What is ham? Is it pork? 

by | May 3, 2023 | Blog, Cooking Tips and Tricks, Culinary Anthropology | 0 comments

We’re going back to our butchery class to answer the question, what is ham?

I can tell you that growing up, a lot of the families I knew would have ham on Easter, and I can also tell you that most would have ham without knowing the reasoning behind it. Ham is pork from the hind leg of the pig. That’s it, that’s the very broad definition. At this point the ham would be considered fresh ham. It can now be preserved by wet or dry curing, with or without smoking. This definition is actually quite open, so there might be a lot of different food products out there that you would consider ham, even if you’ve never thought of it that way. Italian Prosciutto, Spanish Jamon, American Country Ham, French Bayonne Ham, German Black Forest Ham, etc. The word ham actually comes from the word hom, which refers to the back of the knee from a Germanic base meaning, ‘be crooked’. This term would later come to mean the back of the thigh.

Now to the roots of eating ham in the spring; The short of it has to do with ham being less expensive than lamb (which would also be eaten during spring holidays) as well as the timeline for preserving hams. Pigs would be slaughtered in the fall (right before they were fed with nuts and apples adding to the flavor), preserved through the winter, and ready to eat come springtime. 

Jamón ibérico (Spanish cured ham)
Photo by Z S on Unsplash

Written by David Salerno

Originally from the Northeast, David (he/him) has been in Seattle since 2016. He studied classic culinary arts at the French Culinary Institute in NYC and currently works as the Senior Meal Program Coordinator at HIP. He can completely nerd out over culinary anthropology and can talk about food and food science for hours with anyone who is willing to listen. When not in the kitchen, you can find him playing hockey or running in different neighborhoods of Seattle.

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