Ham is a cut of meat from the thigh of the hind leg of an animal, usually a pig. Nearly all hams sold today are either fully cooked or cured.][
The main flavor compounds of smoked ham are guaiacol, and its 4-, 5-, and 6-methyl derivatives as well as 2,6-dimethylphenol. These compounds are produced by thermal breakdown (i.e., combustion) of lignin, a major constituent of wood used in the smokehouse.
Jambon d'Ardenne is a dry-cured ham from Wallonia (Belgium), rubbed with salt or immersed in a brine, and left to mature in a cool place; if it is smoked, wood or sawdust must be used (softwood and reuse excluded). It has the European label Protected Geographical Indication (PGI).
Elenski but is a dry-cured ham from the town of Elena in northern Bulgaria. The meat has a specific taste and can be preserved over the course of several years, owing much to the process of making and the local climatic conditions.
In the coastal regions of Croatia—Istria, Dalmatia, Croatian Littoral, and Lika—a form of ham known as pršut is made. In Istria ham is protected by origin (only Croatian ham that is protected (PDO)), made only with natural herbs (garlic, sea salt, bay leaf, black pepper), and dried without smoke. It is covered with green mold and without fat and skin. Dalmatian ham is smoked and dried ham which is pressed and is very popular. The most popular pršuts come from town of Drniš and village Posedarje in Dalmatia, and town of Pazin, village Tinjan in Istria. The popularity of pršut has helped it spread to other regions of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and other surrounding countries. Pršut is similar to Italian hams. In continental Croatia the šunkas are made. Šunka is a Croatian word for ham. It is not pressed but in other ways it is similar to pršut though not as popular.
Chinese dry-cured hams have been recorded in texts since before the Song dynasty and used in myriad dishes. Several types exist in Qing dynasty cuisine and are used in dishes of stewing hams (火腿炖肘子), and vegetables, or for a wide variety of soup and soup stocks. One of the best-known Chinese hams is the Jinhua ham, a dry-cured ham which is used to produce a dish known as "Buddha jumps over the wall". Jinhua ham is used in Chinese cuisines to flavor stewed and braised foods as well as for making the stocks and broths of many Chinese soups. The ham was awarded first prize in the 1915 Panama International Merchandise Exhibition.
Regional varieties of French dry-cured hams include:
Jambon de Bayonne (Bayonne ham) is an air dried salted ham that takes its name from the ancient port city of Bayonne in the far South West of France (Le Pays Basque or French Basque Country). It is mainly produced in the Béarn region.
Jambon de Paris (Paris ham) is a wet-cured, boneless ham, which is served cold in thin slices and is a favorite of French families, especially children, to fix a quick meal.
Jambon d'Aoste, jambon de Savoie, jambon d'Auvergne, and jambon d'Ardèche are other French hams with some form of official appellation.
Regional varieties of German dry-cured, smoked hams include:
In Greece and Cyprus, ham or hiroméri (χοιρομέρι), lit. "pork thigh", was traditionally prepared right before Christmas. The pork thigh is salted, sometimes marinated in red wine, then spiced and eventually smoked. It is typically served as an accompaniment to wine or ouzo.
In Italy, ham is called prosciutto, and can be either cured (prosciutto crudo) or cooked (prosciutto cotto).
Earliest evidence of ham production in Italy comes from the Republican Roman period (400-300 BC). Modern Italian and European Union legislation grants a protected designation of origin to several raw hams, which specify where and how these types of ham can be produced.
There are several such hams from Italy, each one with a particular production process. Parma ham, the so-called prosciutto di Parma, has almost 200 producers concentrated in the eastern part of Parma Province. Its production is regulated by a quality consortium that recognizes qualifying products with a distinctive mark. Only larger fresh hams are used (12-13 kilograms). Curing uses relatively little salt. After salting, the meat is sealed with pig fat over the exposed muscle tissue, which slows drying. Curing occurs over a minimum 12 months. No nitrates or spices are used in the process.
San Daniele ham (prosciutto di San Daniele) is the most similar to Parma ham, especially the low quantity of salt added to the meat, and is the most prized ham. Other raw hams include the so-called nostrani or nazionali or toscani; they are more strongly flavored and are produced using a higher quantity of salt.
Prague ham (prosciutto di Praga), although originating in Prague in the early 1900s, is one of the most well known Italian cooked hams, and the province of Trieste (which was part of Austria-Hungary until 1918, just like Prague) is the center of its production.] [.
Éisleker ham, or jambon d'Oesling (Oesling ham), is a speciality from the Oesling region in the north of Luxembourg. Traditionally, it was prepared by marinating the hams in herbs and vinegar for several days, then hanging them in a chimney for long periods of cold smoking. Today the meat is cured in brine for two weeks and placed in a smoker fed from beech and oak chips for about a week. Jambon d'Oesling is protected under EU regulations as having PGI status.
