Delicious smoked ham on a wooden board with spices.

With a deep, rich, and intensely salty flavor, ham benefits from a variety of spices, especially those of a sweet, warming nature such as cloves or cinnamon. White and brown sugars provide a complementary sweetness against salty ham, while herbs like thyme and bay leaf play up the savory aspects. Spices can be used alone or in combination to create a unique flavor profile to create a memorable-tasting ham.

Warming spices are sweet and pungent, providing a pleasing and spicy warmth that complements flavorful ham.

  • Allspice -- Contrary to what its name suggests, allspice is a stand-alone spice though it tastes like a combination of cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon.

    Try creating a simple spice blend using ground allspice and brown sugar.

    Cloves -- With a sweet spiciness comparable to that of cinnamon, cloves contribute a pungent warmth. Decorate the exterior of the ham by inserting whole cloves into the skin or create a spice blend using ground cloves.

    Cinnamon -- Cinnamon is sweet and spicy, creating subtle yet complex and well-balanced flavors when applied to ham.

    Try applying ground cinnamon with a little honey to create a sweet and spicy ham glaze.


    Nutmeg -- Nutmeg is quite pungent with hints of sweetness and bitterness. A little goes a long way so apply ground nutmeg sparingly alone or mixed with spices like allspice and cinnamon.

  • Parsley -- Parsley is mildly bitter and adds a beautiful balance to savory dishes. Fresh or dried parsley can be used.
  • Thyme -- Earthy, woody and pungent, fresh or dried thyme makes a great ham herb rub alone or paired with other herbs.
  • Bay leaf -- Bay leaves have a unique woody flavor punctuated with hints of menthol. Less is more with this herb so finely crush up a bay leaf or two and add it to a spice mixture along with other herbs and spices.
  • Sage -- With a piney flavor spiked with hints of lemon, sage adds a bright herbal taste to ham.

Both white and brown sugar can be applied to create a sweet balance to salty, savory ham, though brown sugar adds more complexity with hints of molasses.

Spices like garlic powder and onion powder offer a savory complement to ham without adding unwanted saltiness. Try combining with brown or white sugar to create a sweet yet savory spice rub.