Ham and Hypertension: 6 Tricks to Not Have to Say Goodbye to Pata Negra Ham

The first result you get when you ask Google how to prevent high blood pressure is “To help manage your blood pressure, you should limit the amount of sodium (salt) that you eat”. Does this mean that we have to cut out ham from our diet once we reach a certain age? The answer depends on the individual (or on the attention you pay to your doctor), but here are a few tricks worth trying before cutting it out for health reasons (hear, hear).

1. Eat less

As an adult, ham is a luxury, like chocolate, for example. In other words, it does not provide any essential nutrients or ones that cannot be obtained from other, less salty, foods. It gives us pleasure, which is no small thing, but we can completely do without it. Therefore, the first thing you can do is eat less of it. As discussed in a previous article, experts recommend eating cured ham no more than 2 or 3 times a week.

You can buy sliced ham or shoulder in 100 g packages, which makes it easier to practice portion control than having the whole ham in the kitchen, which seems like it’s telling you, “Come on, cut and serve yourself a little ham, I’m just sitting here”.

2. Switch to bellota ham

You can take what you save by eating less and use it to buy higher-quality ham. Bellota ham has less salt and healthier fat than serrano ham, so you’re killing two birds with one stone.

3. Cut back on salt in other foods

One idea I got from my parents is that on the day they have ham, they add less or no salt to other parts of the meal such as salad, fish, soup, etc. This way, they don’t exceed the recommended amount for that day.

Just like when you have lentils for the first course, you eat something low in protein for the second course, you can choose foods that have less salt and fat. Fortunately, all the packages now list the percentage of sodium per 100 grams.

4. Eat it with foods rich in potassium

This mineral counteracts some of the harmful effects of salt on blood pressure and is present in citrus (oranges), grapes, carrots, potatoes, spinach, etc.

5. Don’t smoke and drink less alcohol and coffee

Ham pairs perfectly with drinks such as beer. Beer has a much lower alcohol content than wine, which is what typically accompanies Iberian Jamon Pata Negra.

Tobacco and coffee, besides potentially causing sudden increases in blood pressure, are natural enemies of ham: They overpower its flavor and aroma.

6. Exercise

Let ham be the prize for that time spent at the gym or that walk through the park that is slightly longer than usual. Both your arteries and your taste buds will thank you.

On the other hand, the demonization of salt as it relates to hypertension has often been questioned in recent years. It seems that “if you have hypertension, moderate your salt intake” is a very simplistic view and that the reality is much more complex, as explained in detail in this article (in Spanish) and in another article of The Guardian.

In all seriousness, it’s worth taking note of this advice and keep enjoying pata negra ham, which has many benefits for your mind and body. It is a source of happiness and especially during the holidays, a big part of our culture.

Donation to Doctors Without Borders for battling COVID-19

On May 6th of this year, we launched a campaign to raise money for the fight against COVID-19. Thanks to the response of our customers, we were finally able to transfer the collected funds to Doctors Without Borders in the amount of €2,040.20.

Thanks to Alicia, Damián, Maria Eugenia, and all those who contributed their part so that the campaign would reach more people.

Thanks to Laura and Oscar, for always having the deboned and sliced hams ready on time, even on the busiest of workdays.

Thanks to Jaime, Chema, Jose, and the rest of the warehouse team, for getting the packages out on time throughout all these weeks.

Thanks to Edelmiro, Rocio, Javier and their colleagues in the transport companies, especially the drivers and delivery people, for working under the most complicated conditions while the majority of us were sheltered in our homes.

And above all, thanks to all our customers. Thank you for knowing how to enjoy life with the best ham, and for your solidarity.

Thanks to you.

 

Swineherds of Iberian pig

Although traditionally pigs have always been reared in pens of a few square metres, zones with an abundance of acorns have also been very common grazing areas for pigs in the fall, coinciding with the falling of the fruit of the oak.

It was an inexpensive way to fatten the animals. There were thousands of hectares of pastures in Extremadura, the north of Andalucía (Huelva, Córdoba, Sevilla) and the south of Castilla y León (Salamanca, Ávila), some municipally owned (communal) and others private, but they offered the right to graze for very little money.

In fact, the existence of large tracts of oak forests is what has allowed the Iberian breed, the Pata Negra pig, not to become extinct. It is the breed of pig best adapted to the environment: agile, strong, able to travel long distances, go up and down hills, with substantial amounts of fat to survive the cold mountains of around 1,000 meters altitude. Most of the more commonly produced white pigs wouldn’t survive, so in these areas the Indigenous Iberian breeds resided.

