Can you eat country ham raw?

In this brief article, we will answer the question, “Can you eat country ham raw?”. We will further elaborate on the taste of country ham, the nutritional profile as well as the benefits and disadvantages of country ham.

Can you eat country ham raw?

Yes, you can eat country ham raw. However, before eating country ham raw, dry-curing it with salt must be carried out. It helps to stop bacterial growth and makes country ham safe for consumption. For this process, raw country ham is coated with pepper. Pepper and other plants are important antioxidants and can be used to increase shelf life of meat products (1).

According to the WHO, dietary fat intake should ideally account for between 15% and 30% of total diet energy, saturated fatty acids (SFA) no more than 10%, polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) between 6% and 10% (n  6, 5–8%; n  3, 1–2%), around 10–15% from monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), and less than 1% from trans fatty acids. Dry cured ham contains different amounts of these fats (2).

What is the taste of raw country ham?

The taste of raw country ham is rich and very salty. The taste of some raw country ham is sweet and savory. These are mostly smoked over hardwoods like maple and hickory. This is done for a well-rounded and smoky flavor.

During ripening, endogenous enzymes degrade proteins and lipids to amino and fatty acids correspondingly, which are mainly responsible for the flavor of dry-cured ham. Free amino and fatty acids are further degraded and converted by enzymatic and chemical reactions, including oxidation, to volatile compounds. Free amino acids contribute directly to taste, while further protein degradation products participate in generation of many odorants (3).

What is the appearance of raw country ham?

Talking about the appearance of raw country ham, its color is pink. When the raw country ham is cooked, its color changes to grayish white. Country ham without nitrate is referred to as fresh or uncured. This can be determined from the labeling of country ham whether it contains nitrate or not (3).

What is the nutritional content of country ham raw?

Following are some of the nutrients that can be availed by eating country ham raw

  • Sodium
  •  Potassium
  •   Iron
  •  Protein
  • Fat
  • Magnesium
  • Selenium

There are various factors (pig breed, animal production practices, production methods) which produce considerable differences in qualitative and quantitative aspects of fat, protein levels, presence of salt (sodium), etc., that are responsible for the sensory and nutritional characteristics of hams and their potential implications for human health (2).

How to differentiate between processed and uncooked country ham?

To differentiate between processed and uncooked country ham we can check the package which includes information. In case country ham is not cooked, directions are always mentioned on the package which we can follow to cook them.

How to cook raw country ham?

Following are some steps followed to cook raw country ham: 

  • To remove the salt, country ham slices are soaked in water for about thirty minutes.
  • After then water is drained and half a teaspoon of butter is added to the pan after heating a heavy skillet over medium heat.
  • Each side of the slice of country ham is cooked for two minutes or until it gets slightly brown.
  • After country ham gets cooked, it can be served with a hot biscuit and gravy.

Raw ham may also be consumed uncooked, as it was properly cured by the use of curing agents such as salt, mostly nitrite and/or nitrate, and spices. The curing process provides safety to the product and confers typical aroma and texture (3).

What are the best country hams?

A variety of country hams are available nowadays. Among those, the top five country hams include:

  • Broadbent’s The ideal biscuit ham–not too dry, not too moist–ready for serving.
  • Colonel Bill Newsom’s Prosciutto-like perfection. 
  • Father’s Country Hams Super-sweet and salty.
  • Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams Allan Benton’s hams have a campfire smokiness.

 

How to store country ham?

Raw Country ham can be stored safely in a cool dry area at room temperature. The purpose behind placing uncooked slices at room temperature is that it does not require refrigeration and can be eaten safely. So this way raw country ham can be kept for approximately 6 months. 

If unsliced, dry-cured ham is shelf-stable for one year. If sliced, ham may be refrigerated for two to three months. Once cooked, it can be refrigerated for three to four days (4).

Boneless country hams must be covered with freezer paper before freezing them. To enhance the shelf life for a prolonged period, country hams must be stored in the refrigerator under proper refrigeration conditions.

