The history of Spam is fascinating. It spans from the 1930s to where we are today. Many people wonder where Spam came from and what its made of. In today’s episode we are going to do a deep dive into America’s favorite mystery meat.
What Is Spam Made Of Today?
Many people will criticize Spam for its lack of nutritional value. It can be high in fat, sodium and preservatives. If you were to actually sit down and eat a can of Spam, you’d consume 100 grams of fat, 1,000 calories, 24o milligrams of cholesterol and 4,696 milligrams of sodium. The sodium intake alone is roughly double the recommended daily sodium intake.
I’ll admit that I was once very against Spam. I was someone who bought into the hype that it had to be a mystery meat. I mean, do we really know what’s in it? Actually, we do know what is in it. Hormel is actually incredibly transparent about the 6 ingredients inside of every can. Each can contains, pork shoulder, ham, salt, water, sugar, potato starch and nitrites. The ingredient list and make up is eerily similar to hotdogs. So nothing mysterious here. No strange conspiracy to unravel.
The Origins of Spam
When discussing the history of Spam. I think it is best to start with the name. Where did this funny name come from? Some people think it stands for, “spiced ham”. Other logical guesses include “special processed American meat” and “shoulders of pork and ham”.
Ken Daigneau, the brother of a Hormel executive, won a contest to name the new product. He was awarded $100. Legend has it that only a few former Hormel executives actually know what Spam stands for.
Hormel unleashed the iconic can of Spam on the world on July 5, 1937. The timing was perfect for sales to really take off. It filled a particular need, feeding America’s warriors in WWII. Soldiers had many nicknames for the product, “ham that didn’t pass its physical”, “meatloaf without basic training” and “special army meat”.
A History of Spam in the Pacific
During WWII, soldiers ate a lot of spam. I mean, a lot of Spam. This carried over to the Korean War. The locals quickly developed a taste for it. Many people believe that its popularity in the region stemmed from the simple fact that fresh meat was hard to come by during the war. As a result, South Korea, Philippines, Guam, and of course Hawaii, consume large amounts of Spam. South Korea consumes more Spam than any other country besides the USA.
During WWII many pacific islands adopted Spam because it was an abundant source of available protein. However, I wondered why it was, and still is, big in Hawaii? During WWII the United States government placed Japanese American citizens in internment camps. However, they couldn’t do the same thing in Hawaii. So instead they placed a number of unfair restrictions on the population. One of these restrictions was a ban on fishing. Without being able to turn to fish for their protein needs, Hawaiians turned to Spam. It stuck and the rest is history.
Post War and Today
Hormel even received a healthy dose of backlash over Spam. Soldiers who were sick of Spam, and other canned meats, would send hate mail to Hormel. Upon returning home, soldiers refused to eat Spam. It went from a popular center-of-the-plate protein to an afterthought.
Today Spam is still huge in Hawaii. A number of popular dishes contain some form of it in the state. It is also still popular nationwide. Though the popularity in Hawaii eclipses anything that you might find on the mainland. They even have their own festival all about this beloved canned meat, the Spam Jam. It started as a way for chefs and locals to mingle with tourists. It has grown into a large and popular event that raises money and food for the local food bank.
Hormel continues to push forward and evolve the product through the years. Restaurant chefs have started making their own versions as well as adopting Spam from the can. Hormel keeps an eye on the trends in the restaurant industry and hasn’t been afraid to introduce different flavors and varieties of Spam through the years. Make sure you leave your favorite flavor in the comments below!
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