Herding in current times

The swineherd (also called caregiver) has to control all the animals on a daily basis and identify any problems such as illness, boar attacks, or the quality and quantity of acorns and grass. They need to be extremely familiar with the farm (although it has hundreds of hectares) and know exactly to which areas he or she has to lead the animals. First, when pigs are still thin and agile, they will be led to higher altitudes. Later on in life they will stay on the plain.

Iberian pigs in a dehesa in Extremadura

Iberian pigs been herded from one area to another in a pasture on the border of Spain and Portugal.

The period of time the Iberian pig spend in the field (the montanera) is the most critical of the whole process of making a jamón de bellota. For 2, 3 or even 4 months, the pig must stay healthy and eat at a steady pace: not too much, not too little. If you overeat you lose mobility and develop excess fat. You don’t want it to walk a lot, let alone climb hills. The pig will just lie on the grass or mud until hungry again.

On the other hand, if a type of disease is not detected early enough it may affect the animal in a way that would make it lose hunger and consequently weight. And if when during recovery there aren’t enough acorns then there will be no choice but to feed and fatten them with fodder and its eventual market price will drop significantly. In addition there is also the risk of the epidemic spreading to the rest of the herd in just a few days.

Swineherd of Iberic pigs on a tractor

Swineherd of Iberic pigs and caretaker of the pasturelands during the 2011 montanera period.

Unlike the shepherds and goatherds, during the montanera pig keepers will often go motorized. They don’t spend time with the animals, nor are they with them while they eat. They only look for them and lead them to the grazing area where they are to spend the day, and usually won’t find them again until sunset. The rest of the time is spent mainly on maintenance of the farm, such as repairing roads and hundreds of kilometres of stone walls that separate the grazing areas. It’s also critical to keep the pasture free of weeds and shrubs, which provide shelter to the vermin and other inhabitants of the pasture.

Pigs, unless they are very hungry, aren’t at all dangerous. They are more fearful of humans and usually don’t approach us. However, all swineherds tell the same story to children: that in his village a child entered a pigsty and pigs left nothing, not even the bones. It’s the gory version of what is officially called the Manual of Labour Risks and incidentally is much more convincing.

What does Reserva mean when talking about ham?

The term Reserva has two meanings when it comes to ham, either pata negra or serrano. The main and most common meaning is that it has a long maturation in the cellar (bodega). Royal Decree 474/2014 regulates the use of this term, but it’s not really quality assurance (as formerly went under the name Pata Negra a few years ago), since it allows its use with the only condition of a minimum curing period of 12 months (Reserva) or 15 months (Gran Reserva). However, there are few high-end hams that have Reserva in their name: Jamón Joselito Gran Reserva, Jamón Maldonado Reserva Alba Quercus, Jamón El Coto de Galán Gran Reserva).

The use of epithets Jamón Ibérico and Jamón de Bellota, by contrast, is much more regulated and can only be used, respectively, when the pig is Iberian (or crossover) race and when it has been feed on acorns in the pasture.

But in the ham sector we also refer to Reserva as a certain quantity of hams and shoulders that a vendor puts in charge of a producer months or years in advance.

These reserves help farmers and manufacturers to plan and finance vintages, while the merchants not only ensure the stock but can choose the pieces and monitor their progress throughout the maturation process.

Visit from the  staff of IberGour to the Cinco Jotas reserve in Jabugo

Photo 1: Visit from the staff of IberGour to the Cinco Jotas reserve in Jabugo

Cinco Jotas shoulders in the Jabugo cellars at the IberGour reserve

Photo 2: Cinco Jotas shoulders in the Jabugo cellars at the IberGour reserve

Cinco Jotas cellars

Photo 3: Labels identify the reserves of each merchant in the cellar

Normally, a company – IberGour, for example – reserves hams when they have already had a year or so of curation. From then, they begin to pay monthly, so they aren’t paid at once but in instalments over two years.

This system has a major drawback: it is difficult to predict falls in demand 2 or 3 years in advance due to economic crisis or the evolution of competition. Thus, a store or a restaurant can be found with a collection of hams they have been paying off for several years and finally cannot sell at the expected price.

