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Where Does Ham Come From?

If you searching the web for “Where Does Ham Come From?” you might just be curious where the delicious meat comes from, or you might be doing a report for a class. We have compiled recent statistical information and historical information about who is producing the ham today and how the cultivation of ham ended up with it being one of the most common meats consumed worldwide. Ham can be traced through history far back as ancient traditions. Food storage was one of the most important prerequisites when it came to civilization development. Among the earliest ways found by the ancients included smoking, drying and curing. Curing allowed cities, cultures and people to advance and flourish.

Top Producers & Exporters Of Ham

The heavy weights in ham production are China, the European Union, and the United States. Much of what is produced in these countries is consumed domestically. The world’s largest volume exporters of pork and ham are the European Union, United States, and Canada. Within the European Union the biggest producers are Spain, Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, France and Poland.

Pork export is big business and worldwide accounted for $25.3 billion dollars just in 2015. This is even after a drop in the value by 19.1% going from 2014 to 2015.

Top Pork Producing States

Ham and Pork is big business in the United States. It helps create jobs for a lot of Americans and keeps the economies of these states stronger. These are the top 10 pig producing states in the United states according to the latest information on The USA Census of Agriculture website are as listed:

$6.8 Billion – Iowa

$2.9 Billion – North Carolina

$2.8 Billion – Minnesota

$1.5 Billion – Illinois

$1.3 Billion – Indiana

$1.1 Billion – Nebraska

$0.9 Billion – Missouri

$0.8 Billion – Ohio

$0.7 Billion – Kansas

$0.7 Billion – Oklahoma

U.S. Pork Exports

Being one of the world’s biggest pork producers we ship millions of tons of pork each year. There are 6 main geographical areas that we export to. Mexico, Japan, China/Hong Kong, Canada, South Korea, and Central/South America. The tons and millions of pork we shipped in 2015 helped Americans grow stronger as a worldwide pork producer. Below you will find the 2015 pork export numbers for the United States.

Exports to Mexico – 718,819 Metric Tons at a value of $1,267 Million

Exports To Japan – 406,186 Metric Tons at a value of $1,586 Million

Exports To China/HK – 339,056 Metric Tons at a value of $700 Million

Exports To Canada – 200,989 Metric Tons at a value of $779 Million

Exports To South Korea – 167,524 Metric Tons at a value of $470 Million

Exports To Central/South America – 122,587 Metric Tons at a value of $306 Million

Early Ham Curing

There is a long history with preserving ham in the form of pork leg. The Chinese is credited by many as the first culture for recording raw ham curing, but others site the Gauls. Whichever it is, the fact that it was a well-established practice by Roman times cannot be argued. It was extensively written by Cato the Elder regarding ‘salting hams’ in the De AgriCultura tome near 160 BC.

A Curing Climate

Also, ham’s popularity can be followed back to the producers’ geographic location. For curing meat, the conditions need to be right, not cold enough for the ham to freeze, but not warm enough to cause the ham to go bad. Therefore, there are certain regions in the world that are well known for certain hams. Spanish Serrano, Italian prosciutto, and American country ham from Virginia and Kentucky are located on what is known as to Ham Belt of the world. The Ham Belt is a geographic region that is bound by latitude and the history of producing the most revered ham in the world. With technology the mechanization of various food production and climate control, geographic locations have become less important for ham production. However, the original ham locations remain popular or producing the best ham around the world.

Ham Popularity & Nitrate Free Ham

To this day, ham continues to be one of the top consumed pork based products worldwide. Americans eat an average of 193 sandwiches per year, while ham is the most popular choice by far. The process for curing a dry cured ham starts by first rubbing the ham down with salt, and some use spices, sugar, and nitrates. Spanish Serrano and Italian prosciutto hams are created using a curing of pure salt without any added nitrites or nitrates. There are certain American hams that are also nitrate free. When nitrates are used, they make sure the ham has a pink color and provides a cured flavor within short time frames. It also offers anti-microbial advantages to a certain point. However, nitrates are not a new age addition to the process of curing, it has been an additive to cured ham for hundreds of years in the form of saltpeter, and for millennia in the form of impure salts.

There is a small amount of nitrates naturally contained in meat, thus allowing the meat to develop a pretty color without help. When a ham is aged for longer periods, the less adding nitrates will be needed. In addition to using salt, there are many American cured hams that use white or brown sugar. The added sugar is not for sweetness, instead it is used for softening the harshness that comes with the salt, along with the toughening effects the nitrates provide. Spices such as black and red pepper are sometimes used, which provides more flavor while discouraging bugs. Now, machines are usually used for rubbing the cure mixture on the ham when produced in a factory. However, as any serious ham artisan would say, it is important for the hand of the salter to be skilled.

No matter what your choice of ham is, join us in the celebration of a traditional and rich history of an ancient food.

Fun Facts About Ham

  • Nearly every country worldwide produces ham. The following are some of the more popular hams from around the world: Westphalian, Prosciutto, Smithfield, Parma, Kentucky, Virginia, Canned, Country, York, Bayonne, Prague, Mainz, Toulouse, Asturias, Black Forest, Dijon, Serrano, Bohemian, Bradenham, Presunto, Prazskasunks, Estremandura, and Szynka.
  • There are ham experts that have a preference of meat from the pig’s left leg, as they believe it is more tender. The concept comes from watching pigs scratch using their right leg. By using the muscles in the right leg more, it is thought the right leg would be tougher.
  • Pigs are not America native, credit goes to Hernando de Soto who brought the first thirteen hogs over in 1525.
  • American “country” hams and “city” hams: “Country” ham is aged and dry-cured, which produces a flavor that is stronger, drier and “City” ham uses a brine or wet curing process, and commonly smoked rather than aged.
  • The Apollo 13 mission crew was able to create a CO2 filter that was functional by using glazed ham and duct tape.
  • Dwight Kalb, a Chicago artist created a Madonna statue using 180lbs of ham.
  • Because of a Civil War surrender agreement, the name Virginia Baked Ham was assigned to be an insult to Virginia residents.

Giving Ham Gifts

Ham has been a favorite of many cultures and throughout the generations. Giving ham as a gift is easy with ham gift certificates. They are great for Christmas gifts for the office, employees, or other organizations and groups. Make the giving easy and order gift certificates that are redeemable at local grocery stores.

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