Plumped-up: the canned meat with added extras

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The Independent Online

Ham sold in shops is sometimes so pumped full of water that the actual meat is little over half the weight, a new study has found.

Some of the best-known brands of tinned ham tested by Which? made great use of cheap ingredients to plump up the meat.

According to the consumer organisation, the worst offender - Ye Olde Oak Ham - was just 55 per cent meat. Some 37 per cent of the product was water – costing the shopper 15p per 100g – about 40 per cent of the price.

High water contents were mostly found in the cheapest meats, though a tin of Marks & Spencer Danish wafer-thin ham contained almost a fifth water.

Bernard Matthews wafer-thin cooked ham was 28 per cent water, while Princes had 27 per cent and Sainsbury’s basics 25 per cent.

By comparison many of the premium “traditional” British ham sold by supermarkets, including Marks & Spencer, had less than 1 per cent water.

However Which? found high levels of salt in all 27 samples it tested – at least 1.25g per 100g which the Food Standards Agency considers to be “a lot.”

Traditionally ham comes from the hind leg of a pig which is cured with spices, herbs or brine – sometimes for several months - before being cooked and sliced.

In the quest for cheap food, producers have created “formed” ham from several pieces of meat then shaped to look like a joint.

“Re-formed” ham is even cheaper – minced and chopped meat “glued” back together before being shaped to look more natural.

By law producers have to state the contents on tins but do not have to state the proportions.

The amount of water has increased since Which? last tested hams in 1996, when the highest total was 29 per cent. Ye Olde Oak said that the high use of water in its products was “a matter of economy.” “We want to serve consumers by offering different hams at different prices,” the company explained.

Malcolm Coles, editor of Which?, called for tighter regulation. He said: “We want food companies to spell out exactly how much water they’ve pumped into their ham on the front of packs, so people can easily see how much they’re paying for meat, and how much for water and additives.

“As long as a legal loophole lets companies avoid admitting how much water ham contains, consumers risk being sold a pig in a poke.”

The discovery of high amounts of water and additives is not peculiar to ham. Previous studies have found high levels of water and beef protein in chicken.