Why doesn’t a good Pata Negra ham taste salty?

Pata negra ham slices on plateIf you are asked which is saltier, a slice of Iberian jamón de bellota or a crisp? The answer will almost always be the crisp. Moreover, if I ask you to first try a sample of each, the answer wouldn’t change.

The reality is very different: a bag of crisps typically contains 1.5g of salt per 100g of potatoes, while Pata Negra ham contains between 3 to 4.5g per 100g. Even the Serrano ham, which usually doesn’t even reach 5% salt content, seems significantly saltier than Bellota ham despite it having only slightly more salt.

Another example: seawater has a salinity of about 3.5%, but it seems much saltier than jamón.

What masks the salt?

The marbling fat and protein deserve credit in this case. As everyone knows, Iberian ham has a lot of fat marbling, which means the white streaks in the slice. If it’s also Bellota, the fat will melt in the mouth and inundate our taste buds. Thus, our taste buds will be concentrated on the fat and stop being so sensitive to the salt (the sodium of the salt, to be exact).

On the other hand, during the 3 or 4-year maturation period of a good Pata Negra, the salt combines with meat protein, reducing its impact on the taste buds.

Whereas Jamón de bellota seems sweet, it actually doesn’t have much less salt than Serrano ham. You should always follow the recommendations of experts not to consume cured ham more than 2 or 3 times a week, the equivalent to between 100 and 150g, and thus will not reach 15% of the recommended daily allowance (RDA) by WHO (World Health Organisation). We can raise this amount if we moderate our consumption of salt in other foods such as salads and soups, for example. Worth the sacrifice, right?

Yield of a Pata Negra ham: is there too much fat?

You start cutting into a Pata Negra ham and all you seem to get is fat and more fat. You look at the plate and calculate that there’s already about a kilo there… £50 or £60 destined straight for the bin. It’s not a good start.

Order in which to cut a ham and excess fat

At last, the first streaks of meat appear. Their glossy shine gets your saliva glands working, and when you finally eat the first slices you start seeing things differently.

But is there really too much fat in acorn-reared ham? Has it always been like this?

Why does Pata Negra Ham contain more fat now than it used to?

There are 3 reasons behind the increase in external fat in acorn-reared (bellota) Iberico ham:

  1. Purity of the breed: The current trend is to use the more pure-bred animals for the high-end range. They produce better quality meat and enjoy more substantial official protection (only hams from 100% Iberian pigs can be called Pata Negra). But these pigs are characterized by significant fat stores in the outer part of the muscle, while the intramuscular streaks are much finer than in Duroc pigs.
  2. Longer curing times: The widespread consumption of Iberico ham is a very recent phenomenon – since just 15 or 20 years ago. As José Bello Gutiérrez says in his book Jamón curado: Aspectos científicos y tecnológicos [Cured Ham: Scientific and Technological Aspects], during the last quarter of the 20th century it was more common to eat Serrano ham from white pigs nourished on fodder and bred deliberately to minimize fat. It wasn’t just a question of price. People also thought it was healthier, even if it meant reducing the organoleptic quality of the product. As a consequence, the ham we normally ate during the 20th century was cured for no more than 1 or 2 years and was very lean.
  3. Salt reduction: Consumers (especially in Europe) want products with low salt content. It improves the flavour and is much healthier. But when salt levels are reduced, other elements need to be introduced to protect the ham from organisms that could make it go off. For example, improving sanitary conditions and ensuring cold chain guarantees (crucial during the first months of curing).
    Several studies (for example Gou, 1998) have shown that fat slows down the penetration of salt into the middle of the ham because salt diffuses less well than through fat than lean meat. So, the more fatty tissue the ham has, the longer it will take for the salt to reach the meat. Unfortunately, most of the fat will be inedible because it will have oxidized and turned rancid over the years.
    Finally, the ham’s own sweat helps: the external fat impregnates all the surface pores as it melts, forming a protective film.

    Moreover, as we explained in a previous article, the fat masks the salty flavour, so the more fat there is, the less we can taste the salt.

Other products with a similar yield

Acorn-reared ham yields roughly 40-45% meat. That means that of a £500 ham, around £300 will end up in the bin. That might seem like a lot, but it’s similar to the yield of other common consumer products like sole (40%), mussels (35%) or nuts (45%).

Weight of nuts with and without shells

Do big hams contain a higher proportion of meat?

