Considered as an article of haute cuisine and gastronomic luxury, Iberian ham has been recognized in many occasions as a nourishment of great nutritive quality, especially for the composition and distribution of its fat, which actually just represents around the 25% of the total. Now, thanks to a study done by the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC-CIAL), it has been proved that it also counts with antioxidant properties that can be beneficial to the consumer’s health.
This study highlights the investigation of the biological properties of the rest 70-75% of each leg of Iberian ham, this is, the part that does not represents the fat. And, in particular, this analysis has been focused on the process of proteolysis that happens during the process of curing, evaluating how this process affects the development of flavours and aromas, especially during the formation of peptides* with a biological activity which is beneficial for the health.
The study compares samples from three groups of animals: one group of Iberian pigs whose diet does not consist on acorn, a group who have been received one montanera, this means that the pig has only eaten acorn during one season; and a group of Iberian pigs that have eaten acorn during two season, that is, they have received two montaneras. Plasma and meat samples were taken from the different groups during different moments of the procedure of ham elaboration and the antioxidant capacity was evaluated.
The obtained results among the different groups in the plasma samples showed that there were not any significant differences in the antioxidant capacity, that is, the fact of eating acorn or not, more or less times, does not affect the antioxidant capacity of the plasma. However, the analysis of the samples of the Iberian ham from the different groups during different stages of the curing process revealed some interesting facts, as it is that the antioxidant capacity of the Iberian ham increases during the curing process, or that the antioxidant capacity of the Iberian ham increased significantly among the group that was fed with acorn during two seasons, showing that it was twice higher in the group that was fed with acorn that in the group was not fed with acorn or it did only during one season.
This discovery is very important for a product of Spanish traditional food, in which there still is a big handmade procedure, since recognizing its antioxidant properties opens new markets as it can affect beneficially on different diseases such as hypertension, diabetes or cancer.
Eating Iberian ham is not only a pleasure to the senses, but also it is nutritive and beneficial for the human body.
* Nota: peptides are short chains of amino acids joint between them for peptic links, which are formed between the group amid of an amino acid and the carboxyl extreme of another amino acid. These fragments usually are originated from one protein, a chain of amino acids much bigger, through a biochemical reaction in which it is produced a fragmentation, or hydrolysis, of the protein in smaller fragments (peptides) through the action of an enzyme. Also, their nutritional benefits can provide other favourable biological activities for our health, as it is the antioxidant: “In the case of the ham, this proteolysis it is produced naturally during the curing process”, add the investigator.