What is Reformed Ham? A Complete Guide to This Controversial Deli Meat

Ham and cheese sandwiches are a staple meal for many. But when you grab that deli ham off the shelf do you know exactly what’s in it? If it’s reformed ham, it may not be as natural as you think.

Reformed ham is a processed type of ham made by pressing small pieces of meat into a mold It’s an economical way for manufacturers to produce sliced deli meat on a large scale. However, many reformed hams also contain significant amounts of added water and binders This has led to controversy around how transparent companies are about what’s really in reformed ham products.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about reformed ham:

  • What is reformed ham and how is it made?
  • The controversy around added water in reformed ham
  • Is reformed ham healthy to eat?
  • Identifying quality reformed ham products
  • Delicious recipes with reformed ham

Let’s start with the basics – what exactly is reformed ham and how does it differ from traditional ham?

What Is Reformed Ham?

Reformed ham, sometimes also called formed ham, is a processed meat product made by combining small trimmed pieces of pork and pressing them into a uniform shape.

The process of making reformed ham includes:

  • Taking pork trimmings and small cuts of meat left over from cutting hams and chops. This can include pieces from the leg, shoulder, and belly.

  • Grinding and chopping the pork trimmings into smaller pieces.

  • Mixing the ground pork with water, salt, phosphates, nitrites, and other binders and preservatives. These additives help glue the meat pieces together.

  • Pumping the meat mixture into a casing or mold to shape and compress it using hydraulic presses.

  • Cooking the molded ham to sterilize it.

  • Slicing and packaging the cooked reformed ham.

The result is a uniform block of meat that can be easily sliced for sandwiches, wraps, and charcuterie boards. Manufacturers can produce reformed ham quickly and cheaply compared to traditional whole muscle hams.

Reformed ham differs from regular cooked ham in a few ways:

  • It uses odd pieces of pork instead of whole muscles like a pork leg.

  • The texture is softer and binding agents are needed to form the meat.

  • Reformed ham is cheaper to produce than traditional hams.

How Reformed Ham Is Made

The reformed ham manufacturing process utilizes odd scraps and trimmings, making it an efficient use of the entire animal.

First, the pork trimmings are run through grinders to produce a minced meat consistency. The texture of the ground pork can be coarse or fine depending on the desired outcome.

Next, water, salt, phosphates, and binders are added to the meat. Phosphates help the meat retain moisture while binders like soy or milk proteins help “glue” the pieces of meat together.

The meat mixture is pumped into molds or casings where hydraulic presses compact it into a uniform block or loaf. The compression gives the meat stability for clean, thin slicing.

After forming, the molded ham is cooked with steam or hot water to pasteurize the meat. This cooking process only takes 1-2 hours compared to 12-24 hours for traditional dry-cured ham.

Finally, the reformed ham is rapidly chilled, sliced, and packaged for retail sale. Modern high-speed slicing machines can churn out perfectly cut slices of deli meat.

The Controversy Around Added Water in Reformed Ham

Here’s where things get controversial. To lower costs and increase yields, some ham manufacturers add significant amounts of water to their reformed ham products.

Testing has found that some reformed hams contain only 50-60% actual pork, with the rest being water and binding agents.

For example, a 2005 study by a consumer watchdog group found:

  • Ye Olde Oak reformed ham contained 55% pork, 37% water, and 8% additives.

  • Several canned hams had 21-37% water content.

  • Some wafer-thin deli hams contained up to 25% water.

Excessive added water is considered misleading to consumers. Customers assume they are buying a meat product, not water pumped into meat scraps held together with binders.

Manufacturers claim the added moisture improves the texture and machinability of reformed ham. But consumer groups argue customers deserve to know exactly how much water is in the products they buy.

Is Reformed Ham Healthy to Eat?

Reformed ham gets a lot of flak for being over-processed and high in sodium. But is it really that bad for you?

There are a few health considerations with reformed ham:

Sodium Content – Most reformed hams are quite high in sodium since salt is added as a preservative and for flavor. Excess sodium intake has been linked to high blood pressure. Check labels and choose low-sodium products if this is a concern.

Nitrites – Many reformed hams contain sodium nitrite to preserve color and prevent botulism. Nitrites have been linked to cancer in some studies when eaten in high amounts. But the amounts in cured meats pose minimal risk according to most experts.

Fat Content – Reformed ham can contain high amounts of fat if fatty pork cuts are used. The grinding process also incorporates excess fat trim. Leaner reformed hams have 5-10g fat per serving.

Additives – Binders, phosphates, and other stabilizers are added during manufacturing. These are considered safe by regulators but may be undesirable for some consumers wanting simpler ingredients.

Microbiological Safety – Proper cooking kills any pathogens like salmonella or E. coli that may be present in raw pork. Reformed ham poses no special microbiological hazards.

