Fun food fact of the week: The origin of SPAM

SPAM, an American food staple, has come a long way from its early days feeding hungry troops in the U.S. Army.
Christopher Yee/Senior Staff
SPAM, an American food staple, has come a long way from its early days feeding hungry troops in the U.S. Army.

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Did you know SPAM is short for “spiced ham”?

Shockingly, most people don’t know the origin of this American food staple. If simply reading the word SPAM has not yet triggered your gag reflex, read on for some fascinating facts.

The first canned ham was developed by George A. Hormel & Company, now known as the Hormel Foods Corporation, in 1926. However, after the hams were carefully trimmed to can size, the company was left with thousands of pounds of worthless pork shoulder. Thus “Hormel Spiced Ham” was born — a mash-up of the leftovers from canned ham. Spiced Ham wasn’t found to be a popular name, so the company held a contest at a New Year’s Eve party to create an enticing name for the product for a $100 prize. The winning name was, of course, SPAM, thought up by Kenneth Daigneau, an actor and the brother of a Hormel vice president, Ralph Daigneau.

Although SPAM was once a staple for feeding hungry troops in the U.S. Army, it is now highlighted in a multitude of culinary creations across a multitude of cultures (99.7 percent of which are Asian). You may have seen it it deliciously fried in scrambled eggs, in SPAM musubi (commonly known as SPAM sushi), SPAM fried rice, microwaved until crisp then used to garnish salads and, of course, raw and cut into hearts, stars and other cute shapes.

Celebrity chefs have highlighted the mystery meat in high-class dishes such as carbonara, escabeche and stroganoff. It has even been featured on television cooking shows such as Iron Chef and Top Chef. What started as a humble, filling meal has evolved into quite the culinary phenomenon. SPAM has even rolled out a delicious spread of savory SPAM-based products. Next time you’re at the grocery store, be sure to try all the flavors — both traditional and, shall we say, exotic — to suit every consumer’s individual needs.

  • SPAM® Classic (for the traditionalists)
  • SPAM® Low-Sodium (commonly used to treat high blood pressure)
  • SPAM® Lite (SPAM Classic  may be delicious, but it doesn’t help your waistline)
  • SPAM® Hot and Spicy (no Sriracha needed)
  • SPAM® spread (to spread on SPAM sandwiches for that extra burst of SPAM)
  • SPAM® singles (perfectly convenient portions for when SPAM cravings hit you in the middle of class)
  • SPAM® singles lite (portion control AND low-cal … practically a diet food)
  • SPAM® Hickory Smoke Flavor (for those of us too lazy to light up the grill)
  • SPAM® with bacon (really utilizing all parts of the pig)
  • SPAM® with cheese (hopefully meltable … wishful thinking?
  • SPAM® oven-roasted turkey (evidently Hormel has engineered miniature turkeys that are the shape of a 2”x3”x4” can)
  • SPAM® Meal – Sausage Jambalaya (a Southern “SPAMbalaya ™ “complete with SPAMbalasauge ™”)
  • SPAM® Meal – Penne Pasta in Alfredo Sauce (rivals Gypsy’s Italian Trattoria’s Crazy Alfredo)

So, whether you’re digging into the can at 2 a.m. with a spoon or creating a culinary masterpiece to impress a hot date, you should feel confident now that you know a bit more about SPAM. Who knew this cube of pink, deconstructed pig could be so versatile?

Contact Erika Chan at echan@dailycal.org.

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