Spanish ham during the brining

We are currently very concerned about the effects of our diet on our health and that is why many people are concerned about excessive salt consumption.

Spanish Ham is a product that contains salt. We already know that. But why do they act like this in Spain?

Salt has been used since ancient times as a preservative for foods, including Spanish ham. The Romans, who paid great attention to the quality of their products, wrote the first documents on salting the “legs” of pigs. More than 20 centuries later and it is still being done!

I am often asked:

Cati, does the Spanish ham need salt? Could it be done without salt?”

Actually you can't do it without salt! Let's see why:

  • Firstly, because for the production of ham it is necessary to extract all the water contained in the meat, salt has the capacity to extract water from the inside of the meat and in turn penetrate into the lean part by diffusion ( the so-called osmotic effect).

Why is that important? By removing the water and moisture from the ham we prevent the proliferation of disruptive and disease-causing microorganisms that would be harmful to consumption.

  • During the production process, a number of processes occur, the so-called proteolytic phenomena (breakdown of proteins) that are partly responsible for the development of the characteristic aroma, taste and texture of the ham.

Currently, many companies that produce ham are striving to use as little salt as possible; to produce ham that tastes like ham and not like salt.

To do this, they shorten the brining time (the process of salting the ham) and give the ham more time to cure (longer curing time).

The following formula is usually used during the brining time: 1 day in salt x kilo weight. Some companies do 1 day x kilo – 1, others 1 day x kilo – 3.

So 1 fresh ham of 10 kilos = 10 days of curing in salt, some companies do 9 days and others 7 days.

The surface salt is then removed by brushing the ham with water. The salt has now penetrated the ham.

The salt content should not be too high from a sensory and nutritional point of view and not too low from a microbiological point of view, so balance is important.

The use of salt in the preparation of Spanish ham is therefore essential, necessary, useful and sensible.

So to answer the first question, Spanish ham cannot do without salt, but it can do with a little less.

The challenge is to use salt in a responsible, balanced way, and to achieve a ham that is not over-salted, with proper maturation, exceptional taste and a good aroma, a miracle.

I call it a gastronomic miracle!

Fons:

  • Jamón curado aspectos científicos y tecnológicos. Don José Bello Gutierrez
  • Jamon Ibérico y Serrano. Fundamentos de la elaboración y de la calidad: Don Jesús Ventanas Barroso