Spam (food)

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Spam can.png
A can of Spam
Course Main course
Place of origin United States
Created by Hormel Foods Corporation
Serving temperature Hot or cold
Main ingredients pork and ham
Other information A canned precooked meat product
Cookbook: Spam  Media: Spam
Sliced Spam

Spam (stylized SPAM) is a brand of canned cooked meat made by Hormel Foods Corporation. It was first introduced in 1937 and gained popularity worldwide after its use during World War II.[1] By 2003, Spam was sold in 41 countries on six continents and trademarked in over 100 countries (except in the Middle East and North Africa).[2] In 2007, the seven billionth can of Spam was sold.[3]

According to its label, Spam's basic ingredients are pork, with ham meat added, salt, water, modified potato starch as a binder, sugar, and sodium nitrite as a preservative. Natural gelatin forms during cooking in its tins on the production line.[4] Many have raised concerns over Spam's nutritional attributes, in large part due to its high content of fat, sodium, and preservatives.

By the early 1970s the name "Spam" became a genericized trademark, used to describe any canned meat product containing pork, such as pork luncheon meat. With expansion in communications technology, it became the subject of urban legends about mystery meat and other appearances in pop culture.[5] Most notable was a Monty Python sketch portraying Spam as tasting horrible and being ubiquitous and inescapable, characteristics which led to its name being borrowed for unsolicited electronic messages, especially spam email.[6]


Spam was introduced by Hormel in 1937. Ken Daigneau, brother of a company executive, won a $100 prize that year in a competition to name the new item.[3] Hormel claims that the meaning of the name "is known by only a small circle of former Hormel Foods executives", but popular beliefs are that the name is an abbreviation of "spiced ham", "spare meat", or "shoulders of pork and ham".[7] Another popular explanation is that Spam is an acronym standing for "Specially Processed American Meat" or "Specially Processed Army Meat".[8]

The difficulty of delivering fresh meat to the front during World War II saw Spam become a ubiquitous part of the U.S. soldier's diet. It became variously referred to as "ham that didn't pass its physical", "meatloaf without basic training",[1] and "Special Army Meat". Over 150 million pounds of Spam were purchased by the military before the war's end.[9]

During World War II and the occupations which followed, Spam was introduced into Guam, Hawaii, Okinawa, the Philippines, and other islands in the Pacific. Immediately absorbed into native diets, it has become a unique part of the history and effects of U.S. influence in the Pacific.[10]

As a consequence of World War II rationing and the Lend-Lease Act, Spam also gained prominence in the United Kingdom. British prime minister during the 1980s Margaret Thatcher later referred to it as a "wartime delicacy".[11][12] In addition to increasing production for the U.K., Hormel expanded Spam output as part of Allied aid to the similarly beleaguered Soviet Union.[13] Nikita Khrushchev declared: "Without Spam we wouldn't have been able to feed our army".[14] Throughout the war, countries ravaged by the conflict and faced with strict food rations came to appreciate Spam.[15]

International usage[edit]

United States and territories[edit]

Domestically, Spam's chief advantages were affordability, accessibility, and extended shelf life.[9] Statistics from the 1990s say that 3.8 cans of Spam are consumed every second in the United States, totaling nearly 122 million cans annually. It became part of the diet of almost 30% of American households, it is perceived differently in various regions of the country.[16] It is also sometimes associated with economic hardship because of its relatively low cost.[1]

Spam that is sold in North America, South America, and Australia is produced in Austin, Minnesota (also known as "Spam Town USA") and in Fremont, Nebraska. Austin, Minnesota also has a restaurant with a menu devoted exclusively to Spam, called "Johnny's SPAMarama Menu".[17]

In 1963, Spam was introduced to various private and public schools in South Florida as cheap food and even for art sculptures. Due to the success of the introduction, Hormel Foods also introduced school "color-themed" spam, the first being a blue and green variety which is still traditionally used in some private schools of South Florida.[18]


Spam musubi is a popular snack and lunch food in Hawaii

Spam is especially popular in the state of Hawaii, where residents have the highest per capita consumption in the United States. Its perception there is very different from on the mainland.[19]

A popular native sushi dish in Hawaii is Spam musubi, where cooked Spam is placed atop rice and wrapped in a band of nori, a form of onigiri.[20] Varieties of Spam are found in Hawaii that are unavailable in other markets, including Honey Spam, Spam with Bacon, and Hot and Spicy Spam.[21]

Hawaiian Burger King restaurants began serving Spam in 2007 to compete with the local McDonald's chains.[10][22] In Hawaii, Spam is so popular that it is sometimes referred to as "The Hawaiian Steak".[23] There is even an annual Spam-themed festival on the island of Oahu that takes place every spring, known as the "Waikiki Spam Jam[24]. Local chefs and restaurants compete to create new Spam-themed dishes, which are then sold in a massive street fair on Kalakaua Street in Waikiki.