Yes, they do. That’s why restaurants tend to prefer larger hams of more than 8 or 9 kg.

The reason is that the weight of the bone, the hoof, the skin and the external fat is basically the same for large and small hams. Larger hams are from pigs that put on more weight, but their underlying skeleton is very similar.

But be careful: sometimes that extra weight isn’t because the pig was allowed to eat acorns for longer, but because it was fed on fodder. That means the product is lower quality. In the industry this is known as remate (finishing) and, as you’d expect, it is not permitted by the current law regulating Ibérico ham (formerly it was permitted for hams classified as Recebo, meaning fed on fodder and acorns).

We ship spanish ham (“Jamón”) to Hong Kong

We are extremely happy to announce that starting today we now ship to Hong Kong! This includes all of our products:

Spanish ham:
https://www.ibergour.com/en/productos/sel/charcuteria/cat/tipoprod/

Ham stands and ham-carving knives:
https://www.ibergour.com/en/productos/sel/accesorio/cat/tipoprod/

We have recently partnered with DHL to make sure that the best spanish Jamon will fly to HK in good hands, get through customs with no hassles whatsoever, and be delivered at your door ASAP.

It sure has been a long wait, but we are confident that tasting the best spanish Jamón in Hong Kong at regular spanish prices will completely make up for it.

To fulfill your order, just proceed as you would for any online order. Just make sure you choose “Hong Kong” as your country destination when typing in your shipping address, and you will be good to go. The full payment will be completed in our site, no customs fees nor any extra expense will be needed for you to enjoy your Jamón.

Also, please note that the prices displayed on our site include local taxes (VAT) that do not apply for orders bound for HK. These will be removed from the total price of your order once you enter your Hong Kong invoicing data, which will be automatically requested during checkout.

Best regards,
Miquel Nieto, founder

Joselito Ham turns 150 years old

The most famous and recognized worldwide ham producer from Guijuelo just celebrated its 150th anniversary. Six generations have now dedicated themselves to ham processing, even though it didn’t bear the name Joselito for the first 100 years, when the current director’s grandfather realized its growing popularity.

Joselito Ham has its own herd of almost 35,000 pata negra pigs, with a genetic selection that allows the recognition of a cut not yet labeled. Another characteristic is that the company doesn’t use additives, except salt. No artificial colors, preservatives or lactose – just acorn-fed ham and salt.

The company that José Gómez currently runs has opted for internalization, research and development and positioning as luxury items. A success that its competitors have lost no time in trying to duplicate.

To celebrate it, 18 master cutters sliced several Vintage 2011 cuts (cured for more than 7 years) in an event that took place in Madrid’s Teatro Real on October 2, 2018.

It was one of the hams that we first sold at IberGour. We incorporated it into our catalogue at the end of 2006, and we can confidently say that it is a brand that creates loyal customers. In spite of some specific disappointments, the more than 300 opinions that have been sent to us and we have published prove our customers’ love for the jewel of Guijuelo.

We hope to keep processing this exquisite, aromatic ham for another 150 years at least, and that IberGour continues selling it online 😉

The additives in Pata Negra ham

Until recently, what worried consumers most was the salt content of cured ham. WHO (World Health Organisation) recommends consuming a maximum of 5g per day (even less in children and adolescents) to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, although the world average of between 9 and 12g is more than double.

These days it seems that other additives used by most manufacturers generate more fear or distrust in consumers: preservatives, antioxidants, acidity regulators … This article will try to explain why they are used and what the associated health risks are.

Salt

Salt jar
Salt (photo by Gregory Bourolias)

Salt is the oldest known preservative and without it meat would rot. It’s also a flavour enhancer: we tend to find that ham with less than 2.5% salt is tasteless and with an unpleasant texture.

Pata negra ham (jamón ibérico) has the least salt content of them all (between 2.5% to 4.5%). It’s followed by Serrano ham (5%), Bayonne ham (5.5%) and Parma ham (5.7%). Credit goes to genetics in this case: the marbling fat and higher pH level in Iberico hams hinders the penetration of the salt.

When compared with other types of products, it would be at the same level as Roquefort cheese or olives.

As we mentioned in the introduction, it’s been proven that excess salt increases the risk of cardiovascular disease (hypertension, heart attacks, etc.) but it’s also thought to cause kidney failure and osteoporosis.

