Spam(alot) or a Little: The Story of America's Love/Hate Food

Updated on January 3, 2018
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Exploring food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes... one ingredient at a time.

How Strange!

Is it mere coincidence that the name for our most dreaded type of electronic messaging is also the name for (what some people believe is) the most reviled of foods sitting on the grocery shelf?

Love it or hate it, the square-shaped meat-in-a-can celebrated its 80th birthday in 2017 and the manufacturer says that in those 8 decades over 8 billion cans of the product have been sold.

What Exactly Is It?

There is no truth to the urban legend that Spam is an acronym for "Scientifically Processed Animal Matter." The name is a combination of "spice" and "ham" (although the product contains neither one). Kenneth Daigneau, the brother of a Hormel VP, is credited with naming it. As Jay Hormel tells the story, he (Hormel) launched a naming contest for the new product during a New Year's Eve party. Daigneau said "spam," and

I knew then and there that the name was perfect.

— Jay Hormel, Hormel & Co. president, 1929

However, today Hormel Foods claims that SPAM is an acronym for "Sizzle, Pork, and MMM."

With the introduction of Spam, American households now had easy access to an inexpensive, shelf-stable protein for their family meals, a God-send at the end of the Great Depression. However, it wasn't until the 2nd World War that the sale of Spam skyrocketed.

Faced with the difficulty of providing fresh meat to the front lines, our government, under the Lend-Lease Act, began to ship 15 million cans per week (that's 100 million pounds), to feed the allied troops. Spam soon acquired several nicknames; the ones I can mention in writing are "ham that didn't pass its physical" and "meatloaf without basic training". War-torn Europe also faced a food-shortage crisis, and soon the canned-meat product was made available to the local populace as well. By 1944 more than 90 percent of the company's foods were shipped for government use.

According to CookAndBeMerry:

SPAM staved off starvation in Japan and Korea, and was the difference between life and death for the Russian Army. Today, Korea is the second largest consumer of SPAM (the U.S. is number one) where it is seen as a luxury item, packaged in gift boxes for the Lunar New Year.

It seems that wherever the U.S. Military travels (except, of course, to the Middle East), Spam goes as well. In Panama (which was under U.S. control for over 100 years) it is still wildly popular. The same is true in Puerto Rico, islands in the South Pacific, South Korea, and Japan.

Hawaii hosts an annual Spam festival (the Spam Jam). Over 25,000 attend the event in Honolulu and even the finest restaurants serve spam items on their menu.

Recipes In This Article

  • Hawaiian fried rice
  • Poor man's feast
  • Zucchini patties
  • Musubi
  • Mom's fried Spam sandwich
  • Homemade

Hawaiian Fried Rice

As I said above, Spam is tremendously popular in Hawaii where it appears at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It's even used in pho and a form of sushi christened musubi. TheRecipeCritic gives us this recipe for Hawaiian fried rice which contains (of course) Spam.

Poor Man's Feast

This basic recipe has taken many forms and been given various names throughout the years. If one replaces the Spam with leftover bits of roast, ham, or meatloaf you have what my family called "Hobo Hash." RaymondsFoods calls it "Poor Man's Feast."

No matter what you call it, the combination of spam, onions, and fried potatoes makes a hearty meal. Add a poached egg and I think you have perfection in a skillet for breakfast, brunch, or (my favorite) "breakfast for dinner."

Zucchini Patties

It should come as no surprise that a website named CookingHawaiianStyle would have a recipe devoted to Spam. If you have doubts about eating our featured ingredient, perhaps blending it with healthy zucchini, as in these zucchini patties, will help. (And for those of you who dislike zucchini, maybe adding Spam to the mix will entice you too).

Musubi

I would be derelict in my duties if I did not post a recipe for musubi--that quasi-sushi treat that is wildly popular in the Hawaiin islands. This one from ThirstyForTea is cute and bite-sized and made even more flavorful with the addition of green tea leaves.

Mom's Fried Spam Sandwich

This is not even really a recipe, but it was a special treat in my household when I was growing up. (Money was so tight that even a can of Spam was a luxury). And so this is what Mom did with that meat-in-a-can:

  • Cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
  • Fry in a skillet until lightly browned on both sides
  • While the Spam is frying, cut a large tomato into 1/4-inch thick slices
  • Spread Nalley's mayonnaise (or any other mayo, but PLEASE never, ever Miracle-Whip Salad Dressing) on two slices of bread*.
  • Place two slices of the fried Spam on top of a mayo'd slice of bread. Top with slices of tomato. Top with the other slice of bread (mayo-side down, of course).
  • ENJOY!

* Our bread was always Wonder Bread.

Homemade

If Spam is so inexpensive, so versatile (it comes in many flavors now), and easy-to-find, why would you want to make your own? Some people still cringe at it's "mystery-meat" quality. So CupcakeProject created their own square-meat-not-in-a-can.

