What are Pork Rinds?

Chicharrón, cracklings - even scrunchions! They are all the same.

pork rinds AKA chicharrón
Light and fluffy, fried pork rinds can be a low-carb snack. Paul Poplis/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Sometimes I hear from readers who are a little appalled when they see pork rinds on my snack list or in a recipe. Aren't they about the least healthy food imaginable? How can I possibly recommend them?

So, what's the deal? Are pork rinds good or evil?

What are Pork Rinds?

Wherever in the world people eat pork, there are pork rinds in some form. Call them cracklings, chicharrón, pork scratchings, or many other names, they are essentially pork skin that has been fried or roasted to render out the fat leaving a surprisingly light crispy wafer or strip.

In countries around the world they are often eaten as a snack or used to season other foods.

In North America, you can often find them in bags where snacks are sold. They are very puffy and light, and are often flavored similarly as potato chips. If you happen to have some pork skin on hand, you can make them yourself by frying or roasting it in the oven.

How Nutritious Are Pork Rinds?

Pork rinds have a lot of protein, but it's not the most accessible protein in the world. You would not want to count on them for your protein needs, but that's not why they are eaten anyway. Still, it has plenty of amino acids that your body can use. Half an ounce of pork rinds has 9 grams of protein.

As you would expect, pork rinds have fat, but probably not as much as you'd think. Partly because they are so puffy, an similarly-sized bag has about half the fat and calories of potato chips. A little over half the fat is monounsaturated (the type in olive oil), a little less than half is saturated, and a bit of it is polyunsaturated.

It doesn't seem to matter whether the pork rinds are roasted or deep fried - they end up with their own fat mostly rendered out, and what is left is the source of the fat in the food.

Half an ounce of pork rinds has 76 calories and 4 grams of fat.  They contain no carbohydrate unless some has been added in the flavorings.

Pork rinds don't have any impressive amount of vitamins or minerals, with the exception of a fair amount of selenium (one ounce of pork rinds contains 16% of daily needs) and smatterings of B vitamins.

Pork rinds do tend to have an impressive amount of salt, however. If you are sensitive to salt you'll have to pay attention to that. However, all the salt is added, so it's possible to make your own with less salt if you can hunt down some pork skin.

How to Eat Pork Rinds

Just about any way you eat potato chips you can eat pork rinds. As a snack by itself or with dips are popular. They are also easy to crush up, and can instead of bread crumbs in many recipes. For example, this stuffed chicken recipe is coated with crushed pork rinds.

So, if the idea appeals to you, go ahead and try pork rinds. They aren't terribly nutritious, but you could do much worse.  

Source for Nutrient Information:

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 21.

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