alternative. The bottom line for now, unfortunately, is, if it isn’t organic, you can’t be sure. Keep petitioning your supplier!

Most UK produced pork (90%) is reared in large-scale intensive pig farms. These factory farms have around 500–900 sows, kept indoors, with many  confined to birthing crates where they cannot move around. About 80% of UK pigs have their tails cut off as they are bored and unhappy with their confinement, so resort to biting the tails of the other pigs. The EU pig welfare directive 2013 aims to reduce the worst of these practices, by setting minimum standards of welfare but the only way to ensure pigs are raised more naturally is to look for one of the following labels on non-organic pork:

  • Free range – these pigs are born outside, in fields, and remain there until processing for their whole lives. They have arks for shelter with bedding material.
  • Outdoor reared – born outside in fields, have outdoor access for about half their lives, then transferred to indoor accommodation.
  • Outdoor bred – born outside, transferred to indoor accommodation at weaning (approximately four weeks of age).

and

  • Organic pigs – always have lots of room to move about, and are moved regularly to clean ground so they can dig and root in fresh earth – they need lots of space compared to a shed, and moving the pigs and their mobile houses around takes more labour. Piglets stay with their mothers longer, which gives the piglets greater natural vitality and causes them and their mothers less stress, but the mothers have longer between litters, and produce fewer piglets each year as a result. (Soil Association)

Although organic pork has the highest mandated welfare standards, many small producers may not be certified organic but can still match these in some or all areas. The best policy is get to know your farm.

Supermarket sausages

I've just cooked these Dutchy Original Rosemary and Honey chipolatas. These are organic, gluten free, quick and tasty. I prefer to cook them slowly, in ghee or lard - what one writer called 'poaching them in oil'. I always cook more than my immediate needs so that I can keep some cold ones in the fridge for snacks or lunches.

I’ve just cooked these Dutchy Original Rosemary and Honey chipolatas. These are organic, totally grain free, quick and tasty. I prefer to cook them slowly, in ghee or lard – what one writer called ‘poaching them in oil’. I always do more than my immediate needs so that I can keep some in the fridge for snacks or lunches. (These sausages do contain a little potato flour so are not suitable for those on a Solanacaea/nightshade free diet.)

For me, sausages need to be grain free – yet most sausages contain rusk (breadcrumbs). However, many supermarkets now sell gluten free sausages – although you often have to look on the label to check for oats or rice as most people believe these to be gluten free which is incorrect as all grains contain glutens of one sort or another. My favourite sausages are the Duchy chipolatas at Waitrose with the ‘rosemary and honey’ flavouring. These are entirely grain free (though do have some potato starch in), organic, quicker cooking than fat sausages, and taste great, especially when cooked in lard! Beyond the supermarkets, you might be lucky enough to have a good local supplier. There are many excellent small producers, doing their own thing and producing excellent pork, but you need to do a little homework to find them. Below are some of my best local suppliers:

Goodwood Farm – organic, free range (no longer woodland roaming)

Goodwood_Free_Range_Pigs

Woodland reared pigs at Goodwood Farm, West Sussex, England.

My favourite supplier for fresh local pork cuts is Goodwood. Their pigs are outdoor reared, and fed organic, so GM-free, feed. A few years back I watched one of their sows trotting through the bluebell wood (see photo above) followed by her bouncy squealy piglets – very happy, very natural. Unfortunately, Goodwood found that pigs given this amount of freedom put on ‘too much’ fat, for modern consumers tastes. I’m a bit surprised at this, as ‘pannage’ pigs in the New Forrest (see below), are said to be a little leaner, more tasty, and command top prices for London restaurants. So now Goodwood, like most pig farmers in the UK, keep them in more controlled conditions in low density fields, with individual arks, but still lots of space to root and behave naturally. The fat levels in the finished pork are more controllable, but this comes with the downside that they need to be fed more grains. Even so their meat is exceptional:

“Goodwood Pork comes from a Saddleback and Gloucester Old Spot cross. The traditional, rare breed pigs have a thicker layer of fat which provides incredible flavour and succulence to the meat that results in a completely different taste to the mass produced supermarket pork.” – Stanstead Park Farm Shop

Pork-shoulder-with-garden-vegetables

Goodwood pork shoulder – click image for our recipe!

Goodwood farm shop only sells wholesale, but as long as you place an order in advance, buy a minimum of 1Kg, and pop in to collect it you too can get this excellent meat at supermarket-beating trade prices. For example, organic pork ribs are just £5 per kilo – absolutely fantastic! Phone them on 01243 755153 or drop in Tue-Fri 10:00-3:00pm or Sat 10-12:30 Website: Goodwood Home Farm

Adsdean Farm Shop – local, GM free, outdoor reared

Adsdean_Pigs

Although Adsdean pigs are not certified organic, their feed is GM free, as are all the meats they sell. If you visit their farrm shop, you can wander up the lane and see the pigs for yourself.

