Best supermarket ham
By Christina Woodger
Discover the best premium supermarket sliced ham available by reading the results of our latest taste tests.
Our panel of experts tasted 10 premium supermarket sliced hams for our September 2018 issue of Which? magazine.
Learn all about:
- Different types of ham
- Water in ham
- Storage and serving tips
- Nitrates in ham
- Best beers with ham
- How we tested
Only logged in Which? members can view the rest of our results and tasting notes in the table below. If you're not yet a member, you'll see an alphabetically ordered list of the best ham on test. To get instant access join Which?
TABLE NOTES: Marks & Spencer and Lidl don’t offer an equivalent breaded ham. Iceland only sells a breaded Wiltshire ham. Prices correct as of August 2018.
We focused on Wiltshire ham in our taste test because it's so popular. Much of the ham you'll come across in the course of your supermarket shop will be Wiltshire.
When you see Wiltshire ham in a supermarket, it hasn't necessarily come from that county. 'Wiltshire' refers to the way in which it's prepared. Originally, this involved dry-curing. Nowadays, Wiltshire ham is wet-cured, brined for three to five days, cooked, honey-roasted or smoked and then sliced.
But you'll see other different types of ham around supermarkets and delis. Here's what those names mean:
York ham is rich, firm, dry and intensely-flavoured. As with Wiltshire ham, 'York ham' describes a curing technique. York ham is dry-cured in salt for two days, then hung for at least two months. It should be sliced as thinly as possible.
Shropshire ham is another dry-cured ham with a firm texture and strong flavour. It gets its recognisable black rind and shiny texture from being marinated in black treacle and sometimes other ingredients, such as juniper berries and coriander, for a fortnight before hanging.
Carmarthen ham has Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status, unlike Wiltshire, York and Shropshire ham. It's produced on a much smaller scale, too. This Welsh ham is salt-cured and air-dried for nine months to a year. It’s served very thinly and tastes like Parma ham.
If water has been added to ham, it needs to be listed in the ingredients on the packet. If water constitutes more than 5% of the product, then the product needs to be labelled as ham with added water.
Cheaper hams often contain more water, and more by way of chemicals for retaining water. If you prefer your ham to be dryer, you can check the quantity of pork per 100g of ham on the packet, and opt for one with a higher quantity of pork.
But water isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you like a more moist ham. It's really just a matter of personal preference.
We asked our experts how to keep ham at its best. They said that you should:
- Leave ham in its packaging until you're ready to use it.
- Once open, wrap cling film or foil around the packet and refrigerate. Or take the ham out of its packet and place it on a plate, then wrap the plate.
- Make sure that the wrapping doesn’t cling to the meat, otherwise it won't be able to breathe.
- Remove your ham from the fridge 15 to 20 minutes before serving, to bring it up to room temperature.
- Don't freeze ham. The texture of the ham will be spoilt, as any water will turn to ice.
Nitrates or nitrites are usually added to processed meats, such as ham and bacon, when they're cured. They are there to stop harmful bacteria growing, to increase shelf life and to add flavour. They also give these meats the deep pink colour we recognise and love.
When we eat nitrates and nitrites, they are converted to nitrosamines – some of which are proven carcinogens. The World Health Organisation and the World Cancer Research Fund tells us we should restrict our intake of nitrates and nitrites.
Our experts sampled Finnebrogue’s Naked Outdoor Bred Ham (£2.50/120g). It uses a blend of natural fruit and spice extracts, rather than nitrates and nitrites. It’s not a million miles away from standard ham in other nutritional aspects, though. It’s high in salt and it's still a red meat. Dietary guidelines advise eating no more than 70g of red meat a day, or 400-500g a week.
Our experts didn't enjoy the Naked Ham as much as the premium hams on test. It's more akin to cheaper ham, so you'd be better off using it as one ingredient of many – in a sandwich with pickle, a salad or an omelette, for example – rather than as the star of the show.
We asked Anthony Kitching, co-founder of charcuterie and bar, Friends of Ham, for his tips on a pint to pair with pork.
He told us: 'Try a smoked ham hock with a smoky Rauchbier. A nutty brown ale with the acorn hit of an Iberico ham. Or a Gose beer with a salty gammon-style ham.
'Or you can go for contrast, which is riskier but can have spectacular results. The bitter hit of an American-style IPA can cut through the saltiness and fattiness of a prosciutto or serrano. Equally, the toasty sweetness of, say, a Belgian Dubbel would complement the sweetness in those hams.
'For a classic English ham, like the ones we tested, you automatically think: ploughman’s and a pint of bitter. It’s a taste of Britain and, for that reason, it’s a great pairing.'
And for a humble ham sandwich? Anthony says: 'I’d crack open a hoppy pale ale to complement the mix of bread and meat. Delicious!
Our five ham experts rated the 10 different types of ham for taste, texture, aroma and appearance (see score breakdown, below). It was a blind taste test, so they had no idea which brand was which. As taste is so crucial when it comes to ham, it accounts for half the total test score.
- 50% taste
- 20% appearance
- 20% texture
- 10% aroma
Our experts were:
- Sean Cannon – founder and MD of Cannon & Cannon, suppliers of British cured meat.
- Anthony Kitching – co-founder of charcuterie and bar, Friends of Ham.
- Hugo Jeffreys – founder of charcuterie producers, Blackhand Foods.
- Steve Pearce – co-founder and MD of cooked-meat company, Southover Food Company.
- Jamie Prudom – head of business development at traditional farmers and butchers, The Ginger Pig.