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Spam (food)

Created by Hormel Foods Corporation
Time created 1937
Type of Food Processed meat
Website The Official Spam Web Site

Spam is a canned precooked meat product made by the Hormel Foods Corporation. The labeled ingredients in the Classic variety of Spam are: chopped pork shoulder meat with ham meat added, salt, water, sugar, and sodium nitrite to help keep its color. The product has become part of many jokes and urban legends about mystery meat, which has made it part of pop culture and folklore.

Varieties of Spam vary by region and include Spam Classic, Spam Hot & Spicy, Spam Less Sodium, Spam Lite, Spam Oven Roasted Turkey, Hickory Smoked, and Spam Spread; the latter is also available as halal food (see the halal sign on cans), meaning that it is permissible under Islamic law, and is especially popular in Muslim markets.

Spam sold in North America, South America, and Australia is produced in Austin, Minnesota, (also known as Spam Town USA) and in Fremont, Nebraska. Spam for the UK market is produced in Denmark by Tulip under license from Hormel. Spam is also made in the Philippines and in South Korea. In 2002, the six billionth can of Spam was sold.

Name origin

Introduced on July 5 1937, the name "Spam" was chosen in the 1930s when the product, whose original name was far less memorable (Hormel Spiced Ham), began to lose market share. The name was chosen from multiple entries in a naming contest. A Hormel official once stated that the original meaning of the name Spam was "Shoulder of Pork And haM". According to writer Marguerite Patten in Spam – The Cookbook, the name was suggested by Kenneth Daigneau, an actor and the brother of a Hormel vice president, who was given a $100 prize for coming up with the name. At one time, the official explanation may have been that the name was a syllabic abbreviation of "SPiced hAM", but on their official website, Hormel states that "Spam is just that. Spam."

Many jocular backronyms have been devised, such as "Something Posing As Meat", "Stuff, Pork And haM" and "Spare Parts Animal Meat.

According to Hormel's trademark guidelines, Spam should be spelled with all capital letters and treated as an adjective, as in the phrase "SPAM luncheon meat". As with many other trademarks, such as Xerox or Kleenex, people often refer to similar meat products as "spam". Regardless, in practice, "spam" is generally spelled and used as a proper noun.

Nutritional data

A 56 gram (approximately 2 ounce) serving of original Spam provides 7 grams of protein, 2 grams of carbohydrates, 15 grams of fat (23% US Daily Value) including 6 grams of saturated fat (28% US Daily Value), and over 170 calories. A serving also contains nearly a third of the recommended daily intake of sodium (salt). Spam provides very little in terms of vitamins and minerals (0% vitamin A, 1% vitamin C, 1% calcium, 3% iron). It has been listed as a food that is a poor choice for weight loss and optimum health and as a food that "is high in saturated fat and sodium".


There are several different flavors of Spam, including:

  • Spam Classic - original flavor
  • Spam Hot & Spicy - with tabasco flavor
  • Spam Less Sodium - "25% less sodium"
  • Spam Lite - "33% less calories and 50% less fat"
  • Spam Oven Roasted Turkey
  • Spam Hickory Smoke flavor
  • Spam Spread - "if you're a spreader, not a slicer...just like Spam Classic, but in a spreadable form"
  • Spam with Bacon
  • Spam with Cheese
  • Spam Garlic
  • Spam Golden Honey Grail - a limited-release special flavor made in honor of Monty Python's SPAMALOT Broadway musical
  • Spam Mild

In addition to flavor, some of the tins come in smaller sizes than normal. Further, recently "Spam Singles" have been produced: a single sandwich-sized slice of Spam (Classic or Lite), wrapped in plastic instead of a metal container.

International usage

As of 2003, Spam is sold in 41 countries worldwide. The largest consumers of Spam are the United States, the United Kingdom and South Korea.

United States and territories

In the United States, the residents of the state of Hawaii and the territories of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) consume the most Spam per capita. On average, each person on Guam consumes 16 tins of Spam each year and the numbers at least equal this in the CNMI. Guam, Hawaii, and Saipan, the CNMI's principal island, have the only McDonald's restaurants that feature Spam on the menu. Burger King, in Hawaii, began serving Spam in 2007 on its menu to compete with the local McDonald's chains.

In Hawaii, Spam is so popular it is sometimes dubbed "The Hawaiian Steak." It is traditionally reheated (cooked), resulting in a different taste than Spam eaten by many Americans on the mainland, who may eat Spam cold. One popular Spam dish in Hawaii is Spam musubi, in which cooked Spam is combined with rice and nori seaweed and classified as onigiri.

