Just in time for the summer cooking-out season, the Hormel company has now fessed up to producing ten–that’s 10 different kinds of SPAM. Well, who’d a thunk it?
Yes! You have your regular old Spam ( which the company likes to call “Spam Classic”). You have Spam Lite, Spam ”with real Hormel Bacon”, Spam with cheese, hot & spicy Spam (with Tabasco sauce), less-sodium Spam, hickory smoke flavor Spam, oven-roasted turkey Spam black pepper Spam, jalapeno Spam. Then, of course, you can buy Spam Singles (just what it sounds like–individual slices of Classic or Lite Spam) or, in some lucky stores, Spam Spread. There’s a Spam with garlic and Honey Spam too, in some markets.
The state of Hawaii consumes more Spam than the other forty-nine states but still falls behind the island of Guam, where each citizen (on average) consumes about sixteen tins of the stuff per year. Yum! The McDonald’s and Burger King restaurants there even have Spam on the menu. It’s sometimes referred to as Hawaiian steak. Yum again!
This culinary delight got its start in 1937 as a combination of chopped pork shoulder meat, ham, salt (oh yeah!), water, modified potato starch( a binder) and sodium nitrite( a preservative). It’s got calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and copper–fairly low percentages of the recommended daily amounts–and vanishingly small amounts of vitamin A and C. Plenty of sodium though, 57% of your RDA. During WWII it was probably the nearest thing to actual meat available in some locations–the neighborhood store having been blown up some time before, or the G.I.’s not particularly interested in chowing down on the available domestic animals or–worse–insects. Servicemen sometimes referred to it as “Special Army Meat”; sometimes they referred to it in more colorful terms, which, since this is a family publication, will not be described in any more detail. After the war, there was even a group called the Hormel Girls, with as many as sixty members, which toured the country promoting Spam as a patriotic food. Sixteen of them formed an orchestra and got a radio show; they disbanded in 1953.
Inevitably, some of the stuff escaped the army and navy bases and made its way into native cuisine. Hey, they were hungry too! And this probably accounts for its popularity in many Pacific nations : Spam burgers on Okinawa, Japan, with instant noodles and fried eggs in Hong Kong, with fried rice and eggs in the Philippines, in something called “army base stew” in South Korea. There was, for a time, even a kosher version found in Israeli army rations. It has frequently suffered a sort of unsavory, so to speak, reputation associated with low-income cooking because of its relative low cost. In Scotland, a “Spam Valley” is a neighborhood where the outer appearance is up to par but the inhabitants are eating Spam because they can’t afford the local butcher’s prices for cuts of more up-scale meats.
All of this comes to us from Austin, MN–where there’s a Spam Museum and a Spam Festival ( with finals for the Spam recipe contest; the submissions have to be seen to be believed), the nickname “Spam Town” and Johnny’s Spamarama–and Fremont, NE. There’s a Spam Jam in Waikiki. In south Florida, Spam was introduced as low-cost protein in school lunches and even produced in school colors ( The combination possibilities are amazing, if not particularly appetizing). Some enterprising art departments even used it as sculpture material ( Eat your heart out, Michaelangelo! Literally!). Makes you think of the butter sculptures at the state fair, doesn’t it? Maybe not.
For the convenience- minded, Hormel is now introducing –Taa-Daaah–shelf-stable Spam dinners : Spam & penne pasta, Spam in Alfredo sauce, Spam & red beans & rice, Spam & sausage jambalaya and Spam & roasted potatoes with gravy. What a line-up. Look for them on your grocery shelves…or don’t
So there’s your challenge for the barbecue season: new uses for the “Special Army Meat”.