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Is Ham Gluten Free?

A glazed ham almost always makes an appearance on Christmas tables – whether on Christmas Day, Christmas Eve or for parties leading up to the holidays.

So, the question that is burning in our minds like so many blazing fires: Is ham gluten free? It’s a reasonable question. For as long as I can remember, rumors circulated about one brand of ham or another being safe or not so safe for the gluten-free diet.

Turns out most hams are gluten free! The big concern has always been the packaged glazes that come along with many prepared hams. Occasionally, even the spices and flavorings added to the meat can be problematic.

The good news: you can always toss the packet of glaze if it looks questionable and make your own. (I added a couple of quick recipe ideas below.)

Even ham producers who are not willing to guarantee that their products are gluten free (mostly because they don’t test them for gluten) will tell you that their hams do not contain gluten ingredients. That doesn’t dismiss cross contamination, however.

So, I delved a little deeper to discover that several ham manufacturers say their hams are gluten free and two – Dietz & Watson and Jones Dairy Farm – have a gluten-free certification on their labels.

Several others say “gluten-free” on the label (meaning their products contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten). These include:

You have lots of choices if ham is on the menu this Christmas, but always read labels to be sure the ingredients have not changed. If in doubt, call the company or choose a product that is labeled gluten free.

To Glaze Your Ham Or Not to Glaze

Even if the glaze packet clearly says “gluten free” I often prefer to make my own. I guess that’s what you’d expect from a food editor, right?

My go-to recipe is a mixture of brown sugar, pineapple juice, and mustard which I spread over the ham during the last 45 minutes of baking.

Add more pineapple juice, if you wish, or replace with orange juice and add a pinch of cinnamon for another variation. Here are the amounts I would use for an 8 to 10-pound ham.

1/3 to ½ cup packed brown sugar  

3 tablespoons honey  

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon pineapple juice

You might also want to try a variation that uses balsamic vinegar in place of fruit juice.  Mix together 1/3 to ½ cup brown sugar, 2 to 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and 1 ½ tablespoons Dijon mustard. The blend of mustard and balsamic vinegar adds a robust flavor to the glaze.

If you really want to “ham” it up (sorry), try a more elaborate mixture: combine bourbon-soaked raisins, brown sugar, orange juice and ground cloves or create a tangy glaze sparked with chipotle pepper and cinnamon. As for measurements, just blend ingredients and check the flavors, adjusting the spice, the tang or sweet notes to your liking. Steer clear of salt. There’s plenty in the ham already.

Rest assured, if ham is on the menu for Christmas 2018, there’ll be plenty of safe choices for you and your family.