​The True Story Behind Spam

​The True Story Behind Spam

Posted by Stelios on 24th Sep 2023

Spam celebrated its 80th birthday on 5th July 2017. As documented by the Smithsonian, the product's journey began with a naming contest. Hormel, the company behind Spam, was looking for a suitable name for their new invention. Kenneth Daigneau, albeit an insider being the brother of Hormel's vice president, is credited for christening it "Spam." Though it's debatable whether his family ties played any role, the iconic name stuck.

Spam wall - Flickr - freezelight Image Source: freezelight, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Originally popular among families during the Depression, Spam became a staple for Allied troops during World War II. This association globalised its reach and gave the humble meat tin connotations of patriotism, American innovation, and cost-effectiveness.

But what exactly is Spam? Its peculiar texture and somewhat ambiguous taste can make it seem mysterious. The story goes back to 1929 when Jay Hormel took the reins of his father's company. Spotting an opportunity in the deli sections selling sliced canned meat, he envisioned a compact, consumer-sized version. A member of the Hormel team, Julius Zillgitt, introduced the familiar 12-ounce can and the innovative canning process. Setting a standard, Hormel committed to using only pork shoulder, eliminating the possibility of waste and elevating its market reputation.

Image Source: www.hormelfoods.com (copyright hormel foods)

Factories in Fremont, Nebraska and Austin, Minnesota, originally produced Spam. However, in 2018, Hormel sold their Nebraska plant with an agreement to purchase its products for three more years. Meanwhile, international Spam is crafted in South Korea, the Philippines, and Denmark.

The intriguing meat processing occurs at Quality Pork Processors, Inc., which has its fair share of controversies. Staggeringly, 20,000 pigs are converted into Spam daily.

Despite its ambiguous reputation, Spam's ingredients are straightforward: pork (with ham), salt, water, potato starch, sugar, and sodium nitrite. These ingredients are meticulously combined, mixed, and chilled to ensure the best texture and flavour. Sodium nitrite, often debated for its health implications, acts as a preservative and lends Spam its pinkish hue. The potato starch addition in 2009 aimed to retain moisture and bind the meat.

Spam Facts:

  • Over 9 billion cans of SPAM® products have been sold.
  • Big Ben in England is 1,163 SPAM® Brand cans tall.
  • Hawaii eats seven million cans of SPAM® products every year.
  • Guam residents consume an annual average of 16 cans per person.
  • There is an entire Museum dedicated to the SPAM® Brand in Austin, MN.
  • It would take 415,549,599 SPAM® Brand cans to circle the circumference of the Earth.
  • Over 100 million pounds of SPAM® product was shipped abroad to feed troops during WWII.
  • SPAM® Brand starred on Broadway in Monty Python's SPAMALOT.

Image Source: www.hormelfoods.com (copyright hormel foods)

As for the canning process, the raw pork mixture is transferred to the cans, which are then sealed and cooked. This method ensures longevity and preserves the contents, making Spam a reliable pantry staple. Its production incorporates meticulous measures, from salt quantities to specific cooking temperatures.

The cans are then treated in a towering six-story hydrostatic cooker, ensuring they are adequately cooked, sterilised, and cooled. The sheer volume of Spam demand necessitates that this cooker can process up to 33,000 cans per hour. It's an impressive feat, considering an estimated three cans are sold every second.

In South Korea, Spam enjoys a prestigious status, often packaged in lavish gift sets for special occasions like the Lunar New Year. Its introduction during the Korean War and associated affluence cemented its cultural importance. A classic dish, Budaejigae, combines Spam with kimchi, reflecting its integration into Korean cuisine.

One of Spam's selling points is its impressive shelf life. Hormel suggests its consumption within three years for optimal taste, but technically, as long as the seal remains unbroken, it remains safe to eat.

Image Source: www.hormelfoods.com (copyright hormel foods)

Since its introduction on 5th July 1937, Spam's sales figures have been phenomenal. During WWII, the Allies dispatched around 15 million cans weekly, culminating in 100 million cans by the war's end. By 2017, sales soared past 8 billion cans, a testament to its enduring popularity.

Guam, in particular, showcases an unparalleled love for Spam, with each resident consuming an average of 16 cans annually. Its presence is felt from households to local McDonald's. Spam's introduction by the Allies after the Japanese occupation during World War II provided a lifeline to the starved locals, giving it an almost heroic stature in their history.

And so, Spam continues its journey from a curious meat tin to a globally recognised product, touching hearts, filling stomachs, and making history along the way.