How Much Ham Is In Ham?

How much ham is in your ham? Edgar bought a bag of John Morrell Cooked Ham, a good deal at $2.50 for a pound. Afterwards, he noticed the caveat “and water product” and tiny print that said “35% of Weight is Added Ingredients.”

When asked for an explanation, John Morrel said:

The ham and water product is 35% added ingredients of ground ham shank and ham. This is not 35% of added “other ingredients” or “water and chemicals”.

Edgar asked how much water was in the product and John Morrel said:

Cured in a solution of 79% water.”

Edgar then asked, “In my package there is 16 oz (1 pound) of ham product. What percentage of the contents of that package is water?” And Morrel replied,

You have 1 lb of meat as the pkg states. When the ham is processed and cured it will weigh more then 1lb. It is allowed to “drain” until the ideal weight of 1 lb is reached. So the meat is 1 lb but the solution is drained to get to that weight.

According to the Department of Agriculture, as long as it says, “and water product,” less than 17% of the product need be “PFF” or “protein fat-free.” This number “does not denote the amount of real ham in a product.”

If you want more ham for your buck, make sure the package description doesn’t have any qualifiers. Just ham. Then you’re guaranteed at least 20.5% PFF. — BEN POPKEN

John Morrell Cooked Ham: Where’s the Beef? [MousePrint]


Edit Your Comment

  1. WindowSeat says:

    I’m too lazy to go to the basement and rummage through the freezer to confirm my figures, but most whole, on the bone hams are about 10% added water and I imagine processed, sliced hams are probably even more. The same goes for turkey.

    A typical frozen turkey at the supermarket has been injected with up to 10% of it’s weight in brine or vegetable broth and the sliced stuff in the deli case has got to be way more.

  2. lesandi says:

    The finest resturants will “brine”chicken, pork, whatever and leave it in solution for 6 to 12 hours. This salt and spice bath gives added flavor and yields a more succulent piece of meat when cooked.
    Think we’re getting excited over nothing. Since the ham has been ground and formed into a loaf, imagine how it would taste if some sort of liquid were not added.

    Your holiday turkey usually comes pre-basted read: brined and no one sees fit to mention it.

  3. mike1731 says:

    Having used to work in the meat industry for 20 years, here’s the drill…

    1. You start with the raw ham.
    2. The ham is pumped with a water based solution that contains all of the various seasonings, spices, binders, etc.
    3. The ham is placed in either a mold (if it is a sectioned and formed product), or in a cook in bag (if it’s a whole ham or whole muscle product).
    4. The ham is cooked.
    5. After cooking, the ham is taken out of the mold, or cook in bag, depending on how it was done. Typically, you’ll loose a lot of the water in this step, which is why so much gets added up front.
    6. The ham is packed for good, sliced, etc.

    It is true with most processed meat, you are buying water with the meat. That’s the most profitable part of meat processing. However, the benefit to the consumer is that the product tastes moister, has better flavor, etc. USDA sets requirements for how seasonings and added liquids are disclosed, which accounts for the label on your ham noting the added flavorings. That’s pretty normal for this type of product.

  4. WindowSeat says:

    The finest resturants will “brine”chicken, pork, whatever and leave it in solution for 6 to 12 hours. This salt and spice bath gives added flavor and yields a more succulent piece of meat when cooked.

    Brining meat in a restaurant has more to do with the low fat content of pork and chicken these days. Pork in particular has so little fat that it is necessary to add some moisture to the meat and to cook it closer to medium or it will be dry as a bone.

    The turkeys that are in the supermarkets are pumped up way too much and when cooked express a huge amount of salty water that is completely useless for making gravy. The motivation for a pumped turkey is more profit than moisture. Better to get a natural bird and brine it yourself.

  5. Wiz says:

    There are a few different phrases that might adorn your ham product. Off the top of my head, in terms of increasing water content, it could say:
    “With Natural Juices”
    “Water Added”
    “Ham and water product”
    So, to get the least water, look for the package that says, “With Natural Juices”

  6. Panhandler says:

    There’s a good Alton Brown “Good Eats” segment on this topic. Finding it on the intertrons is an exercise left for the next commenter.

  7. snidelywhiplash says:

    It’s not just poultry and pork, these days it’s even beef. Wal-Mart and Target are big purveyors of this sort of beef. So I don’t buy beef at WM, and Target only if they’ve got the “$X.XX off” stickers on ’em. No way I’m paying $5.98/lb for salt water.