Guam and the Northern Marianas[edit]

In Guam, average per capita consumption is 16 tins per year. It is also found on McDonald's menus there.[25]

In the Northern Mariana Islands, lawyers from Hormel have threatened legal action against the local press for running articles alleging ill-effects of high Spam consumption on the health of the local population.[26][27]

Puerto Rico[edit]

Sandwich de Mezcla is a party staple in Puerto Rico containing Spam, Velveeta, and pimientos between two slices of Wonder Bread.[28]

United Kingdom[edit]

After World War II, Newforge Foods, part of the Fitch Lovell group, was awarded the license to produce the product in the UK at its Gateacre factory, Liverpool,[29] where it stayed until production switched to the Danish Crown Group (owners of the Tulip Food Company) in 1998.[30]

The United Kingdom has adopted Spam into various recipes. For example, recipes include Spam Yorkshire Breakfast, Spamish Omelette, and Spam Hash.[31] Spam can also be sliced, battered and deep-fried into Spam fritters.[32]


Spam is often served with rice in Asia.

In China, Hormel decided to adopt a different strategy to market Spam, promoting it as a foreign, premium food product and changing the Spam formula to be meatier in order to accommodate local Chinese tastes.[33]

In Okinawa, Japan, the product is added into onigiri alongside eggs and used as a staple ingredient in the traditional Okinawan dish chanpurū, and a Spam burger is sold by local fast food chain Jef. For the 70th anniversary of Spam in 2007, cans with special designs were sold in Japan due to its popularity, primarily in Okinawa.[34] Following the March 2011 earthquake, Spam sales in Japan declined and Hormel shifted its focus to China[33] although Hormel did pledge to donate $100,000 along with cans of Spam for relief efforts.[35] In the summer of 2011, Burger King introduced its own version of a burger made of Spam, called 'BK Shot' Spam Burgers. These small burgers are filled with slices of the canned meat and were an attempt by Burger King to capitalize on Spam's popularity in Japan.[36] In early 2014, Burger King also introduced the Spam and Cheese burger as a breakfast menu item.[37]

In Hong Kong after World War II, meat was scarce and expensive, so Spam was an accessible, affordable alternative. The luncheon meat has been incorporated into dishes such as macaroni with fried egg and spam in chicken soup, as well as ramen.[38]

In the Philippines, Spam is a popular food item and seen as a cultural symbol. It is prepared and used in a variety of ways, including being fried, served alongside condiments, or used in sandwiches. The canned meat's popularity transcends economic class, and Spam gift sets are even used as homecoming gifts. There are more than 9 different varieties of Spam currently available in the country and an estimated 1.25 million kilos of the meat is sold every year in the Philippines.[39] During the rescue efforts after Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana) in 2009, Hormel Foods donated over 30,000 pounds of Spam to the Philippine National Red Cross.[40]

In later years, the surfeit of Spam in both North and South Korea during the Korean War led to the establishment of the Spam kimbap (rice and vegetable filled seaweed roll). Because of a scarcity of fish and other traditional kimbap products such as kimchi or fermented cabbage, Spam was added to a rice roll with kimchi and cucumber and wrapped in seaweed. Spam was also used by US soldiers in Korea as a means of trading for items, services or information around their bases.[41]

In South Korea, Spam (Hangul스팸; RRseupaem, licensed from Hormel by CJ CheilJedang[42]) is popular with a majority of the population, and outranks Coca-Cola and KFC in status as a foodstuff. Today, South Korea produces and consumes more Spam than any other country except the United States.[43][44]

Spam is also an original ingredient in budae jjigae ("army base stew"), a spicy stew with different types of preserved meat.[45]

Middle East[edit]


