Spam: It’s one of the most polarizing foods of all time. Some people absolutely can’t get enough of the versatile canned meat, while others would rather munch on a twig than be forced to choke down the stuff! Just the same, no matter what side you’re on, it’s hard to deny that Spam has quite the fascinating history.
For instance, did you know that over 8 billion cans of Spam (yes, that’s billion with a ‘B’!) have been sold globally since the product’s launch 80 years ago? It’s a mind-bending fact, but it’s actually one of the canned meat’s less interesting details.
Here are 7 little-known facts about the delicious–and maybe not so nutritious– Spam!
It first hit the shelves in 1937
It probably comes as no surprise that Hormel’s Spam was created during one of the leanest times in American history— the Great Depression.
In 1937, fresh pork was both hard to come by and simply too expensive for many to afford, a fact which made Spam all that more appetizing to hungry omnivores. The popularity of the canned meat soared several years later during World War II with the military purchasing almost 150 million pounds of the canned goodness by the war’s end!
It is actually made out of real meat— we swear!
Believe it or not, Spam contains only 6 simple ingredients: pork with ham, salt, water, potato starch (this prevents moisture from forming inside the can), sugar, and sodium nitrate (for a long shelf life). Yum?
Its name is still (kind of) a mystery
Before the product launched, a brother of a Hormel Foods executive gave the canned meat its official name, Spam. Although the public has never received an official confirmation of what the word means, for years there have been whisperings that it is really an acronym.
Some of the best guesses are: “shoulder of pork and ham” or “spiced ham.” Word on the street is that only a handful of Hormel executives who were presiding over the product at the time know the TRUE meaning behind the name. Looks like we’ll never know!
It’s a regional favorite
Spam may not be popular in your neck of the woods, but in other states and countries, it’s a culinary staple.
In the U.S., Hawai’i is the by in large the biggest consumer of Spam. This is because of the Islands’ Japanese influence, a country where Spam has been enjoyed for years in fried rice and seaweed pockets called Spam Musubi.
South Korea is the second largest consumer of the product behind the United States. Koreans use the ingredient to spice up dozens of traditional dishes, but it is most commonly eaten in kimbap, a kind of sushi roll that features egg, rice, veggies, and–you guessed it–Spam!
It comes in 17 different varieties
Of course, original Spam is still the most sought-after variety of the canned meat, but Hormel has created plenty of other options for folks with more discerning palates, including Spam Lite, Spam Bacon, Spam Turkey, Spam Teriyaki, Spam Cheese, and even Spam Portuguese Sausage!
It serves as the main ingredient in cooking competitions
Every year, dozens of cities around the globe hold Spam cooking competitions, but the most famous of them all is the one that the product’s company, Hormel, holds.
The Great American Spam Championship is held at 26 of the largest state and county fairs in the nation. In it, contestants can win up to $150 and a trip to the Spam Jam Festival in Hawai’i for their entries.
The rules are actually pretty simple. Each dish has to contain at least one can of Spam and no more than 10 ingredients. We know what we’ll be doing at the fair next summer!
It is given as a luxury gift in South Korea
Koreans got their first taste of Spam during the Korean War when American GIs would smuggle it off their bases and share it with the locals. At the time, it was difficult to find any type of meat, so even this canned variety was a much-appreciated gift. Restaurants began formulating recipes to spice up the Spam and, over time, it became a centerpiece of Korean cuisine.
These days, South Korea is very much a modern country with plenty of fresh meat to enjoy, so it’s surprising to see so many folks exchange luxury gift baskets containing the item during the holidays. That said, according to interviews conducted by the BBC, giving the gift has become an important annual tradition in the country, with the cans usually going to bosses and elders.
As an aside, that gift set featured above will run you 42,800 Won— that’s roughly 40 bucks here in the States. Folks definitely pay a premium for that plastic packaging!
Who knew that this canned food aisle staple had such a rich history? We’d love to hear your thoughts on all things Spam! Are you a fan of this canned meat? What is your favorite variety? Do you have any Spam recipes of your own that you would like to share?