Spam was introduced into the aforementioned areas, in addition to other islands in the Pacific such as Okinawa and the Philippine Islands, during the U.S. military occupation in World War II. Since fresh meat was difficult to get to the soldiers on the front, World War II saw the largest use of Spam. GIs started eating Spam for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (Some soldiers referred to Spam as "ham that didn't pass its physical" and "meatloaf without basic training.") Surpluses of Spam from the soldiers' supplies made their way into native diets. Consequently, Spam is a unique part of the history and effects of U.S. influence in the Pacific.

The perception of Spam in Hawaii is very different from that on the mainland. Despite the large amount of mainlanders who eat Spam, and the various recipes that have been made from it, Spam, along with most canned food, is often stigmatized on the mainland as "poor people food." In Hawaii, Treet, and all similar canned meat product other than Spam are referred to as "lunch meat" or "luncheon meat" are stigmatized in Hawaii as "poor people Spam."

In these locales, varieties of Spam unavailable in other markets are sold. These include Honey Spam, Spam with Bacon, and Hot and Spicy Spam.

In the CNMI, lawyers from Hormel have threatened legal action against the local press for running articles decrying the ill-effects of high Spam consumption on the health of the local population.

Armour and Company produces Treet, a canned food very similar to Spam which boasts "Virginia baked ham taste."


In the United Kingdom Spam was a popular addition to the menu of fish and chip shops , where slices are battered and deep-fried and are known as 'spam fritters', However this tradition has faded out in recent decades. It gained popularity in the 1940s during World War II, as a consequence of the Lend-Lease Act.

After World War II, Newforge Foods, part of the Fitch Lovell group, were awarded the license to produce the product in the UK (doing so at its Gateacre factory, Liverpool), where it stayed until production switched to the Danish Crown Group (owners of the Tulip Food Company ) in 1998, forcing the closure of the Liverpool factory and the loss of 140 jobs . By the early 1970s the name Spam was often misused to describe any tinned meat product containing pork, such as pork luncheon meat.

The image of Spam as a low cost meat product gave rise to the British 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.


Spam is popular on camping or fishing trips and is sold quite regularly in Australia. It is popular with breakfast, particularly with eggs or barbecued and served with barbecue sauce. Due to the fairly large Asian and European community, Spam is often prepared in an Asian or European way, e.g. with eggs and rice or deep fried in batter and served with chips or in a burger; however, sometimes it is simply sliced and put into sandwiches or salads.


In Okinawa, Japan, Spam has become very popular. Spam is even used in the traditional Okinawan dish chanpurū, and there is also a Spam burger sold by local fast food chain Jef.

In China, Spam is also a rather popular food item, being served as a sort of Western cuisine. It is often used in sandwiches.

In Hong Kong, Spam is commonly served with instant noodles and fried eggs, and is a popular item in cha chaan teng.

In the Philippines, Spam is a popular meal, especially when eaten with eggs and fried rice, often for breakfast.

In South Korea, Spam is popular in households as an accompaniment to rice. A television ad claimed that it is the most tasty when consumed with white rice and gim (laver seaweed used for some type of handrolls). It is also an original ingredient in budae jjigae (lit. "army base stew"), a spicy stew with different types of preserved meat. In fact, Spam is so popular that according to "Why Does Popcorn Pop?" by Don Voorhees, Spam is used more often as gifts than chocolate.

Spam and similar meat preserves can also be bought in gift sets that may contain nothing but the meat preserve or include other victuals such as food oil or tuna. When invited to somebody else's home, guests may present their hosts with a set like this, or with other food gifts such as fresh fruit, beverages or tteok.

The surfeit of Spam in both Koreas during the Korean War led to the establishment of the Spam kimbap (sushi roll). With no more fish or other traditional kimbap products, Spam was put in a rice roll together with pickle and cucumber and wrapped in seaweed. Even in Australia, Korean shops sell these as sushi rolls, in lieu of the traditional style of Japanese sushi rolls.

Spam celebrations

Spam is celebrated in a small local festival in Austin, Minnesota, where Hormel corporate headquarters are located. The event, known as Spam Jam, is a carnival-type celebration which coincides with local Fourth of July festivities, featuring parades and fireworks which often relate to the popular luncheon meat. Austin is also home to the Spam Museum, and the plant that produces Spam for most of North America and Europe.

Hawaii also holds their own version of Spam Jam in Waikiki during the last week of April.

The small town of Shady Cove, Oregon is home to the annual Spam Parade and Festival, celebrating its 8th year in 2007.

