What is "Water Added" Ham?

Some hams have labels which read: “Water Added.” What does that mean, and are you paying extra for added water?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grades cooked ham products. “Ham, Water Added” is one of the four categories used in classifying ham. The others are “Ham,” “Ham with Natural Juices,” and “Ham and Water Product.”

Cooked ham is commonly wet-cured with a brining solution (often water, salt, phosphates or nitrates, and sugar). This makes the meat more seasoned and less likely to dry out when reheated at home. It also allows the producer to make more money by increasing the weight of the ham with water.

Officially, a cooked ham product is labeled by the percentage of protein by weight. The added water affects the weight: The more water you add, the lower the percentage of protein in the meat. The USDA bases its grading scale on this protein percentage.

THE BOTTOM LINE: “Ham, Water Added” is one of the four categories of cooked ham products as determined by the USDA. The labels stem from a process called “wet curing” in which ham is treated with a brining solution, affecting both its water and protein contents.


  • At least 20.5% protein by weight
  • 0% to 2% added water
  • $8.33 per lb
  • Meatier, with the most flavor, but a little dry when cooked. Often has to be special-ordered.

Ham with Natural Juices

  • 18.5% to 20.5% protein by weight
  • 7% to 8% added water
  • $6.00 per lb
  • Smoky and strongly pork-flavored. Saltier and moister than “Ham” and a favorite when cooked.

Ham, Water Added

  • 17% to 18.5% protein by weight
  • No more than 10% added water
  • $3.99 per lb
  • Dulled but still acceptable ham flavor. Very moist, which some tasters preferred but some thought felt rubbery.

Ham and Water Product

  • Less than 17% protein by weight
  • More than 10% added water
  • $2.49 per lb
  • Spongy, bouncy, salty, and processed-tasting.

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