Properties of the Fat in Iberian Ham

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The fat content in ham frequently generates questions among the consumers of both high-quality Iberian ham and ham products of lesser quality. Some of their main questions include:
  • Is there any benefit to consuming the fat in Iberian ham? 
  • Should the fat be removed from the ham before serving it?
  • Is the fat from Iberian ham high in calories?
  • Can people allergic to gluten eat ham? 
We will try to answer the main questions regarding the fat in ham, mainly Iberian ham, without trying to question those who choose to throw this important part of the product away, which provides flavour, texture and nutritional value. To start, fat infiltration in ham is a sign of quality, it gives it a special flavour that indicates the ham is in perfect condition to be eaten.   

What types of fat are found in Iberian ham? 

To begin with, we need to differentiate between edible and non-edible fat. The edible fat is white or pinkish and is attached to the red meat, it has a very good flavour and it has a nice mouthfeel. If a slice of Iberian ham has a lot of this type of fat, it shouldn't be viewed as something negative, quite the opposite, seeing how it adds flavour and juiciness to the meat. This is especially the case with acorn-fed Iberian ham.
The fat from acorn-fed Iberian ham has a smooth texture. In fact, if you touch it with your finger, it will sink into it slightly. Thanks to the pig's acorn-based diet and the physical activity it carries out while it lives and feeds in the meadowlands, the fat infiltrates the meat and can be seen in the form of veins once the ham is cut. This gives the ham a much smoother and flavourful taste, coupled with greater nutritional properties when compared to other types of ham. 
On the other hand, the inedible fat is yellow and surrounds the ham; this fat should be thrown away. With higher quality hams, there will be less of this kind of fat on the surface.
Are there differences between the fat in Iberian ham and that found in an Iberian shoulder ham? 
The main difference between the fat from an Iberian ham and that in an Iberian shoulder ham is its proportion. In Iberian ham, the bone and inedible fat correspond to approximately 50% of the weight of the piece, while with the shoulder ham, this proportion reaches approximately 60%. 

Is the fat in Iberian ham healthy?
The fat in Iberian ham is very healthy. Of all the fats that the acorn-fed Iberian ham contains, more than 70% are unsaturated, which are beneficial for our health. In fact, of all the hams that exist, the acorn-fed Iberian meat is the healthiest for the heart. 
If we add to this the high protein content found in ham, its contribution of vitamins B1, B6, B12 and E, as well as the calcium minerals, phosphorus and magnesium, there is no doubt that Iberian ham is a highly nutritious and beneficial food. In addition, we should also point out its high iron content, which makes it a recommended product in cases of anemia.  
Properties of the fat in Iberian ham
The calories found in ham, including the edible fat, is equivalent to that found in bread, approximately 250 kilocalories (kcal) per 100 grams (g) of product. This means that moderate amounts of Iberian ham can be included as a part of weight loss diet plans. In fact, some weight loss diets use Iberian ham as a central element. 
Can the fat in Iberian ham affect blood cholesterol levels?
The fat in acorn-fed Iberian ham contains between 55% and 60% oleic acid, which helps to increase the good cholesterol (HDL) and reduce the bad one (LDL). In fact, the cholesterol level found in pork is lower than that of beef or lamb. Numerous scientific studies have shown that the oleic acid found in Iberian ham and other foods such as olive oil is actually heart-healthy. 
Can people with gluten allergies eat Iberian ham? 
People with celiac disease can eat Iberian ham safely, since ham and other cured meats do not contain gluten, as indicated by the Spanish Federation of Coeliac Associations (FACE). Additionally, during the curing, processing and shipping processes, Iberian products do not come into contact with any type of food that contains gluten, therefore people with celiac disease can enjoy these delicacies with complete freedom and safety. 
What diets is Iberian ham used in?
As mentioned previously, Iberian ham is recommended in diets of people with anemia due to its high iron content, just like how its richness in oleic acid makes it a recommended product for diets aimed at reducing LDL cholesterol. 
Additionally, Iberian ham can be placed in the diet to recover adequate levels of sodium in the blood if there is a deficiency of this electrolyte, a condition known as hyponatremia. 
In the case of weight-loss diets, there are diets based on Iberian ham that have been prepared by nutrition experts. These diets allow for the daily intake of several slices of Iberian ham, in combination with different types of food, ensuring that the person loses weight while also maintaining a healthy heart. 
On the other hand, in the case of weight-loss diets that are based on a high intake of proteins, like the Dukan diet, moderate amounts of Iberian ham can certainly be included, as this is a food that is rich in very high-quality proteins. In fact, in 100 grams of Iberian ham there are approximately 43 grams of protein. Additionally, thanks to the curing process, the proteins in the Iberian ham are hydrolysed, which allows them to be more easily digested compared to other types of meat. 


Ways to cook with the fat from Iberian ham 

The edible fat (white or pinkish) in Iberian ham is a fantastic resource when it comes to enriching dishes. The higher the quality of the ham, the softer and more flavourful the fat is. This fat can be easily melted by heating it up and can be used to fry grilled pork fillets or eggs, for example. It can also be used to make sautéed vegetables. The fat gives these dishes an exquisite touch. 
The fat in Iberian ham can also be used to add more flavours to stews, as is done with bacon. In addition, the ham bone should not be thrown away as it can be used to make delicious soups and other types of dishes, as we talk about in the post titled "What we do with the bone?". 
Among other options,  you can make pork rinds by cutting the fat from the Iberian ham into small pieces and frying it in a pan. Lovers of toast can make an oil that's flavoured with the fat from Iberian ham; to do so, you can melt 500 g of fat on a low flame with 300 g of olive oil and 100 g of water until well blended. The toast will then obtain a subtle ham flavour. 

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