In Mandatory Palestine, demand for kosher canned meats increased as Spam became more popular during World War II. Canned meat was briefly mentioned during wartime from 1939–43, but the true boom in kosher canned meat came in 1945. This is when kosher canned meat became the key item in Europe's Jewish war victim relief packages. Then in 1946, the Chicago Kosher Sausage Manufacturing Company registered a patent for a kosher canned meat product called Breef. Made of beef, Breef has a similar texture to Spam but tastes like corned beef.[46] Also, a kosher variant of Spam, known as Loof (Hebrew: לוף‎‎, a Hebrew linguistic play on meatloaf), was produced by Richard Levi, and mostly used as part of field rations by the Israel Defense Forces. A Glatt kosher version was also produced. It was phased out of field rations during the early 2000s and was finally removed from rations when production ceased in 2009.[47]

In popular culture[edit]

Beginning in 1940, Spam sponsored George Burns and Gracie Allen on their radio program.[48]

During WWII, Spam was not only eaten but was also incorporated into many other aspects of the war (grease for guns, can for scrap metal, etc.); it was so prominent that Uncle Sam was nicknamed "Uncle Spam".[49] Other terms influenced by the product’s name include the European invasion fleet, or the "Spam Fleet". Furthermore, the United Service Organizations (USO) toured the "Spam Circuit".[9]

In the United States in the aftermath of World War II, a troupe of former servicewomen was assembled by Hormel Foods to promote Spam from coast to coast. The group was known as the Hormel Girls and associated the food with being patriotic. In 1948, two years after its formation, the troupe had grown to 60 women with 16 forming an orchestra. The show went on to become a radio program where the main selling point was Spam. The Hormel Girls were disbanded in 1953.[50]

Spam gained a reputation in the United Kingdom and the United States as a poverty food. The image of Spam as a low cost meat product gave rise to the Scottish colloquial term "Spam valley" to describe certain affluent housing areas where residents appear to be wealthy but in reality may be living at poverty levels.[51]

While the product is never actually shown, Cary Grant, in Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House works for an advertising agency in New York and he is given the "Wham" account, his agency's major account. His job is come up with a new slogan for the ham-like product, which is a side plot during the entire length of the film. It's likely that this is a Spam-like product.

Spam was featured in an iconic 1970 Monty Python sketch called "Spam". Set in a café which only served dishes containing Spam, including "Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, baked beans, Spam, Spam, Spam and Spam", the piece also featured a companion song. By the 1990s, Spam's perceived ubiquity led to its name being adopted for unsolicited electronic messages, especially spam email.[52] Because of its use in a line of a song in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the title of the musical version of the film became Spamalot.

Spam was also referenced in the parody song "Spam" by "Weird Al" Yankovic.[53]

Other offshoots of Spam in popular culture include a book of haikus about spam titled Spam-Ku: Tranquil Reflections on Luncheon Loaf. There is also a mock Church of Spam, and a Spam Cam which is a webcam trained on a can of decaying spam.[54]

Spam is referenced in Island of the Sequined Love Nun by Christopher Moore, where SPAM is explained as Shaped Pork Approximating Man, which was used to explain its popularity amongst Pacific Island Cannibals.[55]

Spam has also incorporated social media as part of its marketing; for example, it has official Twitter accounts in both the US and UK.[56][57]

Spam has also been mentioned in the online point and click game "Escape from Plastic Beach" from 2010 on In the game it's used as bait for a talking fish.

Spam celebrations[edit]

Former Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota
Facade of new Spam Museum

Spam is celebrated in Austin, Minnesota, home to the Spam Museum. The museum tells the history of the Hormel company, the origin of Spam, and its place in world culture, including Hawaii where Spam is eaten daily by locals.

Austin is also the location of final judging in the national Spam recipe competition. Competing recipes are collected from winning submissions at the top 40 state fairs in the nation. The Spamettes are a quartet from Austin who only sing about Spam in parodies of popular songs. They first performed at the first Spam Jam in 1990 and continue to perform at various events.[58]

Hawaii holds an annual Spam Jam in Waikiki during the last week of April.[59] The small town of Shady Cove, Oregon is home to the annual Spam Parade and Festival, with the city allocating US$1,500 for it.[60]

Spamarama was a yearly festival held around April Fool's Day in Austin, Texas. The theme of Spamarama was a gentle parody of Spam, rather than a straightforward celebration: the event at the heart of the festival was a Spam cook-off that originated as a challenge to produce the most appetizing recipe for the meat. A rule of the event was that contestants had to be prepared to eat the Spam dish if requested by a judge. The festival included light sporting activities and musical acts, in addition to the cook-off.[61]

Nutritional data[edit]

Nutritional label for Spam Less Sodium

The ingredients of Spam vary according to variety and market; those of variety "Spam Classic" are: pork, ham, salt, water, potato starch, sugar, and sodium nitrite.[62]

Nutritional Information for Original Spam[63]

Net weight per package: 340 grams (12 oz.)

