In the past, all Serrano hams were produced without any type of artificial preservatives. Nowadays, due to the large volume of production, it is often necessary to add some additives to avoid possible problems that may arise during the long maturation process, but there have always been small farmers who have followed the natural, artisanal process of producing completely natural serrano ham legs, only curing the hams with sea salt. They are usually producers with a limited number of pieces per year, so the attention to the product, taking into account that all manufacturers are subject to very high legal and sanitary requirements, these small companies take care of the animal and the whole production process with extra affection.
Differences between a Serrano ham without additives and with additives
Starting from the premise that any leg of Serrano ham or shoulder ham must follow an elaboration process subject to sanitary guidelines and depending on the curing time of the pieces they will be included in one of the 3 categories of Serrano ham, also legally stipulated, you can find on the market 100% natural hams and hams to which preservatives are added. These preservatives are the typical ones you can find in any food product (E-301, E302, E-250, etc.). These preservatives are authorised as food additives in the EU and are used in meat, fish and dairy products to prevent bacterial growth.
All this is done in order to reduce as much as possible the possible parts that could be affected and to guarantee a higher production yield.
It should be noted that the percentages of nitrites and nitrates are very low (less than one part per billion), so their presence is considered irrelevant.
However, Spanish hams and shoulders without additives are theoretically more sensitive to being affected by bacteria, but the reality is that they are totally safe, as they are analysed periodically under strict control of the raw material and the production process and, obviously, they are subject to health inspections and the same quality requirements as other Serrano hams.
Differences in the colour of the meat
The colour of the meat of a Serrano ham without artificial preservatives will be duller, as the effect of some of the additives is to fix the colour and give it a brighter appearance.
However, hams to which additives are added will have a more vivid, reddish colour.
A brighter colour is never a symptom, in these cases, of a higher quality ham.
Differences in curing time
A ham without additives, as a general rule, taking into account that it is of the same weight and of the same category, its curing period will be longer, slower, as in a certain way, the additives accelerate this process, shortening the curing time in hams to which additives are added.
As a general rule, a 100% natural ham, where the only natural preservative used is sea salt, and in most cases with a lower percentage than other cured hams, the price is slightly higher. This increase in price is mainly due to the exhaustive control that must be carried out on the raw material and the production processes, in order to avoid and identify the possible appearance of bacteria.
If we go one step further, organic Serrano hams, which obviously do not contain any type of artificial preservatives, the price is substantially higher than other natural Serrano hams, as organic certification means that the pig must be reared on farms or fields with organic certification, and the food must have the organic seal. All this makes the final product more expensive.
The best seller, thanks to its high quality and good reputation, as it is a Serrano ham with several centuries of history, is our Trevélez ham with the European label of differentiated quality IGP (Protected Geographical Indication).
Which Serrano ham to choose?
For many people nowadays, the issue of food being as natural as possible is something to be taken into account.
As we have told you before, the percentage of these additives in hams is irrelevant, giving almost imperceptible values in the analyses.
The issue is more a matter of awareness than of quality, both for the consumer and for the producer.
Most of the time, the producers of natural Serrano hams are not only limited to producing a ham without additives, but go further and are environmentally conscious, and may have fields approved as organic or that all the energy expenditure involved in the factory is sustainable, through solar panels, such as the Baza Spanish hams, which also market an organic Serrano ham.
Another aspect that can differentiate natural hams is that the drying rooms still use the traditional method of controlling the humidity and temperature by simply opening and closing the windows.
An example of the traditional way of producing hams is the family company Jamones de Juviles, located in the heart of the Sierra Nevada Natural Park.