Spam. That mysterious can of meat that has the ability to make people both gag and crave, depending on where they’re from. The meat that, overtime, has earned its fair share of nicknames – from “the poor man’s food” to the fill-in-the-blanks ones, like “Spare Parts of Animal Meat” or “Special Army Meat.” Sounds…appetizing? Spam actually stands for Spiced Ham, which helps solve the mystery of this so-called “mystery meat” – what’s spam made of?

Did you know that in 2007, the seven billionth can of spam was sold? On average, America consumes 3.8 cans every second.

I’ll admit that I’m a little grossed out by what I found; this precooked meat consists of chopped pork shoulder meat, ham meat, salt, water, modified potato starch and sodium nitrate as a preservative. The slippery glaze of spam comes from the cooling of meat stock. In the case of spam, maybe it’s best not to know.

But like the billions of others around the world, I’ll probably still end up eating it. Something that’s easy to do in Hawaii since spam manages to sneak itself into almost every dish – saimin, fried rice or in the all-encompassing Hawaiian power bar, the spam musubi. It’s because of this that we’ve earned the top spot in most spam consumed per U.S. capita. Hawaii loves spam! So much, that we’re one of the only places where fast-food chains like McDonald’s and Burger King include it on their menus. And don’t forget about the annual Waikiki Spam Jam. That should speak for itself!

If you’re like the other half of the world that scoffs at spam, then you’re probably laughing by now. Yes, a festival of spam, but in our defense, we’re not the only ones! Austin, Minn. (the home of Hormel spam) not only has a Spam Jam but a museum as well. Farther west, Oregon honors the canned meat with an annual Spam Parade and Festival.

Spam musubis sell by the dozens at most Hawaii delis.

The nickname mentioned earlier, “Special Army Meat,” came about during WWII. Because fresh meat was difficult to get to soldiers in combat, spam served as the next best thing. Soldiers got spam by the crates and ate it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The extra cans eventually made their way into the diets of people living in the area. Hence, you’re bound to find spam in Hawaii, Guam, Okinawa and the Philippines – all Pacific places occupied by the U.S. at one time or another.

At one point after the war, spam became a symbol of American patriotism, believe it or not. Hormel Foods assembled a troupe of former G.I. women called the Hormel Girls, who promoted the meat from coast to coast. They eventually grew to as many as 60 women just a few years later and started a radio program with selling spam as the main intent.

The spam museum in Minnesota illustrates how soldiers survived off of the canned meat during WWII.

Perhaps this post on spam grossed you out or perhaps it made you salivate. But hopefully it gave you a better understanding of its role in Hawaii. And maybe next time you’re here, you’ll brave the waters and try the meat that’s not so mysterious after all!

Photo Credit: Noa Myers (first); Hormel Spam (third)

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