Serving size: 100g

Quantity per 100g
Energy 1,300 kJ (310 Calories or kilocalories)
Protein 13g (26% Daily Value or DV)
Total Fat 27g (41% DV)
  – saturated fat 10g (49% DV)
Carbohydrates 3g (1% DV)
Sodium 1369 mg (57% DV)
Cholesterol 70 mg (23% DV)
Vitamins and Minerals (% DV) 1% Vitamin C, 1% Calcium, 5% Iron,

3% Magnesium, 9% Potassium, 12% Zinc,

and 5% Copper


As listed on the official Spam website, there are numerous different flavors of Spam products, including:

  • Spam Classic – original flavor
  • Spam Hot & Spicy – with Tabasco flavor
  • Jalapeño Spam
  • Spam with Black Pepper
  • Spam Low Sodium – "25% less sodium"
  • Spam Lite – "33% fewer calories, 25% less sodium, and 50% less fat" – made from pork with ham, and mechanically separated chicken
  • Spam Oven Roasted Turkey
  • Spam Hickory Smoked
  • Spam Spread – "if you're a spreader, not a slicer ... just like Spam Classic, but in a spreadable form"
  • Spam Bacon
  • Spam Cheese
  • Spam Garlic
  • Spam Teriyaki
  • Spam Chorizo
  • Spam Macadamia Nuts – Partnered with Hamakua Plantation
  • Spam Turkey
  • Spam Tocino
  • Spam Portuguese Sausage
  • In addition to the variety of flavors, Spam is sold in tins smaller than the twelve-ounce standard size. Spam Singles are also available, which are single sandwich-sized slices of Spam Classic or Lite, sealed in retort pouches.[64]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Martin, Andrew (November 15, 2008). "Spam Turns Serious and Hormel Turns Out More". The New York Times. Retrieved May 23, 2010. 
  2. ^ "Spam – Postwar Popularity". Hormel Foods. 2010. Archived from the original on 15 December 2007. 
  3. ^ a b "Spam Brand History". Spam. Retrieved 27 November 2016. 
  4. ^ Campbell, Belinda; Clapton, Barbara; Tipton, Catherine (2002). Food Technology. Heinemann. p. 20. 
  5. ^ Jones, Lisa (October 2006). Men's Health. Rodale Inc. p. 132. 
  6. ^ "RFC 2635 – DON\x27T SPEW A Set of Guidelines for Mass Unsolicited Mailings and Postings (spam*):". Retrieved September 29, 2010. 
  7. ^ "What does the SPAM brand name mean?", SPAM® Brand FAQ, Spam .
  8. ^ "Why is Spam (that revolting tinned luncheon meat) called Spam? It sounds like it has something to do with ham, but why the sp-?". The Guardian. 2011. Retrieved February 14, 2015. 
  9. ^ a b c Smith, Andrew (May 1, 2007). The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink. Oxford University Press. pp. 559–60. ISBN 978-0-19988576-3. 
  10. ^ a b "Burger King to Serve Spam in Hawaii". Yahoo! News. Retrieved July 5, 2013. 
  11. ^ Howard Yoon (July 4, 2007). "Spam: More than Junk Mail or Junk Meat" ( 
  12. ^ Stranska, Hana (July 24, 1994). "About Spam". The New York Times. Retrieved October 1, 2014. 
  13. ^ Atkins, Annette (2008). Creating Minnesota: A History From the Inside Out. Minnesota: Minnesota Historical Society. p. 194. ISBN 978-0-87351-633-4. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  14. ^ Smith, Andrew F., ed. (2012). The Oxford Encyclopaedia of Food and Drink in America. Oxford University Press. p. 343. ISBN 0199734968. 
  15. ^ Heydt, Bruce. "Spam Again" . America in WWII, June 2006.
  16. ^ Kim, Sojin; Livengood, Mark (1995). “Ramen Noodles and Spam: Popular Foods, Significant Tastes”, pp. 2–11. Retrieved September 18, 2014.
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  22. ^ Huppert, Boyd (May 17, 2007). "Land of 10,000 Stories – Spam in Paradise". KARE11 News. 
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  33. ^ a b "Spam's Long March in China". Bloomberg BusinessWeek. August 4, 2011. Retrieved October 6, 2014. 
