Genuine Italian prosciutto is quite hard to find in US stores and may be expensive. Hence, Americans often search for a worthy Parma ham substitute.
Thankfully, the variety of options means everyone can find an alternative to suits their taste.
Parma ham can be substituted for pretty much any cured meat type, such as Jamon, guanciale, pancetta, or capicola. However, if you prefer beef, you may try kosher meat, beef bresaola, or beef jerky. In this article, I’ll review how these varieties differ in terms of flavor.
Table of Contents
Is Prosciutto the Same Thing as Parma Ham?
Many people are confused about the differences between Parma ham and prosciutto, as Parma ham is often called prosciutto di Parma.
Parma ham is a type of prosciutto made in the Parma region of Italy. Genuine Parma ham is a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) food and should hold the Ducal Crown mark issued by the Consorzio del Prosciutto di Parma.
It’s prepared following stricter standards than regular prosciutto.
Prosciutto is the closest substitute to Parma ham. It’s similar in flavor, texture, and appearance. In fact, many people wouldn’t notice the difference between high-quality Italian prosciutto and prosciutto di Parma, especially if it’s mixed with other ingredients.
But the more experienced cured ham enthusiasts may notice slight differences in flavor undertones.
Is Parma Ham the Same as Pancetta?
Parma ham isn’t the same thing as pancetta, though pancetta makes a great Parma ham substitute.
Like prosciutto, pancetta is made from pork and is dry-cured. However, pancetta is made from pork belly rather than pork leg, which results in higher fat content.
The texture is soft and slightly moist, and high-quality pancetta melts in the mouth.
Apart from a higher fat content, the flavor of pancetta is not very different from that of Parma ham. As the preparation process is the same, pancetta also features a salty and slightly sweet taste.
When used in recipes, pancetta can be indistinguishable from Parma ham. One point to note is that pancetta is typically cut into small cubes, whereas prosciutto di Parma is thinly sliced or sold as a whole leg.
Can You Use Serrano Ham Instead of Parma Ham?
Serrano ham is also known as Jamón. Despite its name, Serrano ham production isn’t limited to the Serrano region of Spain – the meat can be made in any Spanish region but not outside of Spain.
Only Jamon made in Spain and complying with strict quality standards observed by the Consorcio del Jamón Serrano Español can receive the S-shaped quality mark.
The biggest difference between Parma ham and Serrano ham lies in the curing technique. You can learn about the preparation process of both types of meat in my article here.
Parma ham is cured in a dry, cool place, whereas Serrano ham is cured in changing environments – from cool and moist to dry and hot.
The difference in curing techniques results in different flavors and textures. Parma ham is pinker, moister, softer, and sweeter. In contrast, Serrano ham is darker, saltier, and has a more intense flavor.
Generally, Serrano ham can be a good Parma ham substitute, but only if you don’t mind losing the sweet flavor undertones. Both types of meat go well with wine and can be added to pasta dishes.
Is There a Beef Substitute for Prosciutto?
Unsurprisingly, prosciutto substitutes are made from pork. But if you prefer beef, there are options that taste no worse than Serrano ham or pancetta.
Beef bresaola is a type of Italian dry-cured meat that’s aged for at least two months. It has a darker color and milder flavor than prosciutto, with sweet, musty, and nutty undertones.
Bresaola is also leaner, which may be beneficial for people minding their calorie intake.
Some also use salami instead of Parma ham. This cured sausage is traditionally made from a combination of pork and beef, though 100% beef versions are also available.
Salami has a more intense, saltier taste than Parma ham, and it doesn’t melt in the mouth. However, it’s an appropriate substitute that’s very common in US stores.
Beef jerky is a great American-style Parma ham substitute. It’s made from lean cuts of beef that are salted and marinated in spices. Beef jerky has a very intense salty flavor and a slightly chewy texture.
Of course, you can also substitute Parma ham for any kosher or halal meat, such as deli meat or pastrami. Kosher and halal meat are never made from pork.
Other Good Parma Ham Substitutes
While you can substitute Parma ham for beef, any Italian cured pork type remains the best alternative to prosciutto. These include culatello, capicola, and guanciale.
Culatello is prepared the same way as Parma ham, though it’s made from the thigh muscle cut. This results in a lower fat content and a rich, savory flavor.
Often, culatello is cured with pepper, garlic, and dry white wine, which gives the meat a distinct winey taste.
Capicola is dry-cured Italian meat made from pork neck muscle. It’s leaner than Parma ham and has a spiced and smoky flavor.
Compared to Parma ham, capicola isn’t at all salty, although salt is used to cure the meat. Capicola is ideal as a salad topping or in pasta dishes.
If you’re looking for a fattier alternative to Parma ham, guanciale may be the best choice.
It’s made from dry-cured pork cheeks that are prepared with salt, sugar, and herbs. Guanciale melts in the mouth and has a sweet, salty flavor.
Unlike many other Italian cured meat types, guanciale isn’t usually eaten raw. Rather, it is used for sauteing vegetables or as an ingredient in pasta dishes and casseroles.
Hopefully, this article has helped you find a suitable alternative to Parma ham.
Real prosciutto di Parma isn’t as easy to find in local stores, but it’s a perfect chance to try out other cured meat types.
Perhaps you will even find a Parma ham substitute that you will like more than Parma ham itself! One other similar cured meat I didn’t cover is speck – click here to learn more.
Don’t be afraid to experiment, adapting recipes based on your preferences and ingredient availability. After all, cooking is a form of art.