Bacon bits are small pieces of cooked bacon which are intended to be used as a sprinkled condiment. They are also available in vegetarian form, made with soy or textured vegetable protein and an assortment of flavors so that they taste similar to bacon. In both cases, this condiment is very shelf stable, and can usually be found with things such as mayonnaise and mustard in the market. It is also possible to make bacon bits at home, in both vegetarian and regular versions.
There are a number of reasons to use bacon bits in food as opposed to true bacon. As a garnish, they add an interesting and smoky flavor to salads, baked potatoes, pizzas, and other foods. They also tend to be more healthy than using straight bacon, because a small sprinkling of bacon bits goes a long way, allowing people to experience the flavor without the high fat content and greasiness of bacon.
The vegetarian version of bacon bits was probably initially manufactured because it was much less expensive. Non-vegetarian versions are often stretched with textured vegetable protein, so vegetarians and vegans should make sure to read labels carefully, as a bacon bit product that's made of soy may also contain real bacon. Vegetarians have adopted the soy version of this condiment because they add crunch and flavor to food. For vegetarians who miss meats, this can also be a nice addition to vegan and vegetarian dishes.
Like other condiments, bacon bits are perfectly safe to eat right out of the package, and they can keep in a cool dry place for a long time until they are opened. Once a package has been opened, it can be stored under refrigeration, and it should keep until it is used up. Homemade bacon bits may not be as shelf stable, unless home cooks add stabilizers.
To make bacon bits from real bacon, cooks should cook strips of bacon in a pan on medium heat until crispy, draining all the rendered fat off as the bacon cooks. After the crispy bacon is cooled, it can be crushed or run through a food processor to make small pieces. A vegetarian version can be made from textured vegetable protein, which is often available in the vegetarian section of markets. The textured vegetable protein can be mixed with smoke and other flavorings to get a bacon-like flavor, and then roasted in an oven until it forms a crisp crumble.