What's the deal with iridescent ham?

Matthew Alice:

My girlfriend is freaked out by the iridescence you see on ham. What is that iridescence? Maybe if I can explain to her what it is, then maybe she will eat it.

-- Chris, El Cajon

Um, Chris, why do you think your girlfriend will ever learn to love glowing meat? And more to the point, why should she? And why do you care? Grandma Alice and I think these are very legitimate questions you should ask yourself before you go forcing lunch meat on your sweetie. And I'm not sure that my explanation will make it a bit more appetizing. No explanation of processed meat can make it more appetizing.

Grandma has plenty of ham experience-- everything from an expensive, traditional, salty Smithfield unfortunately eaten by the family dog to those sickly pink ham flaps in plastic wrap that just happen to come from a pig exactly the same size and shape as a slice of bread(!). She thinks you're trying to force-feed girlfriend some of that water-cured supermarket stuff, not the true, smoky pig's leg.

Pig meat on the pig isn't pink. Before ham or bacon is cured, is a sort of dull gray shade. Perfectly healthy, perfectly edible. But don't try to tell that to the typical American sandwich eater. Pink is the only acceptable color. Luckily, the pink shade is a side benefit to the quick, wet-curing method. When the meat is exposed to curing brine, potassium nitrate interacts with the blue-grey myoglobin in pig muscle and creates nitrosomyoglobin, which is bright pink. Light reflecting from the surface of these color-adjusted ham slabs can make the meat look sort of iridescent. And this is supposed to make girlfriend say, "Mmmm! Ham! Lemme at it!"? Why, Chris? Why?

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