Ham is known for its rich, savory flavor profile that sometimes has a little smokiness. While it is not necessary to add additional seasonings to ham since it comes seasoned, spices can help to enhance the flavor of this popular preserved meat. Here are some of the best ham spices:
One of the two most popular sweet ingredients among the ham spices, brown sugar is not only responsible for giving ham a deep caramelized flavor but the golden-brown look of a baked ham as well.
In addition to the color, brown sugar contributes a glossy sheen that most people find appetizing. Brown sugar balances the ham’s saltiness, which can be intense and it complements the sharpness of mustard.
The clove spice is the dried bud of an evergreen tree native to Indonesia. Ham is arguably the best-known savory application of the clove spice in the Western world. Its sweetness and slight bitterness enhance the sweetness of other ham spices while also complementing the strong saltiness and umami quality of the ham itself.
The traditional way to add cloves to ham is to stud it. You do this by scoring the ham diagonally. Repeat the lines across the surface of the ham and then again in the opposite direction to create a diamond pattern. Stick the cloves in at the corners of the diamonds. An alternative to studding the ham with whole cloves is to rub the surface with ground cloves.
The tanginess of mustard is a great condiment for ham in sandwiches but it also works well as one of the main flavors in a ham glaze. For many cooks, the best kind of mustard is dry mustard but prepared mustard will work as well.
Mustard is a great compliment to the sweeteners that are often used in ham glazes. Mustard’s yellowness can also help to enhance the golden color of baked ham.
You can use honey in addition to brown sugar or as an alternative to it. Like brown sugar, this liquid sweetener will help offset the ham’s saltiness. Honey has the benefit of browning well, which will give your ham an appetizing deep brown exterior. Honey also pairs well with mustard and other ham spices.
Apple cider/Cider vinegar
Made with fermented apples, apple cider and apple cider vinegar both contribute a sweet fruitiness to the ham. Of course, the cider will bring more of the sweetness than the vinegar but both will help to soften the strong saltiness of the ham and cut through its richness. Apple cider vinegar’s strong tartness also helps to balance out the sweetness of honey and brown sugar.
Many ham glazes include a little orange zest as one of the spices. The aromatic citrus oil that the zest provides enhances the fruity sweetness from honey or brown sugar and is a good addition to clove and other sweet spices.
Allspice is a West Indian spice that shares many of clove’s properties and that can give your ham a delightful flavor. For one thing, it gets the name allspice from the fact that it tastes like a combination of cloves and cinnamon with a little nutmeg added.
Allspice is the main spice in Jamaican jerk seasoning and does an excellent job of enhancing pork. Its camphoraceous qualities cut through pork’s fattiness. Allspice also pairs well with the sweetness of a glaze and with most of the other spices that usually get used on ham.