Everything you wanted to know about pig nipples but were too afraid to google
EC: What Is Nipple Bacon and Why Are People Freaking Out About It?
Credit: Photo by Emily Wabitsch/AFP/GettyImages

Yesterday, Gizmodo posted a picture of a slice of nipple bacon, which is, quite literally, a slice of bacon with a nipple dangling off of it. So naturally, I started asking myself a lot of questions about nipple bacon, and pigs in general. Questions that I never thought I’d be asking, like how many nipples does a pig have? How do you even end up with a slice of bacon with a nipple on it? What should I do if I do find a slice of bacon with a nipple on it? Is this just some Redditor trying to troll us all into never eating meat again or is this a real, honest-to-goodness nipple?

If these questions have been swirling around your head all night, too, don’t worry. I’m here for you, because I want to—nay, I need to know the answers. So I took to the so-called experts of Reddit, and fact-checked my online research with John Ratliff, the founder and head butcher at Ends Meat in Brooklyn, New York, to find out, once and for all: What’s the deal with nipple bacon?

Why is there a nipple on this slice of bacon?

The reason there is a nipple on this slice of bacon is because all pigs have nipples. “As someone who has cured and cleaned pork bellies to make bacon,” wrote Redditor jkwilkin, “I am having a hard time wrapping my head around the disgust in this thread. If you buy belly skin on, it wall [sic] always have nipples. Nipples are located on the bellies of pigs.”

Even though jkwilkin's pork credentials are unverified, this totally checks out, because when I showed Ratliff the picture of the nipple bacon, he seemed unfazed. “Every single pig has this,” he said. Pigs’ nipples are located on their belly—also called the navel area—and toward the pig’s backside, not the ribside. Ratliff even pulled out a slab of pork belly to show me, saying, “You’re going to find nipples at the base of every pork belly. There’s no myth-busting fact here.”

How many nipples does a pig have?

According to a website about lactation biology from the University of Illinois, written by Walter L. Hurley, a professor of animal biology at the school, pigs have six or seven pairs of nipples. That’s 12 to 14 nipples, depending on how lucky that pig gets.

OK, but why does the pig nipple in that picture look so... nipple-y?

You don’t normally notice pig nipples on your bacon because the skin has been removed; Ratliff showed me a slab of bacon from Ends Meat that had the skin fully removed, and though you could see marks of where the nipples once were in the fat, like faint, round bruises, they definitely weren’t standing at attention. The reason the nipple on this slice of bacon appears so prominently is because the skin, sometimes called rind, wasn’t pulled back.

I need to know if this image is NSFW or not—Is it a male nipple or a female nipple?

According to one Redittor theBoxy_Butcher, who says they “spent two years working for a free range pork producer,” we’re looking at a male nip. “It will be from a castrated male.” And though this nipple definitely could’ve come from a male meat pig, as Ratliff explained, there’s no way to know for sure if this slice of nipple bacon came from a male or a female pig. “The female meat pig and the male meat pig, they look almost identical. They both have nipples,” and the only foolproof way to tell the gender of a pig slated for slaughter is by looking at their genitalia, not their nipples.

What are the chances of finding a nipple on my bacon?

Ratliff assured me that the chances of finding a nipple that looks like that on my bacon is not very great because, “You don’t eat the skin of bacon. You take the skin off.” And at Ends Meat, that skin is fried into crispy chicharrones.

But even if you’re eating commodity bacon, you’re also unlikely to find a full-on nipple, because, as Ratliff explained, “Generally, the commodity bacon, the skin gets taken off and thrown away or it gets rendered,” a process where the fat gets cooked out of these undesired bit and occasionally turned into household products like candles.

Is a pig’s nipple edible?

“For anybody who might get upset about this, let me state for the record that it is not dangerous to eat the nipple, it's entirely edible,” wrote Reddit user Liontta. “It just serves as an unpleasant reminder of where food actually comes from, but is otherwise harmless.” Ratliff agrees. Nothing going to happen if you eat nipple bacon, and since the navel glands aren’t active when the pig is slaughtered, the nips are basically just fat.

So go ahead and eat nipple bacon to your heart's content—I swear it's natural, though it may cause you to question everything you thought you knew about bacon.

By Maxine Builder and Maxine Builder