What is Ham?
Ham is meat derived from a pig’s hind leg. A typical ham is made by deboning and shaving the hind leg. This leaves a clean meat cut, free from tendons and bone.
In some cases, the skin can either be removed or left. Ham can be fresh (unprocessed) or cured.
Curing involves different processes:
- Dry curing – rubbing the surface with salt
- Wet curing – immersing the meat in brine.
- Injection – injecting the entire meat with brine
Brine solutions vary, but basic ingredients used include salt, sugar and filtrated water.
The use of nitrates and phosphates were initially popular. These salts add a distinctive color to the cured meat. Additionally, they act as buffers against bacterial growth. You can also add seasonings of your choice. Other variations include honey, syrups and fruits in the brine.
After curing, the meat is left for a period of time for the cure to work. Depending on the artisan’s or manufacturer’s preferences, the meat can then be smoked or left as is.
Ham has been in existence for thousands of years, with China being accredited to having the first one. Its popularity spread especially in Rome and other ancient civilizations.
Nowadays, ham is as ubiquitous as air and is widespread globally. This excludes regions where pork meat is forbidden.
Additionally, each region has its own unique story. As such, how the Germans cure and enjoy their “der Schinken” may be different from your typical “Country ham”.
Needless to say, popular types include the Italian prosciutto, Black Forest of Germany, Serrano from Spain, French Bayonne, canned, ham steak and Country ham from the U.S.A. Moreover, you can find ham-on-the-bone, whereby the meat is not deboned.
Apart from this, numerous artisan types exist, each uniquely crafted to depict the artisan’s preferences.
Furthermore, it is commercially processed into different deli meat cuts. You have probably used them on sandwiches and salads.
How to Choose – fresh and cured
Whether it’s Easter or Christmas, nothing is more relieving than to know you have stocked up on ham. Everyone loves the good old baked ham! When out to shop, what do you look for?
Here are a few pointers:
- How much do you need? Ham usually comes as whole, half (either from the shank or butt) as well as slices. This helps you avoid bulk buying.
- Next, you need to know your calculations – how many people are you cooking for? To be on the safe side, plan for ½ of each pound per person.
- For fresh ham, look out for a pale pink hue, similar to fresh pork. On the other hand, cured ham has a deeper pink, reddish-brown hue.
- Ready-to-cook ham comes with special instructions – for cooking and safe handling.
Is Ham Nutritious?
Right off the bat, you can tell that ham is rich in sodium – thanks to salt-curing or brining.
Besides sodium, which other nutrients does ham boast of? This juicy meat is rich in proteins, vitamins and minerals.
In fact, a single serving contains around 58% of your daily protein needs. Also, it contains iron, potassium, cobalamin, magnesium, vitamins D, B6 as well as fats.
Is ham shelf stable? You may be mistaken to think that it lasts indefinitely. The truth is, it does go bad.
However, favorable storage conditions as well as curing methods prolong its shelf life considerably.
How long it lasts depends on its state. Read on for a better understanding:
How long does cured ham last? (in the freezer or fridge)
Cured ham can either be ready-to-eat (cooked) or cook-before-eating. For all types, refrigerate or freeze.
Unused cooked variety that is freshly bought, keeps well for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator.
For long-term storage, freeze in its original package. When well frozen, it lasts from 2-8 months.
Additionally, you can find commercially vacuum sealed and cooked ones. Once opened, it lasts for 5 days in the fridge.
On the other hand, cured variety that requires cooking refrigerates well for 1 week.
Store-bought ones come with ‘use by date’ – this guides you on usage. You can also freeze – it can last for 4 months in good quality.
Shelf life of fresh, uncooked ham (in the fridge and freezer)
Fresh, uncured type that is raw deteriorates fast. Refrigerate and consume within 5 days at most. Wrap in heavy-duty plastic and keep in an airtight container.
To maximize on shelf life, freeze it – up to 6 months.
Shelf life of fresh (uncured), cooked (in the fridge and freezer)
Refrigerate or freeze any uncured cooked meat. If refrigerated, consume within 3 days.
When frozen, it keeps well for up to 4 months.
Does canned ham expire?
Yes, it is as good as how you store it. Once opened, always refrigerate the contents.
Canned ham can sometimes be labelled as “keep refrigerated”. For unopened cans, the shelf life is up to 9 months.
On the other hand, opened ones remain in good condition for 1 week in the fridge. You can also freeze opened canned one – it lasts up to 2 months.
Besides the labelled one, there is the usual shelf stable canned variety. Once opened, refrigerate and use within 4 days. On the other hand, freeze for up to 2 months.
Shelf life of cured, smoked ham (in the fridge, freezer and at room temperature)
Smoking is an ancient food preservation technique. Not only does it prolongs the shelf life, it also imparts a smoky, earthy flavor on the meat.
Commercially smoked and packaged ham keeps well in the refrigerator or freezer. As such, well refrigerated ones lasts for 2 months. On the other hand, frozen ones remain safe for up to 6 months.
It is not unusual to find homesteads which smoke their own. The ham is smoked and dried for months on end. It keeps well for 1 year or more.
How does spoiled ham look like?
Spoilage in any meat cut is a no brainer. Here are some of the ways you can identify spoilage:
- Look out for grey hue, instead of the usual pale pink.
- Slimy, sticky flesh
- Sour, foul odor