The Spam Jam is not to be confused with Spamarama, which is a yearly festival held around April Fool's Day in Austin, Texas. The theme of Spamarama is gentle parody of Spam, rather than straightforward celebration: the event at the heart of the festival is a Spam cook-off that originated as a challenge to produce an appetizing recipe for the meat. The festival includes light sporting activities and musical acts, in addition to the cook-off.

Cultural references

Monty Python sketch

Spam was one of the few meat products excluded from the British food rationing that began in World War II, and continued for a number of years thereafter.
The Monty Python comedy troupe used this as the context for their "Spam" sketch, in which the menu at a greasy spoon cafe consists entirely of dishes containing one or more portions of Spam.

The Monty Python musical Spamalot opened on Broadway in New York City in early 2005. It combines themes of the quest for the Holy Grail — previously explored in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail — and Spam. Hormel released a collector's edition "honey" Spam in connection with the musical, and a "Stinky French Garlic" edition for the London opening of the show.

Internet spam

The repetitious nature of the Monty Python sketch, in which the customer becomes more and more exasperated by the appearances of "Spam" in every menu item, gave rise to the term Spam as the common term for unsolicited bulk electronic messages. Earlier, the term was used as a verb to describe widespread dissemination of derogatory (and often untrue) postings and messages about a person ("She was getting spammed all over the Internet.").

Hormel does not object to the term, but insists that it be spelled in lower case so as to distinguish it from its capitalized SPAM trademark. Hormel objects to Spam's "product identity" (for example, images of Spam cans) being used in relation to spamming, and has filed lawsuits against companies which have attempted to trademark words containing "Spam".

In 1998, the New Oxford Dictionary of English, which had previously only defined "Spam" in relation to the trademarked food product, added a second definition to its entry: "Irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent on the Internet to a large number of newsgroups or users.

"The Book of Spam"

Published by the Atria imprint of Simon & Schuster and written by Dustin Black and Dan Armstrong, two former advertising creatives who had worked on Spam ad campaigns since 2000. The book details Spam's origins and contributions to World War II as well as various bits of trivia, such as the Spam museum in Austin, Minnesota.


Several films have used 'Smeat' as a prop food, including Waterworld, Children of the Corn V, Beck's 'Sexx Laws' music video, Buddy Boy, and Dawn of the Dead. A tin of 'Smeat' also features in the US drama series Millennium, in the season 1 episode "The Thin White Line".

Other references

Since its introduction in 1937, Spam has been the subject of intense advertising. Featured in the major publications of the day, Spam's spokesmen included many contemporary film and radio stars, including Burns and Allen.

The 1948 film Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House makes several references to a fictional product named "Wham". However, a vegetarian alternative to ham is also named Wham.

The 1996 movie Muppet Treasure Island featured a character who was a chieftain islander pig named "Spa'am". Hormel Foods Corporation sued Jim Henson Productions over the name in a court case that Hormel Foods eventually lost before the film was released. On Muppets Tonight, there was another pig character named "Spamela Hamderson".

The television series M*A*S*H frequently made fun of the many uses of the product.

In a suite of short songs on Chicago III called "An Hour In The Shower" (the part called a Hard Risin' Morning Without Breakfast) the singer (Terry Kath) mentions having breakfast "which consists of tasty Spam.

In the 2004 movie 50 First Dates, a Spam delivery truck is shown, Nick and Sue at the diner offer Henry "Spam and Eggs", and when Henry leaves he is given a box containing Spam and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

The TV series Hey Arnold! episode 74 "Veteran's Day" mentioned a Spam product found in US Rations for troops in France in World War II called "CHAM", which was derived from chicken instead of pork. (Spam was mentioned by name in the episode, when Grandpa explained the difference between the two.)

Comedian Bill Engvall has jokingly referred to Spam as Stuff Posing As Meat.

In the early days of Spam, there was a photograph of a handmade knife from Randall Made Knives featured on the can's label. Such items are now a collector's item among knife enthusiasts.

The band Save Ferris' 1996 first album, Introducing Save Ferris has a song, simply called Spam, wherein the product is referred to as "the government substitute for meat".

From 1995 until 2002, John Nagamichi Cho compiled a web archive of Spam Haiku. During this time, 19,696 Haikus about spam were submitted by users from all over the world.

The American parody singer "Weird Al" Yankovic often references Spam in his songs, including a song entitled "Spam" (a parody of the R.E.M. song "Stand"), the lyrics of which explore the vocalist's obsession with the product. The song is included on the soundtrack album for Yankovic's film UHF.


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