What Ham is Not Processed? A Guide to Uncured Ham

When we think of delicious ham, often the first thing that comes to mind is a nice pink slice with a salty, smoky flavor. This type of ham has likely gone through a curing process to achieve that color and taste. However, not all ham is cured and processed in the traditional way. There is another option that is growing in popularity – uncured ham. So what exactly is uncured ham and how does it differ from the cured ham we are accustomed to? Keep reading as we break it down in this comprehensive guide!

First, let’s start with a quick ham overview. Ham is meat from the hind leg of a hog that has undergone some method of preservation and preparation. The main types are cured ham and uncured ham.

Cured ham goes through a process of injecting a brine solution into the meat This brine usually contains water, salt, sodium nitrite, sugar, and other seasonings It helps preserve the ham, add flavor, and give it that iconic pink color. Many cured hams are also smoked which imparts even more flavor.

Uncured ham does not use this traditional curing process Instead, it relies on natural preservatives and techniques to keep it fresh. The color is typically more of a natural beige. While the labels can be confusing, uncured ham does still undergo a type of curing, just without synthetic nitrates

Now let’s explore uncured ham more in-depth!

What is Uncured Ham?

Uncured ham, sometimes labeled “no nitrates or nitrites added” ham, does not go through the traditional curing process. The main difference between cured and uncured ham is the use of synthetic nitrates. Traditional cured ham contains sodium nitrite, while uncured ham does not.

Instead of artificial preservatives, uncured ham uses natural sources of nitrates found in ingredients like celery powder, celery juice, and sea salt. These provide a similar preserving effect. Spices, herbs, vinegar, and fruit juices are also often used.

While uncured ham skips the synthetic nitrates, it still undergoes some type of curing and cooking process. This allows it to be sold fully cooked and safe to eat. Common techniques include:

  • Dry curing – rubbing the meat with a mix of spices and natural curing salts
  • Wet curing – soaking the ham in a brine of natural ingredients
  • Smoking – using low heat from various wood types to cook and add flavor
  • Cooking – baking or roasting the ham to an internal temperature of 160°F

This natural process results in a lightly cured flavor and a natural meat color. Now let’s look at some of the leading reasons people choose uncured ham.

Benefits of Uncured Ham

Why would someone choose uncured over a traditional cured ham? Here are some of the main advantages that are driving the uncured ham trend:

1. No synthetic nitrates

Sodium nitrite used in cured meats has come under scrutiny, as it can convert to carcinogenic nitrosamines when digested. Though more research is needed, some consumers prefer to avoid it.

2. Less sodium

Uncured ham tends to be lower in sodium since artificial sodium nitrite is not added during processing. This makes it an appealing choice for people watching their salt intake.

3. Natural and clean label appeal

With simpler and recognizable ingredients, uncured options appeal to the growing consumer demand for natural, minimally processed foods.

4. Unique flavor

Without the strong salty and smoky flavors from curing, uncured ham has a more subtle and pork-forward taste. Some prefer this natural ham flavor.

5. Versatile for various diets

The lack of synthetic ingredients makes uncured products a good fit for paleo, Whole30, keto, and other diet lifestyles.

While the health impacts are still debated, the appeal of a natural uncured ham is clear. But how does it actually differ when it comes to taste and usage? Keep reading.

How to Cook Uncured Ham

Uncured ham can be prepared very similarly to a cured ham, since most available retail options arrive fully cooked. Here are some simple tips:

  • If refrigerated, leave wrapped and place in the refrigerator up to 5 days. If frozen, it will keep for about 3 months.

  • To cook, first remove any packaging and place in a baking dish. You can choose to score the top in a diamond pattern which allows the outside to caramelize.

  • Cook uncured ham low and slow, at around 325 F, until warmed through with an internal temp of 140 F, about 10-15 min per pound.

  • Optional glazing steps can be done during the last 45 minutes. Brush with flavors like maple syrup, brown sugar, honey, or apricot jam.

  • Once glazed and caramelized on the outside, remove from oven and let rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

With the right prep, uncured ham can become a tasty entrée or addition to various dishes!

How Does Uncured Ham Taste Compared to Cured?

