Is ham raw?

In this brief guide, we will answer the query, “Is ham raw?” and will discuss different methods of ham curing?

Is ham raw?

Yes, ham is raw. Pork from the hind leg of a pig is what you’ll find in a ham. Fresh ham hasn’t been cured or smoked, therefore it’s uncooked. This indicates that it is raw pork that must be cooked thoroughly, which might take up to five hours depending on the ham’s size.

Country ham is the dry-cured hind leg of a pig that harks back to the way food was preserved before mechanical refrigeration, which means that the production of ham involves curing and not cooking (1).

History of ham

Cato the Elder wrote about “salting of hams” in his De Agri Cultura tome circa 160 BC, describing the process of preserving pig leg as ham.

Cured ham may have been originally mentioned in Chinese writings, according to legend. Larousse Gastronomique claims to be a Gaul-based publication. According to Marcus Terentius Varro, importing commerce from Gaul was clearly in place by the Roman era, as shown in his works.

The country ham finds its roots in China and European dry-cured hams such as China’s Jinhua and Yunnan hams, Italy’s Prosciutto, Spain’s Serrano and Iberian hams, and Germany’s Black Forest ham. Historically, pigs were harvested during the cold winter months of December through early February. The hams were removed and allowed to cool overnight before salt, sugar, and other spices were rubbed into the ham to begin the process of making a country ham (1). 

It was originally derived from the Germanic term “crooked,” which denoted the hollow or bend of a knee in Old English. A chunk of pork from a pig’s rear leg came to be referred to by this name in the 15th century.

A compound food or component, ham contains the original meat as well as the leftovers of the preservation agent, such as salt, yet it is still considered a food in its own right because of the preservation process.

Methods of curing ham

Salting, or dry curing, or brining, is the process of curing raw pig to create ham. Smoking and seasonings may be used, as well.


Raw pork leg is dried by being sprinkled with sea salt.

Traditional dry cure hams, such as San Daniele or Parma hams, may employ solely salt as the curative ingredient, although this is very unusual. Cleaning the raw meat, slathering it with salt, and slowly pressing it to remove all of the blood are all steps in this procedure. To enhance the flavor, herbs and spices may be added at this point. Afterward, the hams are cleaned and dried in a dark, temperature-controlled area. For a second time, it is put out in the open air to dry.

To achieve the necessary flavor qualities, the curing process may take anything from 9 to 12 months for Serrano hams, to more than 12 months for Parma hams, and up to two years for Iberian. In the case of Jinhua ham, this process may take up to ten months.

Nitrites (either sodium nitrite or potassium nitrite) are also often used in current dry-curing hams. Due to its antimicrobial properties and myoglobin’s ability to produce a red hue, nitrates are employed. When it comes to shrinking, the quantity and kind of salt and nitrites utilized have an impact. There are regulations in place in certain places that limit the amount of nitrite that may be included in the finished product due to the toxicity of nitrite (22 mg/kg body weight is the fatal level for humans). When nitrites in beef combine with amino acid breakdown products during cooking, they generate recognized carcinogens known as nitrosamines.

Enzymatic processes are involved in the drying process of ham. Proteinases (cathepsins B, D, H & L, and calpains) and exopeptidases are the enzymes involved (peptidase and aminopeptidase). There is a considerable number of peptides and free amino acids produced by these enzymes, while the adipose tissue is broken down to produce free fatty acids. Proteolytic activity is strongly inhibited by salt and phosphates. Age, weight, and breed are all variables that affect an animal’s enzyme activity. Temperature, time, water content, redox potential, and salt concentration all have an impact on the meat throughout the cooking process.

There are distinct gradients in the amount of salt in dry-cured ham that may be determined by sample and testing or non-invasive CT scanning. Dry-cured ham is often served raw.

The ripening process in this type of cured meat leads to the hydrolysis of certain components such as proteins and lipids, and the formation and release of low molecular weight compounds, both volatile and non-volatile, which give these products an intense and characteristic flavor. Some properties of cured meat are: (1) they include a considerable strong dehydration, up to more than 50% weight loss for some products; (2) they imply significant chemical and biochemical transformation of meat components, including protein and lipid hydrolysis, protein and lipid oxidation and Maillard type reactions as most relevant ones; (3) the process for most of them includes the addition of sodium chloride and nitrates and/or nitrites; (4) most of them undergo extensive microbial transformations by different bacteria, mold and yeast species; this microbiota contributes to acidification, formation of nitrosomyoglobin, proteolysis, lipolysis and flavor formation. All these changes are directed to obtain a shelf-stable flavorful product with a particular chewy but tender texture (2).


Brining wet-cured hams entails submerging the meat in a saltwater solution, which may also include additional flavorings like sugar. The beef is usually brined for between three and 14 days. Additionally, wet curing increases the completed product’s volume and weight by about 4%.

Pumping the curing solution into the meat is another option for wet curing. In addition to saving time and increasing weight, this method ensures a more equal application of salt throughout the meat. This is a faster method than conventional brining, taking just a few days to finish. 

Wet curing of entire pieces, e.g., cooked ham/loin and bacon, typically involves the use of needle injection of brines containing salt, nitrite, ascorbate and often also phosphates. The diffusion of salt is accelerated by physical treatment in a process known as tumbling, optionally smoked and the product is cooked. So-called enhanced meat, where the meat receives added water containing salt and is sold as ‘fresh’ meat, is also within this category, although the consumer performs the cooking process (2).

It is common for the wet-cured ham to be cooked, either during the curing process or after it has matured.

Prosciutto Cotto is the Italian term for cooked, wet-cured ham, as are comparable hams produced outside Italy. Brine treatment is followed by cooking in a container and lastly pasteurization on the surface. Salt, nitrites, sugar, dextrose, fructose, lactose, maltodextrin, milk protein, soy protein, natural or modified starches, spices, gelatin, and flavorings are all permissible under Italian rules. restrictions in the food.


Smoking is one of the oldest methods of food preservation, being an integral part of the curing process of many traditional products. Smoking adds desirable sensory properties to many foods and is widely applied in meat processing. Combined chemical constituents of smoke together with heating and drying processes are responsible for bactericidal and bacteriostatic effects. In dry-cured meat products, smoking, combined with salting and partial dehydration, increases the shelf life, due to surface drying and deposition onto the surface of antioxidant and antimicrobial compounds (3).

Smoked ham may be further preserved by placing the meat in a smokehouse (or comparable) and allowing the smoke to cure the meat. Aldehydes and phenols are the major group of compounds that constitute the aroma of smoked ham. Except volatile compounds derived from lipolysis and proteolysis the second most abundant constituents were phenols that originate from the smoking phase of the production process (3). Guaiacol and it’s 4-, 5-, and 6-methyl derivatives, as well as 2,6-dimethylphenol, are the primary taste chemicals found in smoked ham. Lignin, a primary component of smokehouse wood, is burned to create these chemicals. 

Other FAQs about Ham that you may be interested in.

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In this brief guide, we answered the query, “Is ham raw?” and discussed different methods of curing ham.


  1. Rentfrow, Gregg, and Surendranath Suman. “How to Make a Country Ham.” (2014).
  2. Geiker, Nina Rica Wium, et al. Meat and human health—Current knowledge and research gaps. Foods, 2021, 10, 1556.  
  3. Marušić Radovčić, N., Vidaček, S., Janči, T. et al. Characterization of volatile compounds, physico-chemical and sensory characteristics of smoked dry-cured ham. J Food Sci Technol, 2016, 53, 4093–4105.