In the area around Funtington, just North of Chichester, there are many pig farms. The animals are outdoor bred or free-range, and you can see their spacious muddy fields with individual arks as you drive around the area. They certainly look happy and a million miles from factory-farm horrors. Adsdean Farm Shop is tricky to find, and the satnav won’t help much, so be prepared for a bit of an adventure. The effort, however, will be worth it as they have a wide range of local meats all of which they claim are fed non-GM feed. The butchers are on hand to advise on the various cuts, cooking and how the animals were reared. Their sausages, however, are not gluten free.

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, 9am – 5pm; Saturday, 9am – 4pm
Phone: 01243 575212  Website: Adsdean Farm Shop

Garlic wood farm – rare breeds, conservation grade, online orders

Rare breed, conservation grade pork from small scale producers - available by mail order - delivered to your door! Click on the image to go to visit their website.

Rare breed, conservation grade pork from small scale producers – available by mail order – delivered to your door! Click on the image to go to visit their website.

If you cannot get to Goodwood or Adsdean, or simply don’t have time, then consider delivery from Garlic Wood Farm. Their Sussex farmed, rare breed pork is outdoor reared, and will be delivered to your door, packed and frozen. Their 10kg family pork box currently costs £92; Typical contents include:

  • 2 loin or spare rib roasting joints – 2kg
  • Belly roasting joints or strips – 1.5kg
  • 3 leg, shoulder or spare rib roasting joints – 3kg
  • Pork loin chops and/or leg steaks – 2kg
  • Diced pork – 1.5kg

They also do a 5kg starter pork box. Contents can vary, but ensure you make it clear that you don’t want sausages included if you are trying to avoid gluten. Alternatively, to see before you buy, drop in to their shop at:

The Garlic Wood Farm Butchery, 50 High St Steyning, BN443RD.
Phone: 01903 812 685 Website: Garlic Wood Farm (online orders)

Pannage Pork

Pannage pigs in the New Forest, England

Finishing pigs on acorns, beech masts and chestnuts by letting them out to roam in forests during the autumn is an ancient practice that is said to create exceptional tasting pork. Click on the image to read more about New Forest pannage pigs.

A real hit with discerning restaurants, is pannage fed pigs. The ancient practise of letting pigs loose in woodlands in the autumn to feed on acorns, beech masts and chestnuts is now only continued in the New Forest. The pigs love it, and produce excellent pork as a result according to top chefs (read The Guardian article here). This autumn clean out also benefits the horses that roam free in the Forest, as acorns are poisonous to them. The woodland ecosystem is also improved as the pigs eat encroaching brush such as nettles and bracken, whilst leaving saplings. Effectively, they are mimicking the actions of the ancient wild boar. The famous Ibérico ham of Spain comes from Iberian pigs also raised on acorns:

The pigs are… allowed to roam in pasture and oak groves to feed naturally on grass, herbs, acorns, and roots, until the slaughtering time approaches. At that point, the diet may be strictly limited to olives or acorns for the best quality jamón ibérico – Wikipedia

So where can you get hold of this British equivalent,? Fortunately, it is available seasonally from Stansted Park Farm Shop…

Stansted Park Farm Shop – rare breeds, seasonal specials

Stanstead Farm Shop has some wonderful seasonal pork. Click on the image above to read about their woodland reared pigs, and New Forest pannage pork.

Stanstead Farm Shop has some wonderful seasonal pork. Click on the image above to read about their woodland reared pigs, and New Forest pannage pork.

Stansted, like Goodwood, is a large estate in West Sussex, some 9 miles from Chichester. Unlike Goodwood, it is does not have a working farm, but rather parks and woodlands. This has not stopped it’s farm shop from selling a good range of local produce, including rare breed pork:

Example of their Stansted Farm Shop online pork Jan 2015(click image to view current range)

Example of Stansted Farm Shop online pork Jan 2015 (click to view current range)

They also sell seasonal foods you probably cannot get anywhere else locally, such as acorn fed pork from New Forest pannage pigs, and their own Saddleback Woodland Pork.

This extraordinary Hungarian hairy hog is a slow growing variety renowned for its wonderful flavour. Just one of the seasonal delights from Stansted Farm Shop

This extraordinary hairy Mangalitsa hog is a slow growing Hungarian variety renowned for its wonderful flavour. Just one of the seasonal delights from Stansted Farm Shop

Stansted also offer gluten free sausages (not sure if they are grain free though – ask) In fact they seem to offer so many interesting local seasonal foods that it is probably worth signing up to their newsletter so you can keep up to date with what they have in, and their blog is great.

If you are interested in really getting to grips with pork, Stansted Farm Shop even run pork butchery courses from time to time.

