Cured vs Uncured Ham: Understanding the 7 Key Differences

Cured ham is preserved with nitrates, has a longer shelf life, intense flavor, higher sodium content, and pink color, while uncured ham uses natural preservatives, has less sodium, unique seasonings, and a white color.

cured vs uncured ham

Humans have been consuming pork for centuries, but all types of meat have a distinct problem: meat is highly perishable. This means that pork (and other kinds of meat) go bad quickly, and poorly preserved meat can make you sick. This leads to the question of how people learned to preserve ham and the difference between cured vs uncured ham.

To keep pork and other meats from going bad, humans came up with curing, a process that has been a vital part of how people preserve meat even today.

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What Is Curing?

The short answer is that curing is the specific process of preserving meat. During the preserving process, natural compounds made of oxygen and nitrogen are added to the ham to keep it from spoiling. These compounds are called nitrites and nitrates.

In addition to preserving the ham, the curing process also adds color, texture, and flavor to the meat. Before humans had refrigeration, curing was done primarily by salting and drying the meat.

What Is Cured Ham?

Cured Ham Cured vs Uncured Ham: Understanding the 7 Key Differences
Slices of cured ham similar to italian prosciutto or spanish jamon iberico

Generally, cured ham is pickled or soaked in brine before it’s cooked or smoked. The brining process serves to preserve the ham, and it also gives the meat a salty flavor. In addition to salt, cured ham is cured with ingredients such as nitrates, sugar, and spices. These ingredients all help to inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria. 

In most cases, cured hams must be cooked before eating or curing. This helps to reduce the amount of NaCl (sodium chloride). There are also harmful strains of the bacteria “Clostridium botulinum” (botulism) that survive in cured ham, and these strains are resistant to antibiotics. Cooking food kills this bacteria, so it’s recommended that you thoroughly reheat cured ham before eating it. 

Cured ham can be preserved with either a wet cure or a dry cure. With a wet cure, the meat is fully immersed in the brine solution. A dry cure indicates that the meat is rubbed with sugar, salt, and spices. 

Once the ham is cured, it’s then smoked and dried before it’s sold in a grocery store.

What Is Uncured Ham?

The prevailing myth is that uncured ham is, well, uncured. However, the fact is that uncured ham is also cured. However, uncured ham cures naturally and the curing process isn’t artificially induced. 

While cured ham is cured with nitrates and nitrites, uncured ham is allowed to cure naturally. For uncured ham, the curing process can take days and even weeks. Much of the curing process depends on the temperature and humidity of the environment.

In addition to some salt, uncured hams are cured with other ingredients as well, including nutmeg, cloves, celery powder, black pepper, brown sugar, and maple syrup. 

With uncured ham, you are consuming far less sodium. Uncured ham has sometimes been said to have a delicious smoky flavor. 

Cured vs Uncured Ham: 7 Key Differences

If you’ve not researched this topic, it’s possible that you never knew whether or not you were eating cured ham or uncured ham. The reason is that the taste is similar, and unless you know what to look for, the two types of ham don’t look that different. 

Below, we go into detail about the differences between cured and uncured ham. 

1. Preservatives used in the curing process

Cured hams are preserved using salt in a brining process, along with preservatives such as nitrates and nitrites. Alternatively, uncured ham is preserved with natural preservatives such as celery powder. While celery powder turns into nitrites when it’s processed, there is still a much smaller concentration of nitrites than with cured ham. 

In other cases, uncured ham is preserved with ingredients such as black pepper, maple syrup, brown sugar, and spices. 

2. Shelf life and freezer life

Because it has more preservatives, cured ham has a longer shelf-life than uncured ham. The smoking process also helps to preserve the ham. 

3. Color of the meat

Ham has a naturally pinkish flavor. However, cured ham is much pinker than uncured ham. The preservatives used discolored the pork. 

On the other hand, uncured ham looks much whiter than cured ham. 

4. Taste

Cured ham has a more intense flavor than uncured ham. 

5. Amount of sodium

Because it is brined with so much salt, cured ham is much higher in sodium than uncured ham. In addition to salt, cured ham is preserved using sodium nitrite.

On the surface, this may not be concerning. However, if you’ve been told by a physician to watch your salt intake, keep an eye on labels to ensure you’re buying uncured ham. 

6. Water content

Uncured ham has twice as much water content as cured ham (not as dry). 

7. Price

In most cases, cured ham costs more than uncured ham. The main reason for this is that cured ham has to be cured for a longer period of time. Also, the smoking process for cured ham drives the price up. 

Benefits of Cured vs Uncured Ham

Here are some of the benefits of cured ham.

  • Lasts longer because it’s cured with preservatives and salt
  • Has a flavor that’s slightly salty
  • Delicious smoky flavor
  • Longer shelf-life

Here are some of the benefits of uncured ham. 

