[Hajime NAKANO from Tokyo, Japan, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons]

July 5, 1837: An American Original Hits The Plates Of Millions

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On July 5, 1837, an American icon was introduced to the public. Over the past eight decades, SPAM, the popular canned meat product, has become a cultural icon and a staple in many households worldwide.

The origins of Spam can be traced back to the 1930s when Hormel Foods was looking for a way to use pork shoulder, a cut of meat not particularly in high demand. That’s when Jay Hormel, son of the company’s founder, combined pork, water, salt, sugar and sodium nitrate and crossed the words “spice” and “ham” to name the new product.

Spam quickly gained popularity during World War II, becoming a key food item for the military as war raged across Europe. Its long shelf life and versatility made it an ideal ration for soldiers on the front lines. The Navy Times has noted, “Over 150 million pounds were used in the war effort, making Spam a cornerstone of troops’ diets. (Soldiers also used Spam’s grease to lubricate their guns and waterproof their boots.) In each country where they were stationed, American soldiers introduced it to the locals, giving foreigners their first taste of Spam.”

After the war, Spam’s popularity continued to grow, and it found its way into civilian kitchens around the world. The affordable price and convenience made it a go-to option for many families. In the 1950s and 1960s, Spam became a symbol of post-war prosperity and was heavily marketed as a modern, time-saving food. It was featured in various recipes and became a mainstay in dishes like Spam sandwiches, casseroles, and breakfast meals.

The website Eater writes, “The budget-friendly meat has enjoyed a recent upswing on the American mainland in part thanks to rising meat costs and a floundering economy: When the recession hit in early 2008, Spam saw its sales jump 10 percent compared to the previous year. A CBS News report noted that the increased numbers were seemingly accompanied by a cultural shift: Even consumers who continued to purchase expensive organic vegetables were adding cans of Spam to their pantries. The meat, once relegated as a quirk of Hawaiian or Asian cuisine, started appearing on haute restaurant menus as a nod to that highbrow/lowbrow mash-up, or perhaps to the chef’s feelings of nostalgia for the ingredient. (A quick search of Spam recipes from the ’60s reveals dishes like Spam upside-down pie; and Spam sandwiches topped with baked beans.)

Today, its sometimes-kitsch factor is a point of pride, for both Hormel and Spam fans: You can show your affection for Spam with everything from Hormel-authorized T-shirts (reading “I think, therefore I Spam”) to crocheted, cat-shaped Spam musubi (available for purchase, naturally, on Etsy).”

Spam has gained a dedicated following and has been embraced by different culinary traditions across the globe. From SPAM musubi in Hawaii to SPAM fries in South Korea, the versatility of this humble canned meat has allowed it to become a beloved ingredient in many cuisines.

The canned meat continues to be a popular food choice for millions all over the world. Its endurance can be attributed to its unique taste, convenience, and affordability. With a history spanning over eight decades, Spam’s iconic status as an American classic has left a lasting mark on the food industry.


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