Bacon… or ham… or what? A conversation among translators

Thu, 09/01/2016 - 00:00 Erika Baker

This delicious piece of South Tyrolean "Speck" was struggling to find a translation into English and so I asked on a forum of qualified translators.
South Tyrolean websites always translate it as ham, following the example of Parma ham.
But many English speaking tourists, when reading menus and imagining what they might fancy, tend to think of ham as a cooked, pink meat, eaten either hot or cold.
Bacon doesn’t work either, because this Speck can be eaten without further cooking, something I would not recommend for your average British bacon.

To make sure that the reader understands - how would you translate this into English?

I knew it would not be simple! The best way of highlighting the complexity of arriving at suitable translations for what appear to be very common products is probably to reproduce an edited highlights version of the ensuing comment thread:

  1. Maybe combine it with the method of production: smoked ham or something the like
  2. I think I would call it ham, "cured ham" maybe.
  3. I'd go for dry-cured ham
  4. Ham (smoked/air dried as opposed to cooked)

Now, when you google for images, this is what you find searching for cured ham, dry-cured ham and smoked ham:

Translators - Cured Ham
Cured Ham

Translators - Dry - Cured Ham
Dry Cured Ham

Translators - Dry Cured Ham two
Dry Cured Ham

Translators - Smoked Ham
Smoked Ham

Only one of these resembles my “Speck”, and even that has a “cooked ham” equivalent and is therefore ambiguous.

5.  It seems that Tyrolean Speck exists in English! But I would NOT call it bacon though. Ham is not always pink and wet!

6.  Dry-cured. I’d translate it as Prosciutto

The Prosciutto discussion continued:

7.  Another question is whether prosciutto is a protected term. You would definitely need to check.

8.  Anyway, prosciutto is a general word meaning ham. I think Prosciutto di Parma could be, but with a lower p it just means 'ham'.

9.  But all the references I've seen suggest that it is an Italian product. It would be misleading to use it to refer to product from other places, unless you were writing in Italian, of course.

10.  I have eaten Speck often, and I do not associate it with prosciutto.

And moving on:

11.  Definitely leave it as Speck – it can even be bought in Waitrose

Waitrose? That settles it! If middle England buys Speck, then Speck it is. But…

12.  I believe Speck is misleading. If I saw it on a dining table, I would never call it “Speck” but “Schinken”.  When Germans use the word Speck on menus, they refer to the fat around the meat.

Googling pictures of German Speck proves this:

German Speck

13.  Tyrolean Speck has PGI status (Protected Geographical Identification), although most non-German speakers would probably not understand what it is. Are you translating this for a foodie audience?


Ah, yes the target readership! This particular translation is for a hotel menu. Readers may be ordinary travellers or they may be real foodies with a vast knowledge of gastronomic terms.

14.  Tyrolean ham / Tyrolean smoked ham?

15.  Then I would call it Speck but add an explanation that it is a special kind of cured ham.

16.  I have eaten Speck often, and I do not associate it with prosciutto.

17.  The curing process is the same, though. Both are raw and air-dried. Also, some Speck is smoked.

18.  I would not describe it as "dry-cured", at least not as the only description (even though it is), because that has no bearing on whether the ham itself is then boiled or not.
The distinctive point here is that it is smoked, rather than cooked.
I would say something like:
Tiroler Speck (a dry-cured, smoked ham- a Tyrolean delicacy)


19.  I'm quite sure that our Italian South Tyrolean Speck is different from the German one.

20.  Absolutely. Speck in Germany is just cured pork fat, what you have there is Schinken

21.  And your speck here is pancetta


So… it seems the Germans are just as confused. Only they usually refer to “raw Schinken” or “cooked Schinken” for clarification. Looking at the Pancetta photo, that bears little resemblance to my starting picture of South Tyrolean Speck. And we’ve already seen above what German Speck looks like.

Why do the German products matter here? Because German is one of the official languages of South Tyrol, but just as there are differences between British and American English, Germans and South Tyrolean German speakers are often divided by a common language.






22.  Speck in American English. I can buy a mixed selection of speck, prosciutto and salami any supermarket in the USA. Pretty mainstream.

23.  America is different, though, partly because of the huge variety of products the country has adopted from cultures all over the world.

I’m not sure that it would necessarily be understood by English speakers from around the world.

24.  I have bought a selection pack of speck, prosciutto and salami from Sainsbury's in the UK before, so I would also call it Speck.

25.  I would translate it as Speck. Or maybe cured smoked ham. If you leave just cured ham people would imagine Parma ham, which is cured with salt but not smoked.

26.  I'm American and I speak some German, but all I know about Speck is that it is something like ham. I wouldn't say Speck is mainstream in America, although it's known in many communities. I therefore think a brief explanation is order for the translation, even for US English speakers.

27.  Speck in German actually just refers to a form of bacon/grease. Seems like in English it has been adopted as a kind of umbrella term for different kinds of ham.

28.  Smoked ham?

We seem to be going round in circles now

29.  Perhaps something along the lines of prosciutto-style ham? Cured or smoked ham is perhaps the best option.

Yes, definitely circles.

30.  In this context, I would use 'cured ham', which is the translation I usually use for 'jamón' in Spanish. Unless you absolutely need to go into detail, it's a useful catch-all so people will know largely what to expect. I would only use Speck if there was a particular reason you had to specify. I see there are many opinions on this, but that’s my view

Yes, the problem is that we’ve already seen that people associate cured ham with all kinds of products, so that translation seems to be particularly ambiguous.

31.  An additional problem is that the Tyrolean version is a protected name. The cut of the meat is special, as is the seasoning.

That’s true, most hams/bacons are cut from the hind leg; the South Tyrolean version is cut from the neck. And the flavouring is different too.

But that’s definitely something only foodies need to know, or industry specialists. That’s a distinction that would be important in another type of translation. For my menu, we can ignore it.

So… having got to the end… what would you call it?