Njeguška pršuta is an air-dried ham made in Njeguši, a village in Montenegro. Its particular flavor and aroma are the result of the mixture of sea and mountain air and wood burned during the drying process. It is similar to bacon.
In the Philippines, ham, or hamon as it is called (from the Spanish jamón, "ham"), is normally associated with the Yuletide season. There are local variants of jamón serrano, and there is hamon de Bola, which is a ball-shaped wet cured ham, among other varieties. There is also tinned processed ham—the type in cans—available year round in groceries. The main Christmas ham, similar to a Chinese ham and served on some Noche Buenas (Christmas Eve), is similar to a dry cured one, and it has to be cooked in a special sweet broth after being soaked to reduce the salt. Then the ham is scored and glazed, and roasted. Hamon de Bola, produced by the major Philippine food manufacturers, is usually offered as gifts to employees in most companies and government offices during the Yuletide season. This can be either baked or fried. As with the other dishes "localized" from foreign sources, the Philippine palate favors the sweeter variety of ham.
In Portugal, besides several varieties of wet-cured hams called fiambre (not to be confused with the Guatemalan dish, also called fiambre), the most important type of ham is presunto, a dry-cured ham similar to Spanish jamón and Italian prosciutto. There are a wide variety of presuntos in Portugal; among the most famous are presunto from Chaves and presunto from Alentejo made from black Iberian pig (see also pata negra).
In Romania, ham is of two types şuncă (also called şonc or şoancă) and jambon. Sunca is usually dry cured, always with granular salt; in Transylvania and Banat, paprika might be added. Jambon, in the region of Moldova, is cured with granular salt and stored for at least 3 months. Before serving it, jambon will be kept in frequently changed water for about 24 hours to reduce salt, then it will be put on a pan, and covered with a thick layer of dough, and ultimately cooked in an oven for at least 3 hours. The result is a soft, tender meat soaked in light tasty pork fat with only a very thin layer of fat left because of the cooking.
The best-known Serbian ham (pršut in Serbian) is produced in Zlatibor mountain region, especially Mačkat village, where an annual ham festival is held every January. The Zlatibor region feels the influences of mediterranean and continental climates and in this area is "wind rose" which is one of the main reasons for production of quality ham. Delicatessen products include beef, swine and sheep ham. Another delicacy is Užice ham (Užička pršut) produced in western Serbia, near Užice town. Also known for ham is Vojvodina in the north, especially Banat. There are also quality ham products from Stara Planina region in the south-east Serbia, on the border with Bulgaria. Worth mentioning is traditional ham production in the Šumadija region.
One of the more exacting ham regulatory practices can be found in Spain, where ham is called jamón in Spanish (also known regionally as pernil in Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia and other parts of Eastern Spain; xamón in Galicia; and urdaiazpiko in the Basque Country and Navarre). Hams in Spain are not only classified according to preparation, but also the breed, the pre-slaughter diet, and region of preparation are considered important.
The jamón serrano (Serrano ham) comes from the "white pig". The regional appellations of Spanish Serrano ham include the following:
The jamón ibérico (Iberian ham) comes from the black Iberian pig, and is also classified by the amount of acorns they eat, which determines the ham quality. Spanish regulators recognize three qualities:
The regional appellations (Denominación de Origen, D.O.) of Iberian ham include the following:
British ham is closely associated with the older Wiltshire cure process rather than the newer Sweet cure. Gammon steaks are thick cut and circular in shape. The word gammon derives from the Old Northern French word jambe for hind-leg of the pig, and may also be used to refer to bacon. The depth of meat to the bone is greatest at the top of the hind limb; cutting this piece from the side and curing it separately therefore cures the meat thoroughly and easily. This cut is the original and to this extent authentic form of gammon, though the name is often applied to any round ham steak. Gammon is usually smoked.
"York ham" is a mild-flavoured ham, lightly smoked and dry-cured, which is saltier but milder in flavour than other European dry-cured hams. It has delicate pink meat and does not need further cooking before eating. It is traditionally served with Madeira Sauce. Folklore has it that the oak construction for York Minster provided the sawdust for smoking the ham.
The United States largely inherited its traditions relating to ham and pork from 17th-century Britain and 18th-century France, the latter especially in Louisiana. The French often used wet cure processed hams that are the foundation stock of several modern dishes, like certain gumbos and sandwiches. Until the very early 20th century, men living in the southern Appalachians would drive their pigs to market in the flatlands below each Autumn, fattening up their stock on chestnuts and fallen mast. Further, archaeological evidence suggests that the early settlers of Jamestown (men largely from the West Midlands) built swine pens for the pigs they brought with them and, once established, also carried on an ancient British tradition of slaughtering their pigs and producing their pork in mid-November.][ To this day, the result is that in many areas, a large ham, not a turkey, is the centerpiece of a family Christmas dinner.
