x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Turning beef into ham

We wondered how, exactly, the likes of beef or turkey are transformed into "ham" and discovered that as long as the meat is taken from the thigh of the animal it can be called ham.

While eating a salad with beef bacon and avocado, we wondered how, exactly, the likes of beef or turkey are transformed into "ham" or "bacon". Or, indeed, how non-pork products could be called "ham". What we discovered is that the "ham" label can also be slapped on beef or turkey as long as the meat is taken from the thigh of the animal. Similarly, the term "bacon" can also cover products containing beef, lamb, chicken, goat or turkey that has been cut, cured and re-formed to resemble bacon. Traditionally, hams and bacons are made by curing the meats in a solution of brine, sugar and spices and smoking over hickory or maple wood chips . However, the majority of smoked processed meat products on the market are actually just injected with "smoke flavourings". All the non-pork ham and bacon products available in grocery stores are halal.

Turkey ham is made from thigh meat that is coloured, cooked, cured and sliced thinly to resemble ham. The pink-coloured flesh of turkey thighs and the curing process both contribute to the authentic colour. Relatively low in fat (Butterball Turkey Ham, a major brand here, has 1.3g of fat per slice and 40 calories). It also contains water, dextrose, two per cent or less of potassium lactate, smoke flavouring, salt, sodium phosphate, sodium erythorbate and sodium nitrate.

Turkey bacon is sold striped or marbled, smoked or unsmoked and is likened to Canadian or back bacon, because of its lower fat content. It has, on average, 50 per cent less fat than pork bacon (Jennie-O Turkey Bacon has 20 calories per slice and 0.5g of fat). To make turkey bacon, meat is cut (or, more usually, mechanically separated) from the fatty flank of the bird, near the wing. The meat (boneless and skinless) is tumbled together with water, salt, sweetener and spices, then pressed into large slabs, injected with smoke flavourings, then chopped and re-formed into strips. Striped turkey bacon is made from alternating stripes of finely ground, emulsified light and dark meat. This style is crispier than marbled, so tends to be slightly higher in fat.

Beef bacon contains 45 per cent less fat than pork bacon. Smoke Bar Ranch Beef Bacon contains 95 calories per slice and 8g of fat and uses meat from the cow's belly. After slaughtering, the meat is refrigerated for 24 hours. Then it is cured in a salt solution for three to four days and dried until a thick shiny coating appears on the top of the meat. The bacon is then smoked and sliced. According to the manufacturers, Smoke Bar Ranch Beef Bacon is "prepared from carefully selected beef plates, cured with the finest ingredients (that is water, salt, sodium phosphates, dextrose, sodium erythorbate, sodium nitrate and flavourings)".