  34. ^ Sieg, Linda (March 12, 2008). "Okinawa cuisine: tofu, Spam and root beer". Reuters. Retrieved September 24, 2010. 
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  36. ^ "Forget Spam fritters, now Burger King is selling Spam burgers… for women". Daily Mail. June 15, 2011. Retrieved October 5, 2014. 
  37. ^ Bleier, Evan (May 1, 2014). "Burger King introduces Spam and cheese burger in Japan, for breakfast". United Press International. Retrieved October 6, 2014. 
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  39. ^ Matejowsky, Ty (March 1, 2007). "SPAM and Fast-food "Glocalization" in the Philippines". Food, Culture and Society: An International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research. 10 (1): 23–41. 
  40. ^ "Hormel Foods Announces Donation to Philippines". Web wire. October 8, 2009. Retrieved September 24, 2010. 
  41. ^ "In Korea, It's Spam Time of Year". 
  42. ^ "스팸 (SPAM)". CJ CheilJedang. Retrieved November 14, 2016. 
  43. ^ Lewis, George H. (2004). "From Minnesota Fat to Seoul Food: Spam in America and the Pacific Rim". The Journal of Popular Culture, volume 34, issue 2. , [1]
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  45. ^ Walraven, Boudewijn; Breuker, Remco E. (2007). Korea in the middle: Korean studies and area studies : essays in honour of Boudewijn Walraven. Leiden: CNWS Publications. pp. 255–257. ISBN 978-90-5789-153-3. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  46. ^ "Kosher Spam: A Breef History". Retrieved October 6, 2014. 
  47. ^ "הצדעה ללוף, שייצורו הופסק באחרונה בישראל" [Salute for Loof, production of which was recently ceased in Israel]. Retrieved September 19, 2010. 
  48. ^ Brown, Ray Broadus (2001). The Guide to United States Popular Culture. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 762. 
  49. ^ Civitello, Linda (March 29, 2011). Cuisine and Culture: A History of Food and People. John Wiley & Sons. p. 347. ISBN 9780470403716. 
  50. ^ Danelle D. Keck, Jill M. Sullivan (2007). "The Hormel Girls, American Music, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Fall, 2007), pp. 282–311". University of Illinois Press. JSTOR 40071663. 
  51. ^ Hardill, Irene; Graham, David; Kofman, Eleonore (2001). Human geography of the UK: an introduction. London: Routledge. pp. 96–97. ISBN 978-0-415-21426-1. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  52. ^ "Merriam Webster Dictionary". Merriam-Webster. 
  53. ^ "WEIRD AL YANKOVIC – SPAM LYRICS". Retrieved August 3, 2014. 
  54. ^ The Oxford Companion to American Food and Drink. Retrieved October 6, 2014. 
  55. ^
  56. ^ "Hormel Foods to Celebrate 75th Anniversary of the SPAM® Brand by Ringing The Closing Bell® at the New York Stock Exchange". Hormel Foods. Hormel Foods Corporation. 10 July 2012. Retrieved 4 November 2016. 
  57. ^ "SPAM® Can Tour to hit the UK". The Grocery Trader. 3 April 2016. Retrieved 4 November 2016. 
  58. ^ "Singing Spam's praises". July 7, 2008. Retrieved October 6, 2014. 
  59. ^ Hormel Foods (2010). "Spam Jam Waikiki 2010". Hormel Foods Corporation. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  60. ^ Pitto, Christy (December 7, 2010). "Shady Cove issues- riparian, event insurance and liability". Upper Rogue Independent. Retrieved December 13, 2010. 
  61. ^ "Spamarama website". Retrieved August 11, 2006. 
  62. ^ "What is Spam Classic?". Retrieved September 18, 2014. 
  63. ^ "Nutritional Facts and Analysis for Spam". Retrieved July 5, 2013. 
  64. ^ "SPAM© Products". Retrieved July 5, 2013. 

External links[edit]