In the United States, ham is regulated primarily on the basis of its cure and water content. The USDA recognizes the following categories:][ Fresh ham is an uncured hind leg of pork. Country ham is uncooked, cured, dried, smoked or unsmoked, made from a single piece of meat from the hind leg of a hog or from a single piece of meat from a pork shoulder (picnic ham). Country ham typically is saltier and less sweet than city ham. Virginia's Smithfield ham, a country ham, must be grown and produced in or around Smithfield, Virginia, to be sold as a Smithfield ham. Similar hams from Tennessee and the Appalachians have a similar method of preparation, but may include honey in their cures and be hickory smoked. As country ham ages, mold may grow on the outside of the ham, while the rest of the meat continues to age. This process produces a distinctive flavor, but the mold layer is usually scrubbed or cut off the ham before being cooked and served.
For most other purposes, under US law, a "ham" is a cured hind leg of pork that is at least 20.5% protein (not counting fat portions), and contains no added water. However, "ham" can be legally applied to "turkey ham" if the meat is taken from the turkey thigh. If the ham has less than 20.5% but is at least 18.5% protein, it can be called "ham with natural juices". A ham that is at least 17.0% protein and up to 10% added solution can be called "ham—water added". Finally, "ham and water product" refers to a cured hind leg of pork product that contains any amount of added water, although the label must indicate the percent added ingredients. If a ham has been cut into pieces and molded, it must be labelled "sectioned and formed", or "chunked and formed" if coarsely ground.
Sugar is common in many dry hams in the United States; it is used to cover the saltiness. The majority of common wet-cured ham available in U.S. supermarkets is of the "city ham" or "sweet cure" variety, in which brine is injected into the meat for a very rapid curing suitable for mass market. Traditional wet curing requires immersing the ham in a brine for an extended period, often followed by light smoking.
In addition to the main categories, some processing choices can affect legal labeling. A 'smoked' ham must have been smoked by hanging over burning wood chips in a smokehouse or an atomized spray of liquid smoke such that the product appearance is equivalent; a "hickory-smoked" ham must have been smoked using only hickory. However, injecting "smoke flavor" is not legal grounds for claiming the ham was "smoked"; these are labeled "smoke flavor added". Hams can only be labelled "honey-cured" if honey was at least 50% of the sweetener used, is at least 3% of the formula, and has a discernible effect on flavor. So-called "lean" and "extra lean" hams must adhere to maximum levels of fat and cholesterol per 100 grams of product.
Turkey ham, a boneless product made from pressed turkey thigh meat, is a low-fat alternative to traditional ham in the US.
Spiral sliced ham has become popular option for bone-in or boneless hams sold in the US. In the spiral cutting process, the ham is firmly affixed, on the top and bottom, to a rotating base, which is gradually lowered as a blade is applied. This creates one single continuous slice.
Tinned ham (more commonly known in the United States as "canned ham") is a meat product that is sold exclusively in tins (or cans). The ham itself is usually formed from smaller cuts of meat, cooked in the can, and is often covered in an aspic jelly during the canning process. Two versions are available, perishable and shelf-stable. Tinned ham is usually sold in supermarkets and convenience stores.
Ham is uncooked preserved pork. It is cured (a preservation process) usually in large quantities of salt and sugar, then hot smoked (hung over a hot, smokey fire but out of direct heat) to preserve it more. This process keeps the pink hue of the uncooked meat. Standard pork, like chops, are raw and unpreserved. When heat is applied to the meat a chemical reaction happens that turns the hemoglobin white. This also happens when an acid is applied to meats.
The pink color of ham develops in the curing process which involves salt and usually either nitrites or nitrates. The nitrate cure is used for product that will either be kept a long time or at room temperature like dry salami. Most hams are cured with nitrite and salt today.
The cure prevents the growth of unhealthy bacteria (maybe deadly) before enough moisture is withdrawn by the salt. This is particularly important if the product is to be smoked above 40F when these bacteria grow. The "danger zone" for uncured product is between 40F and 140F.
There is confusion in the words curing and brining. Brining is done with salt and usually sugar and only alters the product color a little. Curing is done with salt and nitrates.
Sodium nitrite is used for the curing of meat because it prevents bacterial growth and, in a reaction with the meat's myoglobin, gives the product a desirable dark red color. Because of the toxicity of nitrite (the lethal dose of nitrite for humans is about 22 mg per kg body weight), the maximum allowed nitrite concentration in meat products is 200 ppm. Under certain conditions, especially during cooking, nitrites in meat can react with degradation products of amino acids, forming nitrosamines, which are known carcinogens.
The word "ham" is derived from the Old English ham or hom meaning the hollow or bend of the knee.