A few weeks ago, we began this series of posts in the myths surrounding ham. After talking about so-called pata negra hams, this week we wish to clarify another of the fake ideas that, occasionally, affect which ham we might buy: “female ham is better”.
Female ham but not from a sow
Of course, a sow is a female pig. However, generally, the term sow’s ham refers to the product obtained from adult females that were intended for breeding, slaughtered at a greater weight and age than other pigs. These are very large hams and less common on the market. These hams, cured in the houses where the mothers were slaughtered, gave fame to a product that differed from uncastrated male hams as it did not have a musky scent like the male pigs. Hams that are currently sold as female ham are not hams from a mother pig.
Furthermore, the situation has changed recently. Male pigs intended for meat, are castrated surgically or immunologically before they reach sexual maturity and so before they produce androsterone. This sexual pheromone is responsible for an unpleasant scent and flavour of urine. Although not everyone can perceive this scent, anyone who is sensitive to it will really notice it in their nose and mouth.
So, is female ham better than male ham?
The simple answer is no. In fact, castrated males not only no longer give off this unpleasant scent, but they are also usually fattier hams. Castrated males are more voracious eaters and have a poorer conversion rate for grain into lean meat than uncastrated males and females, so they accumulate a greater fat covering. And now we know what it means to have a greater quantity of fat in the ham: better balance of salt in the mouth and juicier.
Nor do we want to say here that castrated males are better than females. We always talk about suppositions that are not mathematical, so we might also find very fatty female hams that offer the same advantages.
In short, we can state that we are talking about hams with barely any organoleptic differences between them, that should not affect what you buy.