What Is SPAM? Your Canned Meat Questions Answered

What comes to mind when you think of SPAM? Twenty-seven daily emails from those online stores you bought one thing from seven years ago? That one person in your friend group who decides to spill every thought they’ve ever had in the group chat at 3 a.m.? Or a beautiful, oblong can-shaped piece of mystery meat for your salty umami mealtime pleasure? No matter what your answer to that question is, you are all probably wondering the same thing. What is SPAM (the meat)?

Let’s address the elephant in the room: What is SPAM and does SPAM stand for anything?

Not really. According to Eater, the theory that SPAM stands for “Scientifically Processed Animal Matter” is incorrect. People have also speculated that SPAM is an acronym for “Shoulder of Pork And Ham,” since it used to be made with pork shoulder (which used to be a very cheap cut of pork). But alas, Jay Hormel, head of Hormel Foods (the company that makes SPAM) at the time, said the product was named for a combination of the words “spice” and “ham,” even though SPAM only sort of has ham and certainly doesn’t have spice.

So what is SPAM meat actually made of? Pork? Chicken? My dreams?

Much like many of our modern-day conveniences and food products, SPAM started out as a depression-era cheap meat product. It was created by Hormel Foods in 1937 and then became a wartime solution for when people needed food that could last long enough to be shipped all over the world. But as for what it’s made of, the answer is pretty simple: pork with ham meat added (that counts as one), salt, water, potato starch, sugar, and sodium nitrite. Surprisingly all pretty food-sounding things! If the sodium nitrite is tripping you up, don’t worry, that is a common preservative found in all kinds of foods to keep them fresh for longer. According to Hormel Foods, all of the ingredients are mixed together and put into the iconic SPAM cans, then the cans are sealed, cooked, and cooled, and the product is ready to go! If you really think about it, SPAM is basically just canned bologna (with fewer ingredients). And it kind of tastes that way too.

How is SPAM used today?

Well, that answer certainly depends on who you are and where in the world you are as well. After SPAM was sent all over the world during WWII, it became really popular in Asia, England, and Hawaii. Japanese expats who immigrated to Hawaii invented Spam Musubi, (rice balls with pan-fried, soy-glazed SPAM on top wrapped in seaweed) and Korean chefs invented budae jjigae (army stew), which is basically a hot pot dish with noodles, mushrooms, SPAM, and more—and that’s just scratching the surface! There are countless other SPAM recipes out there nowadays, from fried rice to SPAM and eggs.

Bottom line, if you have never tried SPAM and are interested, I suggest simply slicing it and pan-frying it until the outside is crispy. You will not regret it. In my opinion, it tastes kind of like if you deep fried a hotdog.

About the Author

Jessica Block

Jessica Block is a freelance contributor to Sporked, a comedian, a baker, a food writer, and a firm believer that Trader Joe's may just be the happiest place on earth. She loves spicy snacks, Oreos, baking bread, teeny tiny avocados, and trying new foods whenever she can. Also, if you give her a bag of Takis she will be your best friend.

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  • Just wanted to reaffirm that here in Hawaii we absolutely LOVE spam musubis! Also thanks for getting the word out for people that have never tried spam that frying it is the best way to eat it, *not* raw/straight out of the can