Surprising Spam - the non-email variety

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By Frank Chlumsky

Frank on Food

You might be surprised at the subject of this week's column, and in a way I am too. Looking over the many columns I have written over the years in which I encouraged and promoted the merits of "scratch-cookery," it seems a bit odd to be writing about a convenience food, especially one that has been joked about for as long as I can remember.

But as we so often say in today's culture, "It is what it is," so I hope you can forgive this slight aberration and join me in the discovery — or rediscovery — of the extraordinarily popular food phenomenon known throughout the world as Spam.

You might also be surprised to learn another interesting fact: I like it!

My first acceptance of this much-maligned product occurred a number of years ago at a small noodle shop on the Hawaiian Island of Kaui called the Saimin House. Saimin is a noodle meal similar to many of the ramen noodle dishes that have become part of today's food scene, a mound of thin wheat noodles swimming in a delicious broth and topped with various garnishes, such as shrimp, cabbage, green onions and, always, slices of Spam.

Spam is the brand name — short for "spiced ham" — for a pre-cooked luncheon meat that was developed by the Hormel Foods Corporation in 1937. Spam Classic is made from pork shoulder, ham and various spices and was called "the miracle meat" because of its long shelf life. It was immediately picked up by the U.S. military during World War II, and by the end of the war, when fresh meat was still hard to get, most Americans, had gotten a taste of it. Hawaii, in particular, fell in love with Spam and it became — and still is — their most popular food staple.

Since I started my column with the idea of surprise, check out these statistics:

  • Americans eat almost four cans of Spam per second.
  • Two plants in the United States produce 44,000 cans every hour.
  • Hawaiians consume 4 million cans per year, the most Spam in the world, followed by the Philippines.
  • In Japan it is often given as a gift for important occasions.
  • Spam's versatility is almost limitless. You can slice, chop, mince, grind, grate, and even mash it.

In addition to Spam Classic, which has the original flavor and the one you are most likely to see in supermarkets, the Spam family now includes:

  • Spam Hot & Spicy
  • Spam Jalapeño
  • Spam Less Sodium — 25% less sodium
  • Spam Lite — 33% less calories, 25% less sodium, and 50% less fat — made from pork shoulder meat, ham, and mechanically separated chicken
  • 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 with Garlic

One of the most popular uses for Spam in Hawaii is in a dish called Musubi, which is nothing more than Spam Sushi. Here is the simple, classic version.

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