What are the small white spots that appear on ham? Are they harmful? Can you eat without risk? These are common questions whose answers are, in most cases, more related to some false beliefs than what they are in reality.
Can you eat eggs with traces of blood?
Because, although we are very familiar with finding them in ham, we know little about them. In fact, find these little white spots it’s normal And there are no reasons why we should worry.
Neither salt residues nor parasites: tyrosine crystals
The tiny white crystals are indeed somewhat desirable as they denote a process optimal curing and maturing of the piece. It is not, contrary to what is usually thought, neither salt that has remained undissolved during the salting process nor are they pieces of acorn that have ended up in the animal’s muscle without digesting or parasites, as is often mistakenly thought.
These stains, which scratch to the touch and may remind us of their plaster texture, are nothing more than crystals formed by tyrosine, one of the amino acids that cells use to synthesize proteins that are usually found during long curing processes in foods such as hams, cold cuts and cheeses such as Parmesan.
In the case of ham, tyrosines can also help us to identify the area of the piece, since these they concentrate mainly on the mace, which is where the greatest amount of meat is found, where the slices are usually larger and one of the juiciest parts because more fat accumulates.
How do these crystals get to the ham?
During the entire maturation process there is a degradation of the proteins in the meat. This process is called proteolysis and it is what gives rise to the formation of free amino acids that end up crystallizing in the form of what we usually call describing as small white dots.
Tyrosine does not dissolve well in water, so when the ham loses this liquid throughout the curing process, it crystallizes. Therefore, his presence is associated with the healing process (which has been long enough for them to form).
But their appearance also influence other parameters which are related, for example, to salting time, drying temperature and weight loss. These three factors significantly affect the texture and incidence of white film and tyrosine crystals.
Whatever the reason, the presence of these crystals in hams does not involve any risk because they are harmless. Furthermore, tyrosine is a natural substance with several biological functions, among which are control of body weight and a neurotransmitter precursor like dopamine, related to the feeling of well-being.
Do not confuse these whiteheads with mites
We must pay special attention not to confuse these small white spots with the presence of mites, little white dots that, unlike the others, they move. This is when we must be cautious because they are small “bugs” that can be harmful.
The ham mites They usually appear during the ripening process of the piece, which normally takes place in drying rooms and cellars. The conditions of humidity and temperature in these places they are optimal for the proliferation of mites which, in addition, find in the moldy layer that forms on the surface and in the recesses of the piece the ideal place to grow and spread.
In some cases these mites are detected quickly because they are on the surface and its white color stands out with red of the ham. But it can also happen that they appear in a brown color or that they are hidden in less accessible cracks. Over time, the infested areas have an appearance that resembles dust due to the accumulation of dead mites.
One of the problems is that the mites can spread from one piece to another quickly: Although they do not fly, they can move and can be easily transported from one place to another on infested materials. This, at a productive level, forces to discard all damaged parts, with the consequent economic losses.
If, by accident, the consumer comes across a ham with mites, it is advisable to discard the infected part. In the most extreme cases where the part is severely affected, it is best to discard the entire part. Because these mites are related, in some cases, to allergic reactions which can become severe.
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