When it comes to flavor, there are some noticeable differences between cured and uncured ham:

  • Cured – Stronger salty and smoky flavors from the brining and smoking process. The meat has a firm, dense texture.

  • Uncured – More subtle, natural pork flavors since it is not brined or smoked as intensely. Overall lighter taste profile.

Uncured ham tends to let the pure pork flavor shine through. The taste can vary based on ingredients used in the natural curing and smoking, but expect a less intense salty hit upfront.

Those who enjoy pronounced smoked ham flavors may prefer traditionally cured options. However, if you want a pure pork meatiness in your ham, uncured deserves a try!

Buying Quality Uncured Ham

Not all uncured hams are created equal. Here are a few tips for picking a high-quality product:

  • Check the ingredients – Make sure sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite are not listed. Look for natural preservatives like celery powder instead.

  • Select quality meat – Heritage hog breeds like Berkshire or Duroc provide deeper, porkier flavor. Avoid added water or fillers.

  • Read the fine print – Don’t assume all natural, organic, etc. is uncured. Check that it is specifically labeled “uncured” or “no nitrates/nitrites.”

  • Know your producer – Do your research and choose brands committed to natural quality ingredients and practices.

  • Consider sustainably raised – Pasture-raised and humanely treated hogs produce superior meat.

  • Opt for artisanal – Small batch, hands-on methods typically yield better uncured ham.

With so many options now, be a smart shopper when selecting an uncured ham to enjoy!

Delicious Uncured Ham Recipe Ideas

Beyond just sliced ham sandwiches, there are tons of tasty ways to use uncured ham in recipes:

  • Eggs benedict – Slices of uncured ham on a toasted English muffin, with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce.

  • Quiche – Diced ham baked into a savory custard of eggs, cheese, and vegetables.

  • Ham salad – Sliced ham mixed with mayo, chopped pickle, onion, and herbs for sandwiches.

  • Omelets and frittatas – Diced bits pair nicely with veggies, cheese, or potatoes.

  • Ham and bean soup – Simmer ham bone or pieces in broth with beans and vegetables.

  • Pasta carbonara – Toss with peas, bacon, Parmesan, eggs, and black pepper.

With its adaptable flavor, uncured ham can star in classics or add a tasty pork punch to all kinds of dishes!

Is Uncured Ham the Better Choice?

At the end of the day, is uncured definitively better than traditionally cured ham? The answer depends on your priorities:

For purists seeking clean, bold ham flavor, cured may suit them better. The brining and smoking processes amplify the salty, porky notes.

For those wanting a less processed option, uncured ham fits the bill with its shorter ingredient list and lack of synthetic nitrates.

For many health-conscious consumers, a naturally uncured ham gives peace of mind. But more studies are still needed on the health impacts of sodium nitrite in cured meats.

For anyone craving a unique taste, uncured ham provides a lighter and subtler pork flavor that stands on its own.

Rather than declaring one strictly better, the choice comes down to your specific preferences. With its rise in availability, uncured ham presents a fresh take on a classic. Next time you’re shopping for ham, consider grabbing an uncured variety to taste the delicious difference!

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Is there a non processed ham?

Uncured ham is a type of pork that hasn’t been preserved through traditional curing methods, such as the addition of salt, sugar, and nitrates. Instead, this meat undergoes a more natural curing process that involves using ingredients like sea salt and celery powder, which are rich in natural nitrites.

What is the healthiest type of ham?

Choose Uncured Options You’ll find glazed honey hams, brown sugar cured hams, and other options that are loaded with salt and sugar. Choose uncured options instead. These are usually marked as fresh and are more organic choices that you can season later as you desire.

What is unprocessed ham called?

Uncured ham, also labeled as “fresh ham” is the same cut as cured ham. The difference? Uncured ham is not injected with the same chemical brine, smoke, or flavorings that are used in cured meat.

Is spiral ham processed ham?

Yep. “Processed meat” is any meat that’s preserved by salting, smoking or curing, or by adding chemical preservatives. That means sausage, bacon, cold cuts like pastrami and salami, hot dogs and, yes, ham.

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