Thursday, January 12, 2012

Sweet Meats

Check the label on almost any cured pork products and you will see a form of sugar listed. Sweetness and pork are traditional. Many a holiday ham has been glazed with brown sugar, pineapple, maple syrup, honey etc. Fresh pork dishes are often prepared with sweet fruits such as apples, raisins, pears, apricots and many more. Sugar or sweetness in general have risen to the forefront of the typical palate over the years. We as a culture, have become accustomed to the taste and when it isn't there, many people will find the food is lacking something. Sugar can be considered an addiction of sorts. We find many recipes today adding lots of sugar into savory foods.

Recently I cured a ham with my recipe tha contained water, salt, nitrite, spices and a little dextrose. I cut the dextrose listed in the recipe in half. When the ham was cured I soaked it to release a lot of the salt and then smoked it on and off for a few days. The result was a delicious flavorful ham that didn't over power the taste buds with sugar. I have to admit I did bake it with some coarse chopped onions, a few cloves and a light sprinkle of brown sugar. This added to the taste of the pan gravy and the skin's flavor but didn't add directly to the ham's overall sweetness.

I brought some of the ham to class and we compared it to a commercial sandwich slicing ham that claimed to be cherry wood smoked. First we tasted the slicing ham. Most students found the flavor appealing. I found it to be extremely sweet. Then I gave them my ham. "WOW that is sooo good!" was the comment. Then I asked what was good about it. Explain the flavor. Smoky, rich, savory were some comments. Sweet was not one of them but the results were positive just the same.

For some reason research and development teams have done studies and conducted taste panels that have found sweet sells. The more we sell sweet stuff the more people come to expect it. Sweet is found in loads of savory items. Sweet tomato sauces, crackers, salad dressings, mustards, coated chicken products, sausages, and more. Many of our fresh products are enhanced with sugar also. Butterball turkey, pumped brined pork loins, stewing hens. Our palates are being distorted by sweet. I really can't eat the super sweet ham that most deli counters sell. It tastes like candy to me yet many to many people that is the only flavor of ham they know from childhood so that is what they expect.

What role does sugar play in curing? Primarily sugar or sweetness is added to counter the harshness of salt. It is a flavor agent. Sweetness can also act as a fuel for good bacteria to grow creating acids resulting in the tangy taste we associate with a cured food. Some sugar or sweetness is necessary. But how much and what kind? Dextrose tends to be less sweet than plain sugar while corn syrup tends to be more sweet. My usual recipe for curing is 3 gallons watere, 2lbs of salt, 1 lb of dextrose, 4 oz TCM and then whatever spices I choose. This last recipe I reduced the dextrose to a 1/2 lb and it work out great.

I think another possible reason for the over sweetening of products is so the company can add more salt, resulting in a longer shelf life. Don't get me wrong, I like a peach glazed pork chop, but that is a natural amount of sugar, not a distortion created to placate to the customers palate cravings.