  • Less sodium
  • Not as salty as cured ham
  • No smoky flavor, in case diners don’t like that
  • Made without preservatives

FAQs about Cured vs Uncured Ham

Which ham is better cured or uncured?

It depends on personal preference, but many people say that uncured ham has a superior flavor. Moreover, uncured ham (which is actually cured, just differently) is much healthier for you.

Does uncured ham taste better?

Many people believe that uncured ham tastes better. Ham that’s uncured is free of harmful chemicals, and the ingredients that are used in the curing process add to the flavor of the meat (especially unique styles like Polish ham). It gives lot of options for sides.

Is uncured ham unhealthy?

Because of how it’s labeled, you may wonder if it’s safe to eat uncured ham. However, keep in mind that uncured ham is actually cured. It’s just cured differently from “cured” ham.

When you buy an uncured ham at the grocery store, it has usually been thoroughly cooked. All you have to do is put your ham in the oven, heat it to the desired temperature, and then enjoy eating it.

Many people believe that uncured ham is healthier than cured ham because the curing process and preservatives are more natural. Also, uncured ham contains less sodium. 

To make sure you’re getting ham that’s free of nitrites or nitrates, look for that label that indicates that your product doesn’t have these harmful ingredients. 

Why is uncured meat better?

You’ll often see uncured meat labeled as natural or organic. This means that you don’t get the nitrates that have been synthetically sourced. For this reason, uncured meat is widely believed to be better.

The key is to read the labels carefully, know the brands, and choose the products that are recommended by honest reviewers.

More FAQs

Should you eat cured or uncured?

Eating uncured meats instead of cured meats may not provide significant health benefits since individuals consuming uncured meats are still exposed to nitrates and nitrites. For inquiries regarding poisonings caused by cured meats, seek assistance online through webPOISONCONTROL or call 1-800-222-1222.

Why is uncured better?

Uncured is better because it relies on natural salts and flavorings instead of using chemicals and additives like sodium nitrite for preservation.

Is uncured ham considered processed meat?

Uncured ham is not considered processed meat. It is commonly referred to as fresh ham and undergoes a similar processing method as turkey bacon. Unlike traditionally cured hams, uncured ham does not contain any injected brine chemicals, smoke, or flavorings. Instead, it is cured and processed using fresh sea salt, celery powder, beets, and natural seasonings, preferably organic.

Does uncured need to be cooked?

Uncured salami does not require cooking. The curing process, which involves using salt to dry and preserve the meat, is not necessary for uncured salami. However, it is important to note that the term “uncured” can be misleading as it refers to the absence of nitrates that some manufacturers try to avoid.

What are the disadvantages of cured meat?

The disadvantages of cured meat include the formation of nitrosamine during the curing process, which is a potent carcinogenic compound that has been found in bacon after frying. However, despite this drawback, cured meats offer a high nutritive value due to their high biological value of protein.

Does uncured taste better?

Uncured bacon tastes just as delicious as its cured counterpart due to the use of natural ingredients in its preparation. With these helpful tips, you’ll become a bacon cooking expert in no time. Are you searching for the ideal uncured bacon to enhance your next dish?

Is there food safety difference between cured and uncured meat?

There is a difference in food safety between cured and uncured meat. Generally, cured meat has a longer shelf life compared to uncured meat. However, it is important to note that the use of nitrites in curing meats may pose a health risk. Nitrites, which are naturally found in many vegetables, can form compounds called “nitrosamines” when they interact with protein. Research suggests that these nitrosamines may be cancer-causing carcinogens.

Is cured meat safe to eat raw?

Cured meat is safe to eat raw, except for dry-cured bacon. Other cured meats like salami, smoked hams, pastrami, biltong, and prosciutto do not require cooking.

Is cured meat raw?

Cured meat is not raw; it undergoes a preservation process involving methods like salting, smoking, or drying. These techniques eliminate moisture from the meat, preventing bacterial growth and extending its shelf life.

Is it healthier to eat uncured ham?

Eating uncured ham is healthier due to its absence of synthetically-sourced nitrates and artificial flavors. Additionally, it offers a more enjoyable taste and texture as the natural curing process enhances the flavor and tenderness of the meat, resulting in a delicious treat that is ready to be enjoyed.

What is the healthiest type of ham?

The healthiest type of ham is uncured options, which are usually marked as fresh and are more organic choices. These alternatives allow you to season them later as desired, unlike glazed honey hams or brown sugar cured hams that are loaded with salt and sugar.

How long will uncured ham last?

Fresh, uncooked uncured ham can be stored in the fridge for 3-5 days and in the freezer for up to 6 months. Cooked uncured ham can be kept in the fridge for 3-4 days and in the freezer for 3 to 4 months. Uncooked cured ham can be stored for 5-7 days or until the use-by date in the fridge, and for 3 to 4 months in the freezer. Cooked cured ham can be refrigerated for 3-5 days and frozen for 1 to 2 months.

