Canned Spam, that unique mix of ham, pork, and preservatives, has been feeding people since just before the start of World War II.
The very thing that made it a viable food option for soldiers on the battlefield — its salty, almost addicting flavor — makes it a highly controversial, yet popular food today.
Many people wonder why Spam is so salty, or if it’s even good for you. Finally, they wonder what, if anything, they can do to take the salt out of this canned ham delicacy.
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Why Is Spam So Salty?
The reason that Spam tastes so salty is because it has that spam has a lot of salt in it. An article on Healthline.com says that the original Spam recipe has 32% of the recommended daily allowance for sodium.
Blame the inclusion of so much salt on the need to create a product that has a long shelf life.
Is Spam Healthy?
While the preservatives in such meats allow consumers to keep the meats for a long time without worrying about them rotting on the shelves, they do come with a number of drawbacks.
Some studies suggest that eating processed meat can lead to coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and diabetes.
Why Do People Eat Spam If It’s Unhealthy?
The reasons for this are varied but basically boil down to budget and nostalgia. Spam is a budget-friendly product. Since the recession of 2008, demand for the product has increased as people have searched for economical ways to keep meat in their diets.
But it’s not just the recession of 2008 that made it a recession-friendly food. Throughout its history, Spam has been a food favored by those who have experienced poverty.
It was a food that the Allied forces shared with the post-war Soviet Union as it tried to rebuild after the war. However, it wasn’t just part of Soviet food rations.
People all over the world, including in East Asia, adopted Spam into their diets as a way to adjust to the scarcity of meat.
It also has a lot to do with the nostalgia factor. We Are the Mighty suggests that the proliferation of Spam as a popular food staple is due largely to the American GIs who ate it on the battlefield and then, brought the taste for it home with them.
Given the large military presence in Hawaii, this may be why Spam figures largely into island cuisines.
Aside from this, a good portion of the population grew up eating Spam in their sandwiches, in their mac and cheese, and as a breakfast meat. Often, we eat foods that remind us of our childhood as a way to connect back to earlier times.
For many people who eat Spam, its nostalgia factor plays a big role in why they continue to eat it to this day.
Can You Make Spam Less Salty?
The short answer to this is yes, you can. The simplest way to do that is to just buy a Spam with a low sodium content. That’s available now that Spam comes in so many varieties.
According to the Spam.com website, low-sodium Spam comes with 25% less sodium than the original Spam, though in all fairness, that’s still 25% sodium per serving.
Spam’s History: Where Did Spam Come From?
According to Eater.com, Spam is the brainchild of Julius Zillgitt, a former employee of Hormel, the company that originally produced Spam. In 1937, two years before World War II started in Europe, Hormel invented a canned pork lunch meat, which became the precursor to Spam. Deli butchers would slice up the canned meat for consumers who wanted it for their sandwiches and other meals.
The 12-ounce can that we know of today came about when Zillgitt decided to create a smaller can that Spam consumers could slice up for themselves at home (like bologna).
The convenience of this size probably was one of the reasons why the US military used it as a staple to feed soldiers on the battlefield during World War II. By the war’s end, more than 150 million pounds of this pressed meat delicacy had been purchased by the US military.
As for its name, that has been the recipient of much myth and hearsay. Some people believe that it came about as a contraction of the words “spiced” and “ham.”
Others believe that it was a contraction of “shoulder” — Spam is partially made from pork shoulder — and “ham.” But neither of those is correct, according to company history.
The name for Spam came about when the VP of Hormel, Kenneth Daigneau, blurted out “Spam” at a New Year’s Eve party. A Spam-naming contest party was underway at that fateful party. The name stuck after that.
Nowadays, Spam fans have at least 10 varieties of the canned meat to choose from and can find it in 41 countries of the world. This once ode-to-American-kitsch has become a world-class cuisine.
FAQs about Spam & Saltiness
Do you have to cook Spam to eat it?
No, you do not. Spam is already cooked and can be eaten “as is” out of the can. However, many people like to cook it to enhance the flavor or to have a hot meat option for their meals.
What are some popular ways to eat Spam?
Given that Spam was originally created as a lunch meat, it goes without saying that you can eat Spam in a sandwich. Given that it’s a pork product, you may enjoy it with a bit of mayonnaise and mustard, as well as with any kind of sandwich vegetables that you enjoy. This includes lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and pickles.
Other people like to use Spam as a substitute for more expensive hams in recipes. For example, if you like ham and eggs in the morning, you can make Spam and eggs. As we mentioned, it’s a common addition to macaroni and cheese. You can cook it into fried rice to make Spam fried rice, or experiment with it to make Spam sushi. (Yes, this is a thing.)
Basically, any recipe that you eat that calls for ham, you can probably substitute Spam for the ham.
What are some cooking tips for Spam?
It should probably go without saying that if you cook Spam, you don’t need to add any additional salt. Spam, even the low-sodium version of it, still has quite a bit of sodium. That said, because of the “naturally occurring” flavor of spam, you can use it to flavor the foods you cook with it. That is to say, any food you cook with Spam, like pasta or rice, will soak up the flavoring of Spam.
In this way, if you use a small amount of Spam in relation to the other ingredients in your dish, you may end up with a less salty flavor because certain foods, like pasta and rice, soak up the flavoring and the salt.