Preservatives

The most commonly used preservatives are potassium nitrate (E-250) and sodium nitrite (E-252). Nitrates and nitrites have been used for hundreds of years and play an important role in ensuring the microbiological safety (especially protecting consumers from botulism) of foodstuffs.

The European Food Safety Agency limits the maximum amount of sodium nitrite to 100mg/kg and potassium nitrate to 150mg/kg (Directive 2006/52 /EC). It is such a low amount that the formation of potentially carcinogenic nitrosamines is negligible. Furthermore, jamón isn’t a product that has to be cooked, so that the high temperatures needed to display said compound (130ºC) wouldn’t be reached. In this sense a much more dangerous meat would be, for example, bacon, as it is a product with a short maturation period and cooked at high temperatures (150-190°C).

These two compounds, in addition to protect us from certain bacteria, also influence the colour and aroma. The meat becomes slightly redder and the smell of curing overpowers any rancid aromas.

Almost all producers use one, or both, of these preservatives with some exceptions being Joselito hams and the organic hams (also known as ecological). This commitment to the elimination of additives requires them to exercise extreme control of the curing process, especially during the first 3 months, which is when there is more risk of microbiological contamination. On the other hand, these pieces tend to have a longer maturation period of between six months to a year. The more dehydrated the ham, the harder it is for bacteria to grow.

The effect on the colour is not essential in the case of Iberian ham, as the high content of zinc in this type of meat is the main guarantor of its reddish coloration, and so it doesn’t need the coloration effects of the preservatives.

However, in Italy they have eliminated all additives in Parma ham and San Daniele for quite some time now (except salt, of course). And in Switzerland the use of sodium nitrite (E-252) is not allowed under any circumstances.

Antioxidants

Sodium ascorbate (E-301) is often added to reduce the adverse effects caused by preservatives, as it reduces the generation of nitrosamines. It’s considered harmless, but consuming more than 10mg per day can cause diarrhoea and kidney stones.

Acidifiers

Sodium citrate (E-331-iii) is completely harmless and there are no set daily limits on how much is safe to ingest. It serves to regulate the pH (acidity) and to strengthen the role of antioxidants.

Sugar (or lactose, which is the sugar found in milk)

Although often used in sausages, it’s rarely used in ham and serves to mask the bitter, stale notes.

In short, the most harmful additive used in ham is salt. If we were to share an 80g serving with one other person, we will have ingested between 1 and 2g of salt, which is between 20% and 40% of the recommended daily amount, more or less the same as if we were to eat 125g of bread (half a baguette, for example). What can I say? I would rather stop eating bread and eat a whole tapa of Pata Negra ham.

#JamonByTheFace Dakar Challenge

#JamonByTheFace Dakar Challenge: today along the day we will be tweeting pictures of #Dakar2018 competitors touching their faces. For every picture tweet, tomorrow we will draw a jamon among its retweets. To maximize your odds of winning a jamon for FREE, press this button:  and retweet as many pictures as you wish as we publish them.

Even better: if you find the picture of a competitor from whom we have not published a picture yet, tweet it with a mention to @ibergour and you will get a free jamon directly, NO DRAWS! Just remember that:
  • it must be a competitor from whom we have not published a picture yet
  • they must appear touching their face
  • it must be verifiable that the picture was taken today
  • your tweet must mention @ibergour

Example:

Peterhansel se toca la cara

Rules:

  1. You can earn at most one jamon, either because you were the first one to tweet a valid picture or because you won a draw.
  2. You are not required to be the author of the picture. It can be someone else’s picture, a video frame, whatever.
  3. We will accept tweets/retweets until 24:00 today, Madrid time (GMT+1).
  4. There must be at least 10 retweets on the same picture for there to be a jamon draw for that picture.
  5. If you live in the EU*, we will ship your jamon for free. If you want it delivered somewhere else, the jamon is yours but you shall take care of shipping yourself (making arrangements for shipping, fulfilling taxes, shipping expenses).
    * We do not ship to the Canary Islands, Cyprus, Malta, Gibraltar, Ceuta, Melilla, Azores, Madeira, British Crown Dependencies or the Channel Islands in general.

Results

Yesterday we found all these pictures of Dakar 2018 competitors touching their faces:

This tweet had 12 RTs, and the jamon goes to: @Superxeta

This tweet had 12 RTs, and the jamon goes to: @karlo2011

Other competitor pictures that did not make it to the minimum number of RTs: