What's The Difference: Ham Vs. Bacon Vs. Prosciutto

All three are made of pork but the final products are vastly different.

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ILLUSTRATOR Presslee Olazo

The pasta dish, the carbonara, is one of those simple pasta dishes. You need only a few ingredients but the combo is such that it's super delicious. It has many traits going for it that make it an instant favorite. It's a creamy dish, either through the traditional use of the eggs or the modern hack of using cream. It also uses bacon to give the dish a delicious meaty taste. 

While there is a clear line between those who prefer making it the traditional way using only eggs and those who prefer it super creamy by using cream to make the sauce, the meat used in the carbonara is another debate altogether. Depending on who you talk to, it can be any of these three meaty ingredients: ham, bacon, or prosciutto. 

What's interesting about this meat debate is that all three kinds are cured meats. Not only that, they are all made from pork. The seasonings all share similar ingredients which always include salt since this is a natural preserative.  

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Despite these similarities among these three kinds of cured pork meat, there are major differences that make them stand out. Here are those differences: 

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1 Ham and prosciutto are from the leg. Bacon is from the belly. 

If you take a good look at the ham and prosciutto, you'll notice that it's common to find a bone. This is because it's made from pork leg. While prosciutto is always made from the hind legs, the ham traditionally is also the hind leg. However, modern times have seen other pork cuts cured and made into ham as well. Your Christmas ham is usually the hind leg but you can also see other cuts and even different pork cuts formed and made into ham as well.

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Bacon, on the other hand, is dependent on it being made from the belly. This is because belly fat is essential in bacon. The fat renders when being cooked and thus, crispy strips of bacon are the result. If the pork belly is not used, a similar fatty cut such as that cut from the back is also commonly used for bacon as well since it too has the layers of fat needed for this cured meat. This fatty quality of bacon is what makes it unique and delicious among these three kinds of cured meat.

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2 Ham is Spanish. Prosciutto is Italian. Bacon is Roman. 

If you take a history lesson on cured meat, you'll find that curing meat can date as far back as China. This preservation method is said to have been learned by the Romans from the Chinese. It may even go beyond that to an earlier time. 

In any case, ham is most popular in Spain where the jamon reigns supreme among all the kinds of ham. The bacon is most popular in the United States where it was probably adopted from the English who ate their meals, particularly breakfast, with bacon strips. The prosciutto is much the same as the ham from Spain but originated from Italy. 

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3 Ham originally came from a specific pig. Prosciutto and bacon can be any pig.  

Ham is usually a generic term for most people but those who have tasted the real jamon know that jamon can only come from one kind of pig: the Iberico pig or Landrace breed of white pig. 

Meanwhile, prosciutto and bacon are not particular in the kind of pig the pork cut is from but rather these are more concerned with the cut and the curing process to make sure that the result is the right one. 

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4 Bacon is commonly smoked. Prosciutto is not smoked. Ham can be smoked or unsmoked. 

It may be just the flavor but bacon is famous for being flavored with maple syrup. This sweetener is a unique one that basically made it taste better than using just plain sugar in the curing process. However, what makes bacon stand out in flavor is the smoking. Bacon can be smoked with any number of different fragrant wood but maple is a delicious version. 

Prosciutto is just cured and never smoked. The curing process is long enough that the pork dries out into the signature texture that is similar to the original jamon. Ham on the other hand can be smoked or not. This is a matter of preference and taste. 

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5 Bacon is commonly sold fresh. Ham is commonly cooked. Prosciutto is always cured.  

You already know this but the common bacon you get from your supermarket butcher is commonly fresh or raw. You need to cook it before it can be eaten. However, did you know that most ham in the supermarket's chilled section is already cooked? You can eat ham straight from the package! That's one of the reasons why it's easy to add to sandwiches and why it's found in many deli shops. 

Prosciutto meanwhile is not available until it's been cured properly. This may be why this cut on your cheese board is so expensive since it takes a lot of time to do this curing process right. 

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