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Linda Lum

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      • k@ri profile image

        Kari Poulsen 5 months ago from Ohio

        Three figures!!! I used to eat taylor ham, egg and cheese on a bun for $1.00. It was the cheapest food on the menu, lol. It sure has come up in the world.

      • Carb Diva profile image
        Author

        Linda Lum 5 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Kari, life certainly can deal a low blow once in a while, but it sounds like you are "meating" the challenge head-on. Good for you for having such perseverance LOL.

        By the way, Taylor Ham can be found on Amazon, but be prepared for your jaw to hit the desk. Is it really worth 3 figures?

      • k@ri profile image

        Kari Poulsen 5 months ago from Ohio

        LOL, I do eat Spam. In fact, I find it to be a not-so-good substitute for Taylor Ham. The last place I found Taylor Ham was when I lived in NJ. Ever since I've had to eat Spam, egg and cheese sandwiches.

      • Carb Diva profile image
        Author

        Linda Lum 5 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Jackie, yes I look at the weather map and you are getting a beating. I hope there is some relief soon. In the meantime, if you have a can of Spam on the shelf (and who wouldn't?!) do try one of these.

        Take care my friend and stay warm.

      • Jackie Lynnley profile image

        Jackie Lynnley 5 months ago from The Beautiful South

        Wow, Linda, it has been so long since I have had spam I cannot remember if I liked it or not. Your recipes do tempt me though. Think I will have to try a couple of them. Looks like good comfort food and here it is freezing weather, the best time for that!

        Thanks for the recipes.

      • Carb Diva profile image
        Author

        Linda Lum 5 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Rachel, don't worry. Spam does NOT contain "animal matter". That's an urban legend for sure. The basic ingredients are pork, ham meat, salt, water, modified potato starch as a binder, sugar, and sodium nitrite as a preservative. That's it. The only dietary concerns are that it is high in sodium and fat.

        If you want to see a stomach-churning demonstration of "animal matter" check out the video posted by the Daily Mail (dailymail.co.uk) on March 19, 2014 entitled "What's Really in your Hotdog?"

      • Rachel L Alba profile image

        Rachel L Alba 5 months ago from Every Day Cooking and Baking

        I love Spam but never thought of it as containing animal matter. Question? What is animal matter? It might determine if I buy it again. Thanks for the information.

        Blessings to you

      • Carb Diva profile image
        Author

        Linda Lum 5 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Oh my Eric, have I led you to the dark side? For how long have you strived to eat fresh produce, organic, free-range, non-GMO...and with one stroke of the pen (or click of the mouse in this case) it's all swept away?

        You know, of course, that I'm pulling your leg. I hope you and your son enjoy this little bit of decadence. Back to "healthy" tomorrow.

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 5 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        I think my MD dad once told me that ground up pork actually had some throw away parts and ground up bone in it. But that being true Spam was more healthy for you than a big fat steak. I am suspicious. Because my dad was an officer in WWII and I never could envision a bunch of muckity mucks ordering it in the officers mess. But he also told me that he had never ever heard of a case of Trichinosis coming from spam. I am getting some today. I like the hash idea. Although my boy might eat it before, right out of the can.

      • Carb Diva profile image
        Author

        Linda Lum 5 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Mary, the tone of your comment implies that you have stopped eating them, or perhaps you simply no longer love them. Maybe I have inspired you to try them again?

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 5 months ago from Ontario, Canada

        I remembered those those fried Spam slices. Growing up, I used to love eating them.

      • Carb Diva profile image
        Author

        Linda Lum 5 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Bill, it's my guilty pleasure, my little secret. I love it too. Shhh, don't tell anyone. By the way, I found a little place in Milton that serves breakfast all day. They have a breakfast plate of cottage fries, an egg anyway, and fried Spam. Mmm, it was wonderful.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 5 months ago from Olympia, WA

        Bev has made it known she will not allow Spam in our house. LOL It should come as no surprise that I have always loved it. What can I tell you? There is no hope where I'm concerned.

      • Carb Diva profile image
        Author

        Linda Lum 5 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Flourish, I love the smile on your face, your sweet comments, and I love you. I never thought that my first photo was a "dressed up" version of the Spam sandwich, but hey, that's just the way I roll (LOL).

        I had not thought of a connection between Spam and hot dogs. Really, it's not true.

        Trust me, hot dogs are the bona fide mystery meat. About 10 years ago I was held captive on a flight from Seattle to London and had to endure a 60-minute on-flight film "All About Hot Dogs." Thankfully, hot dogs were not on the in-flight menu.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 5 months ago from USA

        I love that your lead photo dresses up this sweat pants of the kitchen cupboard by including it in a panini. Very high brow. I didn’t know what it actually stood for but recall discovering it in my father’s camping supplies at age seven or so and being thoroughly revolted. My mother only solidified my reaction by explaining what it actually was. I bet, however, that if you dice it and mix it up in rice or potatoes as one of the recipes did here you’d probably swear it was higher grade ham. It can’t be too different from hotdogs in content and nutrition and people aren’t as judgmental about those. Not that I’ll be trying it but you know. Loved this.

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