The improvement in the salting process control provided by the ProCured platform allows reducing the salt uptake, without compromising the microbiological safety of the product. Therefore, as far as the reproducibility of the salting process can be ensured, it is possible to obtain dry-cured ham products with reduced salt content – 25% less than the average salt content of the standard product.

The reduction in the salt content can be achieved by different means. In the case of the Spanish style dry-cured ham production, the most convenient way to achieve this is by decreasing the salting time, i.e, the period in which fresh hams remain in contact with salt. In the case of the Italian-style production process, the reduction in the salt content of the final product is more easily achievable by reducing the percentage of salt added to the ham. In both cases, the reduction of the salt content must need compensated by increasing the time in which the hams are stored at cooled rooms, before curing (resting time). This procedure is necessary since the reduction of the salt content is associated with a lower dehydration rate, and therefore, it is necessary to keep hams at low temperature in order to ensure their microbiological safety.

As part of the activities included in the project, we produced sets of Serrano and Parma hams with reduced salt content. The analytical results of the samples obtained have shown that the processing conditions selected were adequate to grant a 25% reduction in the final salt content of the hams.

Besides the analytical study, a sensory evaluation was performed to compare the characteristics of hams with reduced salt content, compared to those with regular salt content. The results obtained from the panel tests indicate that the sensory attribute of the product are not degraded as a consequence of the reduction in the salt content. In particular, Serrano ham produced with reduced salt content proved to have similar bitterness, hardness, pastiness and metallic taste, to those scored by serrano ham produced with standard salt content. Likewise, the sensory attributes of Parma ham with reduced salt content were also found to be similar to those of standard Parma hams. Moreover, in this case the overall degree of acceptability for the product with reduced salt content was higher. In addition, it should be also mentioned that the overall perception of consumer regarding the product with reduced salt content was further increased when it was informed about its healthier nutritional properties.

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Panel test results, comparing the sensory attributes of Parma hams with reduced salt content (“Reduced”), and Parma ham salted under standard conditions (“Control”). The sensory attributes of hams produced with reduced salt content were found to obtain similar or even better scores, and to achieve a better consumer acceptability. These results show the feasibility of producing new market segments with high market acceptability, based on ensuring a well-controlled reduction in the salt content of the product.

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Results of a numerical simulation assessing the influence of the sorting methodology, on the salt uptake