Cured Versus Uncured Ham

Dec 12, 2022

Chances are, you’ve eaten more cured ham than uncured ham in your lifetime. After all, who doesn’t love crispy bacon in the mornings or salty country ham for Christmas dinner?
But have you ever considered the differences between cured and uncured ham, and what makes someone choose one type of meat over the other? Keep reading for a brief rundown on the curing process, benefits, and flavor that can be expected from both cured and uncured ham.
The curing process
            The difference between cured and uncured ham is the additives that are used to preserve the meat. Cured ham is cured with salt and other ingredients such as sugar, nitrates, and spices. The salt helps to preserve the meat and inhibit the growth of bacteria, thereby giving the meat a longer shelf life.
Uncured ham is still technically cured, albeit more naturally than the former option. It does not contain any nitrates or nitrites and is often cured using salt, celery powder, and/or beets. The curing process can take days, or even weeks, depending on the temperature and humidity of the environment. When cooking a fresh, uncured ham, you will have to put forth more effort and time, and it will not store as long in your refrigerator as a cured ham would.
Health benefits
            Although the taste of cured ham is hard to beat, unfortunately, it comes with a couple of health-related consequences. Nitrosamines, which are a by-product of the curing process, have been known to cause cancer, especially when consumed in large portions. Cured hams are also high in sodium, which could be a concern for those needing to watch their sodium intake.
            Uncured ham is often seen as the healthier alternative because of the more natural process by which it is cured and the lesser amount of sodium and calories. When cured with celery powder and beets, the vitamin C in the vegetables prevents the nitrates from transforming into nitrosamines, which means that the risk of cancer from eating uncured ham is significantly less.
            Cured ham has a much saltier taste because of the amount of nitrate and other ingredients used in the curing process and is also drier as a result. Cured hams are often smoked as well, giving them a more intense flavor.
On the other hand, uncured hams often have a milder flavor since they are not smoked or cured in salt, making them a good choice for those who don’t like the strong flavor of cured ham. Uncured ham also has twice as much water content as cured ham and is therefore much moister.
If you are one of the pork producers in our agricultural system that makes this traditional dish possible, we want to say a special thank-you! Your local Co-op is here to serve your needs on the farm. Find the nearest location here.
For more content like this, check out the latest issue of The Cooperator.

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