The finest Spanish ham is made with a local breed of pigs that freely feed on acorns in the country’s arid grasslands dotted with oak trees. So, why are acorns so special? And why are they critical for producing some of the most exquisite ham?
Let’s talk about acorns and pigs because they seem to be a wonderful combination. Are acorns really that important in the ham-making process? They are! Here’s all you need to know about why ham producers in Spain feed acorns to pigs. You can learn something new every day, right?
What are Acorns, Anyway?
Acorns or oak nuts are the nuts from oak trees, and each acorn contains one seed enclosed in a tough shell. Acorns are vital for the Mediterranean ecosystem, as birds, rodents and even large animals, including bears and wild boar feed on them.
Acorns are one of the most bountiful nutrition sources in fall, and that’s when Iberian pigs roam the ‘dehesas,’ picking up the bounties of the season. So, how nutritious are acorns? And how do they affect hams flavor? Well, the pigs’ diet affects the taste of the ham much more than you think.
Acorns are Quite Nutritious
Acorns are nutritious seeds. They have relatively high amounts of proteins with 6 grams for every 100 grams of acorns, but what’s most extraordinary about the nuts is their high amounts of fat, including saturated, polyunsaturated and most importantly, monounsaturated fats.
These fats become a highly caloric diet that helps the pigs develop their own high levels of unsaturated fat, omega-3 fatty acids and oleic acid. The fat in Spanish ham is not dissimilar in composition to what you find in olive oil, which we all know is extraordinarily healthy. Fat is also a flavor carrier, and it’s responsible for the ham’s decadent personality!
Not All Iberico Pigs Eat Acorns
There are basically two types of Spanish ham, Serrano ham, made with white pig varieties and Iberico ham, made with authentic Iberico pigs, whether they’re purebred or mixed breed.
And although all Iberico ham is fantastic thanks to the pig’s ability to accumulate intramuscular fat, not all of it comes from pigs fed with acorns. If you’re looking for the delicacy, the label clearly states the pigs’ breed and diet, and you’re looking for the term acorn or ‘bellota’. Some Iberian pigs are farm-raised and never enjoyed an acorn diet — you might be better off with ham from free-range pigs.
Who Knew Acorns Were So Important for Spanish Ham?
Spanish ham is unique for a myriad of reasons. It’s made with the perfect breed of pigs fed with just the right diet in the perfect scenario. It’s hard to imitate the conditions that end in the production of such a delectable treat!
And now that you know the critical role of acorns in your favorite ham, you’ll surely appreciate the delicacy even more. After all, the more you know about your favorite food, the more you enjoy it. Try acorn-fed Iberico ham and let it swoon your senses with its buttery texture and exquisite taste!