General characteristic

Groups volatile compounds

Main origin


Aliphatic hydrocarbons

Autooxidation of lipids

Alkane, crackers


Oxidation of free fatty acids

Green, pungent, fatty

Branched aldehydes

Strecker degradation of amino acids

Roasted cocoa, cheesy-green


Oxidative decomposition of lipids

Medicinal, onion, green, alcoholic


h-keto acid decarboxylation or fatty acid h-oxidation

Buttery, floral, fruity


Interaction of free carboxylic acids and alcohols


Nitrogen compounds

Maillard reaction of amino acids with carbohydrates

Meaty, nutty, toasted nuts

Sulfur compounds

Sulfur-containing amino acids

Dirty socks


Sulfur-containing amino acids with carbohydrates

Hamlike, fishy

Some of these tasty peptides, mainly di- and tripeptides, have been successfully purified and sequenced (37). Free amino acids may also serve as a source of volatile compounds during further ripening (75) or when the ham is heated, like the country-style ham (76).

2. Generation of Aroma Compounds

Aroma development in dry-cured ham is a very complex process involving numerous reactions such as chemical or enzymatic oxidation of unsaturated fatty acids and further interactions with proteins, peptides, and free amino acids (61,77). In fact, more than 200 volatile compounds have been reported in dry-cured hams (60, 64,78-80) as summarized in Table 4. Some volatile compounds, such as 2-methyl propanal, 2-methyl butanal, and 3-methyl butanal, arise from Strecker degradation of the amino acids valine, isoleucine, and leucine, respectively. Some pyrazines formed through Maillard reactions between sugars and free amino acids, although in low amounts, also impart some characteristic aromas like nutty, green, earthy, and so forth. Final flavor depends on the mixture of characteristic aromas and odor thresholds for each compound, although, in general, ketones, esters, aromatic hydrocarbons, and pyrazines are correlated with pleasant aroma of ham (81). Some correlations have been found between some volatile compounds and specific characteristics of the process. For instance, the correlation of aged flavor of Parma ham with short-chain methyl-branched aldehydes, esters, and alcohols (66,82); hexanal, 3-methyl butanal, and dimethyl disulfide with short drying processes (64); or methyl-branched aldehydes, secondary alcohols, methyl ketones, ethyl esters, and dimethyl trisulfide with nutty, cheesy, and salty descriptors (83).

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