Fermentation Makes Processed Meat Different

Tateki Matsuda

March 12, 2023

Last October, American food professionals visited fermented food producers to deepen their knowledge of Japanese fermentation culture during the “Hakko Tourism in Japan” tour campaign. As part of the tour, organizers held a tasting session where guests gave candid advice from the perspective of the American market to food product manufacturers looking to enter the United States market.

How have many readers heard “Red meat is bad”? Generally speaking, red meat is not considered healthy due to its high levels of saturated fat, which can increase cholesterol and contribute to heart disease. Many red meat products are processed, containing harmful preservatives and additives such as nitrates which increase the risk of diseases like cancer and heart disease. Plant-based diets are trending due to growing awareness of their health benefits, including reducing the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes through a diet rich in whole, unprocessed foods low in saturated fat and high in fiber, vitamins, and minerals. So all red meats are bad? Processed meat, commonly viewed as unhealthy, holds many toxic chemicals that are not present in fresh meat. No question that processed meat is filled with harmful elements absent from fresh meat. If you are a Hakko Hub reader, you already know that all fermented food products are created equal, right? There are so many fermented food products with tons of chemicals and additives.

What makes processed meat bad?

Nitrates and nitrites are added to processed meats like bacon, ham, sausages, and hot dogs to prevent harmful bacteria, add a salty flavor and improve the meat’s appearance. Although a high intake of processed meats may increase cancer risk, nitrates and nitrites also occur naturally in vegetables, where people get 80% of their dietary nitrates. The body produces nitrates and secretes them into saliva, and nitrates and nitrites circulate in the digestive system and blood. Nitrates are also found in water, but high levels due to fertilizer use can be harmful to children and are regulated by health authorities. Sodium nitrite, a type of nitrite, is added to processed meats to preserve color, improve flavor, and prevent bacteria growth. However, nitrite can turn into harmful N-nitroso compounds, such as nitrosamines, which have been linked to cancer. Nitrosamines are mainly formed through high-heat cooking methods, and processed meats are the main dietary source of these compounds. Studies in both animals and humans suggest that nitrosamines may increase the risk of stomach and bowel cancer.
Spanish serrano ham or prosciutto in plate on wooden table
Unlike processed meats, often treated with nitrates and nitrites, fermented meats are made through a natural process that preserves the meat and enhances its flavor. Fermented meat has been a staple in many cultures for centuries, with dried raw ham being one of the most popular varieties. Italian and Spanish raw ham, also known as prosciutto crudo and jamón ibérico, respectively, are two famous cured hams without chemicals. While they are similar in many ways, there are several differences between Italian and Spanish raw ham, including:

Meat Source: Italian raw ham is typically made from the hind leg of domestic pigs, while Spanish raw ham is made from the hind leg of a specific breed of pig known as the Iberian pig. These pigs are raised on a diet of acorns and other foraged foods, which gives the ham a unique flavor and texture.

Curing Process: Italian raw ham is typically cured using a mixture of salt, spices, and herbs, while Spanish raw ham is usually cured with just salt and sometimes paprika. The curing process for Spanish raw ham is usually more prolonged and intense, resulting in a more robust, distinctive flavor.

Fat Content: Spanish raw ham is known for its high level of healthy monounsaturated fat, which gives the ham a rich, buttery texture. Italian raw ham is leaner, with a more delicate texture and a milder flavor.

Serving: Spanish raw ham is usually sliced thin and served as an appetizer, while Italian raw ham is often served in sandwiches or as a topping for pizza.

Parma ham whole leg on black background
Both Italian and Spanish raw ham are delicious and versatile foods that are widely enjoyed, but the differences in meat source, curing process, and flavor make them unique in their own right.

What does fermentation do for meat?

One of the main benefits of fermented meat is its increased nutritional content. During fermentation, the meat is exposed to beneficial bacteria that help break down and digest the food. This process makes the meat more easily digestible and increases the concentration of vitamins and minerals, such as B vitamins and iron. Fermented meat is a good source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins B12, B6, and niacin, as well as iron, phosphorus, and zinc. These essential nutrients are important for maintaining good health and play a key role in some biological processes, including energy production, DNA synthesis, and neurotransmitter function. In addition to the increased nutritional content, fermented meat has some probiotic benefits. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that help to maintain the balance of bacteria in the gut, promoting overall digestive health. When you consume fermented meat, the beneficial bacteria can colonize the gut and help keep harmful bacteria in check. They can help to improve digestive function, reduce bloating and gas, and even boost immunity. Another benefit of fermented meat is the lower risk of foodborne illness. During fermentation, harmful bacteria are killed off by the beneficial bacteria, making the meat safer to eat. It is essential for immune-compromised people or has weakened digestive systems, as they are more susceptible to foodborne illnesses.

Organic dry raw ham, in particular, is a great choice for those looking to reap the benefits of fermented meat. Organic meats are free from hormones, antibiotics, and other harmful chemicals, making them a healthier option overall. In addition, organic meats are typically more humanely raised, which can help to improve the overall quality of the meat. Another benefit of organic dry raw ham is that it is a good source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins B12, B6, and niacin, as well as iron, phosphorus, and zinc. These essential nutrients are important for maintaining good health and play a key role in some biological processes, including energy production, DNA synthesis, and neurotransmitter function. In addition to its numerous health benefits, organic dry raw ham is also a delicious and versatile food that can be used in various dishes. It can be sliced thin and served as a snack or appetizer or added to soups, stews, and pasta dishes. It can also flavor eggs, omelets, and other breakfast dishes.

While red meat has been traditionally viewed as unhealthy due to its high levels of saturated fat and harmful additives, it is important to differentiate between fresh and processed meat products. Processed meat contains nitrates and nitrites that can lead to the formation of cancer-causing nitrosamines. In contrast, fermented meat like organic dry raw ham provides increased nutritional content and probiotic benefits, making it a healthier choice. Not only is organic dry raw ham a good source of essential vitamins and minerals, but it also has a delicious flavor and can be used in various dishes. We can reap numerous health benefits by choosing organic, fermented meat products while enjoying tasty and versatile food.

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Tateki "Tech" Matsuda | + posts

Tateki Matsuda is the founder of Biohacker Center Japan, holding degrees in Applied Nutrition and Sports Movement Science. As a Professional MMA fighter in the UFC and health consultant in Boston, he combines his expertise in biohacking, nutrition, and athletics to optimize performance and promote holistic wellness.