What are the benefits of country ham?

Following are some benefits of eating country ham:

 

Rich in nutrients: 

Various nutrients like selenium, choline and carnosine are present in country ham. Carnosine and anserine, histidine-based dipeptides,with antioxidant activity, offers anti-ageing and antioxidant properties. These dipeptides help control oxidation through the prevention of lipid oxidation by inactivating catalysts and/or free radicals in the cytosol (2).

Selenium is very effective for thyroid diseases and heart-related diseases. While choline is essential for pregnant women as it provides positive effects on placental health and enhances the choline content of breast milk. Dry-cured ham is a good source of iron and zinc, has considerable concentrations of phosphorus and potassium and significant amounts of magnesium (2).

Helps in losing weight: 

Eating country ham keeps us full for a prolonged period. Because country ham is a low-calorie density food. So people who are trying to lose weight must include country ham in their diet. A clinical study that included ham in the diet of elderly persons, found a significant decrease in plasma total cholesterol, triglycerides and LDL–cholesterol of the control group (2).

 

Helps in the maintenance of muscle mass: 

As various amino acids are present in country ham, these are very important in providing high-quality protein. So consumption of country ham helps to maintain muscle mass and strength. Ham is an excellent source of high-biological-value proteins because it contains essential amino acids in appropriate ratios. Protein content in dry-cured ham is about 30 g/100 g depending on the extent of drying and the fat content (2). 

Dry-cured ham contains a variety of histidine-based dipeptides, with antioxidant activity, like carnosine and anserine (2). Muscle carnosine which is very important for the improvement of exercise performance is present in country ham (5).

 

What are the disadvantages of country ham raw?

Following are some disadvantages of consuming country ham raw

Cancer: A study has shown an association between consumption of raw country ham and cancer. Nitrite and nitrate are widely used in dry-cured ham manufacture as curing salts. Nitrite and nitrate salts in meat can transform into nitrosamines which have carcinogenic properties (3).

Presence of sodium: A high quantity of sodium is present in raw country ham. Sodium is injurious to health at a high concentration. Along with sodium, some other preservatives are also present in raw country ham. Health authorities are associating high levels of sodium chloride (NaCl) intake with raised blood pressure, also known as hypertension (2).

Stomach issues: Stomach issues have been reported in people who consume high amounts of raw country ham.

Fat content: The consumption of ham must be accompanied by observing the daily consumption of fat. Dietary fat intake should ideally account for between 15% and 30% of total diet energy, saturated fatty acids no more than 10%, polyunsaturated fatty acids between 6% and 10%, around 10–15% from monounsaturated fatty acids, and less than 1% from trans fatty acids. It is also recommended to limit cholesterol intake to 300 mg/day (2).

 

Conclusion

In this brief article, we have provided an answer to the question, “Can you eat country ham raw?”. We have further elaborated on the taste of country ham, the nutritional profile as well as the benefits and disadvantages of country ham.

References

  1. Munekata, Paulo Eduardo S., et al. “Addition of plant extracts to meat and meat products to extend shelf-life and health-promoting attributes: An overview.” Curr Opin Food Sci, 2020, 31, 81-87. 
  2. Jiménez-Colmenero, Francisco, Jesus Ventanas, and Fidel Toldra. “Nutritional composition of dry-cured ham and its role in a healthy diet.” Meat Science, 2010, 84, 585-593 
  3. Petrova, I., Aasen, I.M., Rustad, T. et al. Manufacture of dry-cured ham: a review. Part 1. Biochemical changes during the technological process. Eur Food Res Technol, 2015, 241, 587–599.
  4. Peter, M.L. Holiday foods: Tips on storage and shelf life. Kansas State University. 2015.
  5. Sale, Craig, et al. Carnosine: from exercise performance to health. Amino acids, 2013, 44, 1477-1491.

Hi, I am Charlotte, I love cooking and in my previous life, I was a chef. I bring some of my experience to the recipes on this hub and answer your food questions.