Hunger for Knowledge: 11 Facts About Spanish Ham

Published : 08/03/2018 16:10:05
Categories : Eatapas News

Spanish ham is an absolute staple in Spanish cuisine.

You’d be hard pressed to not come across any Spanish ham when either making or eating tapas – but how much do you really know about it?

It’s a better experience when you fully understand what you’re tasting. So, we’ve done the heavy lifting for you!

Below are 11 facts about Spanish ham that you may not already know:

100% Iberian Pig?

Not all Iberian hams on the market come from 100% purebred pigs.

Many hams are actually a crossbreed of Iberian with another form of pig.

In some cases, the ham is 100% Iberian pig, but these don’t account for all hams on the market. The more purebred, the more expensive the meat!

The Clue’s in the Name

With jamón Iberico de bellota, you can learn a lot from the name itself.

‘Bellota’ is the Spanish word for acorn, which the pigs are fed on as they are allowed to roam freely. These acorns fall naturally to the ground, or are encouraged by gently hitting the trees.

Jamón Iberico cebo is the non-acorn variety. These pigs are usually fed on natural fodder, such as cereals or legumes.

Acorns are Important

Feeding the pigs is extremely important in influencing the flavour of Ibérico ham.

The acorns fed to Iberian pigs make a big difference, as they affect the fat inside the muscles, which then enriches the overall flavour.

In this respect, the amount of acorns (as well as the quality) will greatly affect the quality of the product.

Illegal US Imports

Prior to the year 2005, it was illegal to import Spanish ham into the US.

Spanish slaughterhouses weren’t FDA approved, and even to this day there are still some strict laws restricting some imports.

It Can Be Expensive

Spanish ham can get expensive. The question people tend to wonder is, why?

The price usually depends on how free the pigs were and how much weight they gained through their feeding. Some pigs are provided the finest nutrition and are given a lot of freedom of movement, which then affects their meat quality.

As a result, these pigs make for far more expensive hams.

Despite this, it doesn’t deter people from including this ingredient into many ham tapas recipes!

Spain is the Largest Producer in the World

It shouldn’t come as too much surprise to find out Spain is the largest producer and consumer of ham in the entire world.

Another noteworthy fact to mention is how much purely Iberico ham makes up that percentage – overall, ham from Iberico pigs only comprises roughly 5% of Spain’s ham produce.

It’s Healthy

As mentioned before, Iberian pigs feed on a diet of acorns.

These acorns, apart from enriching the taste of the ham, also have another added benefit. They contain a lot of oleic acid, which helps to reduce LDL cholesterol (termed the “bad cholesterol”) and increase HDL cholesterol (the good one).

The oleic acid is stored in the fat of the pig, making the ham a healthy food choice for managing cholesterol.

Iberian Pigs are Unique

We’ve already mentioned how important an Iberian pig’s diet is and the health benefits of Iberian Ham.

However, the deeper reasoning behind both lies in the Iberian pig’s unique nature.

The Iberian pig can be traced back to caveman times, and if that wasn’t impressive enough, the animal contains DNA different from other pigs. The Iberian pig is able to transform not only the acorns it consumes, but also the rest of its diet, into healthy fats.

However, this only occurs in hams made from Ibérico pigs (known as in Jamón Ibérico de Bellota) with acorn diets in the oak forests of the Dehesa. That’s specifically unique!

There are Strict Regulations

The quality of ham is extremely important in Spain.

As a result, there are strict regulations surrounding its production. For example, jamón Ibérico can be made from cross breeding pigs, as long as those pigs are at least 75% pure bred Iberian pigs.

The hams are also identified by their free-range diet, their pig breed, and the type of cut (shoulder or leg, usually.

This strict production and identification process ensures the quality of the ham is at its absolute best quality.

There’s a Fifth Flavour

We’re all used to the standard sweet, salty, bitter and acid flavours. However, Iberian Ham possesses a fifth.

This flavour is coined “Umami”, which is Japanese for “pleasant, savoury taste”, and that’s exactly what it is.

The taste comes from an amino acid which is found in particular proteins – Spanish ham being one of them!

When to Eat the Ham

If you’re eating Serrano ham, there’s definitely an optimum time and place.

If you slice your ham so each slice is as thin as possible, and you allow it to breathe at room temperature for a short while, it’ll taste its absolute best.

Due to the fat content, slices will effectively “sweat”, and while that may sound unappealing, it’s actually the best time to consume them.

Now you’re up to speed on some important aspects of Spanish ham, it’s time to fully enjoy it like you never have before! Check out our range of authentic Spanish ham here.

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