Overall, eating occasional servings of reformed ham as part of a balanced diet is unlikely to pose major health risks for most people. But those with high blood pressure or seeking to limit nitrites or additives may want to consider other options.

Identifying Quality Reformed Ham Products

Not all reformed hams are created equal. Here are some tips for identifying better quality products when shopping for reformed deli meats:

  • Check the label for percentages of meat vs water. Look for “Added Water” on the package. Hams with higher meat percentages tend to taste better.

  • Select hams with less than 2.5g sodium per serving. These have more moderate salt levels.

  • Avoid hams with long lists of stabilizers and preservatives. Ingredients like carrageenan and BHA/BHT aren’t necessary.

  • Look for natural flavorings like celery powder instead of “flavorings”.

  • Seek out nitrite-free options if you want to avoid these curing agents.

  • Check the brand’s reputation and where they source their pork from. High-quality pork makes better reformed ham.

  • Consider buying from artisan deli meat makers. They tend to use simpler curing methods and less additives.

Paying a little more for quality can mean tastier sandwiches with “cleaner” ingredient decks.

Delicious and Easy Recipes with Reformed Ham

Just because it’s a processed product doesn’t mean reformed ham can’t still be delicious. Here are 5 mouthwatering recipes that highlight reformed ham:

1. Ham and Cheese Sliders

Mini burgers topped with melty cheddar cheese and salty ham on slider buns. Quick to whip up and perfect for parties.

2. Ham and Pea Pasta Salad

Creamy pasta salad with diced ham, frozen peas, Parmesan, and a zesty dressing. A refreshing summer side dish.

3. Thin Crust Ham and Pineapple Pizza

Sweet pineapple and savory ham on a thin, crispy crust make a delicious flavor combo.

4. Split Pea Soup with Ham

Smoky ham hock and chunks of reformed ham lend rich flavor to this cozy split pea soup.

5. Ham and Hashbrown Breakfast Casserole

Diced ham, frozen shredded hashbrowns, eggs, and cheese baked into a hearty casserole. Serve for brunch.

These recipes highlight how reformed ham can still be used to make crave-worthy dishes. Moderation is key, but the occasional ham sandwich or ham-topped pizza can definitely be part of a healthy diet.

The Takeaway on Reformed Ham

Reformed ham provides an affordable processed meat option for sandwiches, pizzas, salads, and more. It’s made from trimmed pork pieces molded together and serves as a useful product for deli meat manufacturers.

However, the addition of water, phosphates, nitrites, and other stabilizers has caused controversy around how transparent companies are. When buying reformed ham, check the labels for percentages of real meat vs water and other additives.

While no processed meat is perfect from a health standpoint, enjoying the occasional reformed ham sandwich poses minimal risk for most people. Just aim for quality products with simpler ingredients and moderate sodium levels.

With a little label reading, it’s easy to find high-quality reformed ham options that stack nicely between two pieces of bread or add flavor to your favorite recipes. Dig in to those ham and cheese sammiches guilt-free!

Reformed Ham


Is reformed ham cooked?

I bought my pack from Tesco and gleaned this information from the packaging: the ham is made from reformed cuts of pork, cured and cooked with “not more than” 15% of water.

How is reformed meat made?

Methods of meat processing include salting, curing, fermentation, smoking, boiling, frying, and/or the addition of chemical preservatives. Processed meat is usually composed of pork or beef or, less frequently, poultry. It can also contain offal or meat by-products such as blood.

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 are the two types of hams?

Most hams you’ll find made in the United States are city hams. They are wet-cured and made by soaking the meat in a saltwater solution or injecting them with a brine. You may also see country ham, which is dry rubbed and hung to dry like prosciutto. There are also fresh hams, which are uncured.

Is Ham a reformed meat?

I was looking at Subway’s nutrition fact and it says that it’s turkey breast is a reformed meat whereas it’s ham is a formed meat. What is the difference between REFORMED meat and FORMED meat? Are they unhealthy? How do they differ from ‘processed meat’? Welcome! It looks like you’re new here. Sign in or register to get started.

Is ham gluten free?

Ham naturally by itself is gluten-free. Although, many companies made their ham with gluten-containing ingredients like broth, spices, and glazes. So, you must prefer brands that indicate they are gluten-free on the packaging.

What is sliced ham reformed?

It also says, “Cured and cooked sliced ham reformed from cuts of pork leg meat coated in breadcrumb.” This means chopped-up pieces of meat from the legs of one or a number of pigs is shaped into the required form, with a layer of fat often added on top to make it look more natural.

How is reformed Ham made?

The process of making reformed ham involves taking meat that has been chopped or emulsified and pressing it into a cohesive shape. Scraps left over from making formed ham may also be used in making reformed ham. To achieve the desired texture, manufacturers often add functional proteins, such as collagen, that help bind the meat pieces together.

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