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In Cooking, what is SPAM®?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 27, 2024
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SPAM® is a type of processed meat manufactured by the Hormel Foods Corporation, which would prefer to see it referred to not as Spam, but as SPAM®, since genericizing the name results in trademark dilution. The meat is sometimes confused with unwanted email, which is referred to as spam, in an homage to a famous skit by Monty Python. SPAM® has become an enduring part of popular culture, especially in English speaking nations, and despite its reputation as “mystery meat,” SPAM® sells in very high volumes in over 40 countries all over the world.

Hormel first began developing Hormel Spiced Ham in 1926. By 1937, the name of the product had evolved to SPAM®, and the recipe had resulted in a meat which could be stored under almost any conditions. SPAM®did not require refrigeration, and could be eaten directly out of the can. Hormel billed it as a miracle meat, and while sales were sluggish at first, the meat began to soar in popularity, especially as the world entered into the Second World War.

American soldiers brought SPAM® with them as part of their rations as they traveled all over the world. As a result, SPAM® became wildly popular in many Pacific island nations, especially Hawaii. The cult of SPAM® in Hawaii has approached gourmet proportions, with many high end restaurants offering SPAM® on their menus. SPAM® can also be found in Japanese-Hawaiian fusion foods such as SPAM® musubi, a type of sushi made with SPAM®. SPAM® also contributed valuable nutrition to soldiers in Europe, since it is high in calories and easy to transport.

The exact contents of SPAM® are somewhat mysterious. The meat clearly contains pork, probably pork shoulder with ham, along with sugar, salt, and a proprietary mixture of spices. Hormel also uses sodium nitrite to preserve the meat and keep the color pink, as it would otherwise gray with age. The use of sodium nitrite as a preservative is an ancient cooking trick, but it may be dangerous. Studies have linked excessive consumption of the material with cancers, leading to close scrutiny of foods which include it.

The perennial popularity of SPAM® has led Hormel to introduce numerous variants, including a halal version made with turkey instead of ham. SPAM® is sold in hot and spicy, honey cooked, light, ham and cheese, and garlic infused varieties. The basic design of the packaging remains the same, with SPAM in yellow block printing against a dark blue can.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By bananas — On May 16, 2008

In Hawaii, Spam is really popular. Actually, the taste is pretty good, for me I must say, however, one has to keep in mind the calories. It definitely is not your low calorie food. I do like to take along a few cans of Spam with me when camping.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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