Spaniards are very fond of having a whole cured ham —jamón serrano¬— at home. It is one of the most appreciated foods in Spain, although on occasion something about it may catch your attention.
Sometimes, as the ham is cut, small white specks appear in the muscle fibres. They have the appearance of chalk, are grainy and of variable size. Consumers may be suspicious of them if they do not know what they are. They actually appear in cured cheeses as well as in ham. A white film or veil on the cut surface may also appear several days after slicing the ham.
Both the white specks and the white film have a similar composition: they are clusters of tyrosine and other amino acids. They are caused by two different phenomena, but originate the same way: during the curing process proteins break down to form free amino acids.
Eating ham with tyrosine deposits is not a health risk. On the other hand, these white specks are frequently marketed as a symptom of quality that shows that the ham has been cured for a long time. This happens especially if the specks are large, even reaching the size of a grain of rice. But although these crystals may often be found in hams that have been cured for a long time, they can also be found in hams with a shorter aging period.
This is why coming across these clusters is not a guarantee of quality and does not prove that a ham has been cured for a long time, but they are also not an indication that the ham has been altered dangerously. They should really be considered secondary effects of the curing process. The only problem tyrosine deposits pose is to the commercial value of the product when consumers reject a ham because its appearance is affected by having a large amount of these white specks.
In conclusion, if you see white specks or a white film on the ham you are about to eat, you may do so without worry, as they do not pose any type of health hazard.
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