Forest Hogs Forest_Hogs Just north of Chichester, at West Dean, Forest Hogs raises small numbers of Tamworth pigs in woodland. Tamworths are the oldest breed of pig in Britain. They sell the pork to local pubs, restaurants and directly through the West Dean Stores. One of their main services is a traditional  hog roast, which can be hired for events such as parties, weddings and summer fetes. They use their own charcoal for the spit roast which they make at the Weald and Downland museum. (I have a feeling I will be enjoying one of these hog roasts before too long).

I have yet to find anyone producing pork that is not fed any grains and soy, neither of which are the natural food of pigs, obviously. The only thing close to this is the Tamworth pigs that run free (and dive free! Yes, they dive for fresh water clams given half a chance) at the Knepp Estate near Horsham as it has been re-wilded over the past 13 or so years. However this is not turned into commercially available pork as there is not enough of it. Presumably Sir Charles and Lady Burrell enjoy that particular delicacy in private, and who could mind that!? Read up on our article about this astounding project here. Thanks for reading this rather long post. Let me know your pork thoughts in the comments box below (or click ‘leave a reply’ below).

10 thoughts on “Pork – tradition and nutrition

  1. Great article. I am from the central valley in Fresno, California. I buy my pork, chicken, beef and lamb from a ranch in Reedley, California, called Page Riverbottom Ranch . They raise their animals all outdoors and do not feed them any soy or GMO grains. We are very fortunate to have them close by.

  2. Hi Afifah

    For all of my working life I have been involved with Animal Health and Welfare. I know many pig farmers in Hampshire, but no no-one who completely finishes off their pigs outdoors.

    Hampshire has many large arable farms and the renting of some of this land by farmers owning sows which are kept outdoors is both beneficial for the arable farmer ( free fertilizer) and a good welfare friendly system for the sows and piglets who enjoy a life outside with warm dry lying areas in the form of arcs. The piglets are weaned at 5 weeks old and go indoors to be fattened.

    There are several systems for the finishing units, but the only pigs that can be guaranteed to have been finished outdoors are organic. Organic, of course, is the most expensive as when the piglets are outside, especially in the winter, they use all their energy up trying to keep warm and so therefore need so much extra food in order to fatten up. The other main factor is that at all times of the year they use all their energy up running around in the fields like maniacs and therefore need so much more food to fatten up. Although this sounds like an idyllic way for them to be kept it is not economic and in reality, especially this time of year when it is cold and wet, is not so pleasant for them ( I know where I would rather be in the winter!). So basically farmers compromise and there are the following systems which start with the top being the most expensive and the bottom being the least expensive.

    Organic- bred, reared and fattened outside
    Outdoor bred and reared- sows and piglets outside until they are 12 weeks old and then they (the piglets) go into barns and are fattened usually on straw
    Outdoor bred- sows and piglets outside until piglets are weaned at 5 weeks old when they (the piglets) go into barns and are reared and fattened on straw
    Outdoor bred- sows and piglets outside until piglets are weaned at 5 weeks old when they (the piglets) go into barns and are reared and fattened on slats
    No definition on meat packaging- sows, piglets and fattening pigs all kept indoors either on straw, but probably on slats

    Most supermarkets tend to just sell Organic and Outdoor Bred pork. Small farmers may be able to keep their fattening pigs outside and still make a profit by selling direct to the public, but most pig farmers in Hampshire are large outdoor sow units which then fatten their pigs indoors.

    Maybe you know farmers in West Sussex who keep all their pigs outdoors, but I don’t know any in Hampshire unless they are smallholders. Although I agree with keeping sows outside, sometimes I think that the comfort of the animals to be fattened in a good indoor straw bedded system is better than a muddy cold outdoor system.

    With best wishes
    Pam

    Date: Sun, 8 Feb 2015 21:21:35 +0000
    To: pam.walsha@hotmail.co.uk

  3. Pingback: PORK AND RED MEAT ARE NOW HEALTH FOODS? | Genesis Biohealth

    • Thanks for signing folk looking at your site to our article and for your comment about it.
      Your focus on Magnesium and K2M4 is very welcome. You might have seen our blog posts about Vit D as this has been a theme in our education efforts. We are now in Vit D time (yay!) and pressure you are too, but am wondering where your lab is based. Canada maybe? I am interested. Do you supply to clinics or just the public?

  4. Great article, I thought I was the only one trying to find free range and organically fed pork as most butchers I ask are pretty unwilling to reveal their sources and even then you have to investigate what the sausage is mixed with and how the bacon is cured. I have also found the following in Sussex: Sandridge Farmhouse (not organic but good welfare and traditionally made), Marvellous meats (woodland reared but fed pellets, not sure of sausage content or how bacon is made), Bridge Farm Lindfield (believe good as spoke to organic butcher in Brighton, but little detail on their site); Plantation pigs, free range but not organic. Thanks for all your information it’s reassuring to know that I am not the only person who likes to know the detail and hope those contacts prove useful.

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