Tibetan Ham Competes With Top International Products
2019-04-20
The Tibetan Black Pig
The Tibetan Black Pig
 
In the southwest of Tibet lies the pig-breeding center of Tibet, where the unique Tibetan pig is bred to create a type of ham that has a taste and quality that can easily compete with the world’s most famous European and American pork products. Located in Gongbo’gyamda County in Nyingchi City, the core of the pig-breeding area lies in the towns of Zhula, Bahe, and Conggo, which are also national-level protected areas for the unique Tibetan pigs.
 
Tibetan Black Piglets
Tibetan Black Piglets
 
Specially bred for the high altitudes of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau, the Tibetan pig is well adapted to the cold climate and life on the high pastures all year round. A relatively small breed of swine, the Tibetan pig typically weighs around 35kg as an adult, and has a narrow head with a long straight snout, black coloring, and long straight bristles which protect it from the intense sun and cold temperatures. The pigs have a highly evolved digestive system that means they can survive on the sparse and tough feed available on the plateau, such as stems, roots, and plant seeds.

 Marbled Tibetan Pig Meat
Marbled Tibetan Pig Meat
 
The meat of the Tibetan pig is a little sweeter than normal pork, and with a marbled look that is very popular in Tibet. Across Tibet, the pork of the Tibetan pig is eaten in many ways; ether dried, roasted, stewed, or made into sausages, and is one of the most delicious delicacies of Tibetan cuisine. However, pork has never really been a major part of the Tibetan cuisine, mainly because the smaller Tibetan pigs are slower growing than most swine around the world. With slow growth, rearing the Tibetan pig to maturity for slaughter has always been a long and drawn-out process that was not previously feasible as an industry.

 Free Range Pigs in Gongbo'gyamda County
Free Range Pigs in Gongbo'gyamda County
 
Since 2017, the breeding of these formerly rare pigs has been introduced across the three towns of Gongbo’gyamda County, with more than 87,000 pigs being bred throughout 2018, more than 30,000 of which were allowed to grow to adulthood for further breeding. The rest were used for making the popular ham products that are traditionally eaten in Tibet. As of the beginning of this year, there are more than 2,750 families involved in the breeding and rearing of the Tibetan pigs in Nyingchi, and the pig industry in the area has grown massively since its inception and inclusion into the Tibet Autonomous Region-level intangible cultural heritage items list in 2012.
 
Cured Tibetan Pig Ham
Cured Tibetan Pig Ham
 
Now considered to be a high-end pork product in Tibet, the fermented Tibetan pork ham that is produced in the county is a popular brand, with a taste that is in comparison with the best of the Italian ham products. And there is no surprise there, since the pork ham in the county is made using an Italian method of ham fermentation, which improves the quality, taste, and texture of this beautifully marbled ham.
 
Healthy plateau lifestyles make healthier meat
Healthy plateau lifestyles make healthier meat
 
While imported cured ham from Italy and Spain has only recently managed to get a foothold into the Chinese pork market, the Tibetan cured ham is fast becoming just as popular with discerning diners. Ham products from the Tibetan pigs are already popular in many of the first-tier cities across China, including Beijing and Shanghai. Richer in nutrients, higher in proteins, and with a much lower level of cholesterol than other breeds of pigs, a result of the unique living conditions of the Tibetan pig, this highly-prized meat is a much healthier alternative to normal ham products.
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