Does uncured meat taste different?

Uncured meat does taste different. It is cooked and has a similar taste to cured meat. It utilizes a natural preservative such as celery powder, which converts into nitrite during processing. Consequently, uncured products are labeled as “No Nitrates or Nitrites added except those naturally in celery powder or juice”. Additionally, uncured meat has a shorter shelf life.

What is the healthiest deli meat?

The healthiest deli meat option is Roast Turkey Breast, which can have as low as 50 calories per three to four slices. It contains only 1% fat, 1% saturated fat, and slightly less sodium. Moreover, poultry deli products generally have fewer additives and preservatives compared to pork.

What is the difference in uncured ham and cured ham?

The difference between uncured ham and cured ham lies in the use of preservatives. Cured ham contains chemical, man-made preservatives like sodium nitrite, whereas uncured ham relies on natural preservatives such as celery powder and sea salt.

Is Honeybaked ham cured or uncured?

Honeybaked ham is cured for up to 24 hours using a signature process that enhances the flavor of the meat.

Does cured ham mean fully cooked?

Cured ham does not necessarily mean fully cooked. To clarify, if ham is cured, smoked, or baked, it is typically considered “pre-cooked” and does not require further cooking. This applies to deli ham as well, as most ham available for purchase has already undergone the curing, smoking, or baking process.

Is cured or uncured deli meat better?

The healthfulness of uncured meats is believed by some, but the lack of discernible scientific evidence makes it a matter of debate whether cured meats are truly unhealthy.

How long does it take to cook a cured ham?

The cooking time for a cured ham varies depending on its size and portion. A whole ham weighing 10 to 15 pounds should be cooked for approximately 18 to 20 minutes per pound. A half ham weighing 5 to 7 pounds requires about 20 minutes per pound. For a shank or butt portion weighing 3 to 4 pounds, the cooking time is approximately 35 minutes per pound. It is important to cook the ham uncovered until the internal temperature reaches 160F.

Is uncured ham healthier than regular ham?

Uncured ham is considered healthier than regular ham due to its more natural composition. It does not contain nitrates, nitrosamines, or other preservatives commonly found in cured ham. Additionally, it has a lower sodium content, making it a suitable choice for individuals monitoring their sodium intake.

Is honey baked ham cured or uncured?

Honey baked ham is cured for up to 24 hours using a unique process that enhances the flavor of the meat.

How long does uncured ham last in the fridge?

Uncured ham can last in the fridge for approximately 3-5 days, while cooked uncured ham can last for about 3-4 days. On the other hand, cured ham, whether uncooked or cooked, can last for 5-7 days or until the use-by date in the fridge. If stored in the freezer, uncured ham can last for up to 6 months, while cured ham can last for 3-4 months (uncooked) or 1-2 months (cooked).

Is there such a thing as healthy ham?

There is indeed such a thing as healthy ham. It is important to note that fresh ham typically has lower sodium levels and fewer carcinogens compared to cured or processed ham. To ensure you are choosing a healthier option, carefully examine the label to determine if it is fresh, lean, or low in salt. It is worth mentioning that certain cancer organizations recommend minimizing the consumption of processed meat due to its potential health risks.

Does cured ham need to be cooked?

Cured ham does not need to be cooked. Ready-to-eat hams, such as prosciutto and cooked hams, can be consumed directly from the package. However, fresh hams and hams that have only undergone treatment to eliminate trichinae (which may involve heating, freezing, or curing during processing) must be cooked by the consumer prior to consumption.

What is boar’s head uncured ham?

Boar’s Head Uncured Ham is a type of pork that is free from added hormones and antibiotics. It is made using a simple and natural recipe, without the use of nitrates or nitrites. The ham is slow cooked to achieve a perfect flavor and texture.

Is nitrate free ham better for you?

Nitrate-free ham is not necessarily better for you, as even “nitrate-free” meats can still pose health risks. Added nitrates, commonly found in processed meats, have been associated with health problems such as cancer. Therefore, it is advisable to restrict consumption of all processed meats to maintain good health.

Is uncured ham safe for toddlers?

Uncured ham is safe for toddlers as long as it is served in an age-appropriate way. Fresh ham, which is sold raw and can be either boneless or bone-in, is a suitable option for babies and can be cooked at home. It is important to ensure that the ham is prepared and served in a manner that is suitable for their age. Many people prefer fresh ham for various holidays.

What is uncured black forest ham?

Uncured Black Forest ham is a type of ham that is minimally processed and does not contain any artificial ingredients. It is made to resemble traditional pork products from the Black Forest region of Germany and is naturally smoked. This ham is known for being lean, smoky, and flavorful.

What is Oscar Mayer uncured ham?

Oscar Mayer uncured ham is a high-quality deli ham option that is free from artificial preservatives, nitrates or nitrites, and added hormones. This means you can savor the delicious taste of fresh deli meat without any unwanted additives.

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