While most people assume SPAM is short for “spiced ham,” only a handful of people know its true origin — and they’re not telling. The name was actually suggested in naming contest by Ken Daigneau, a Hormel VP’s brother, before the product was introduced in 1937. Daigneau won a naming contest and $100. Other theories include “special processed American meat” and “shoulders of pork and ham.”
While it’s common knowledge that Spam was popular with American GI’s, a whopping 100 million pounds of the stuff was consumed by Russian forces during the war. “Without Spam, we wouldn’t have been able to feed our army,” Russian Premier Nikita Krushchev later said.
Ever hear of Slammin’ Spammy? He was a machine gun-toting, bomb-hurling, angry-faced pig introduced by Hormel to help support the war effort, and showed up on everything from clothing to bombers.
Hormel has always been pretty straightforward about what goes into the can, even though people continue to be wary of it. It’s made with pork shoulder and ham, along with salt, water, sugar, potato starch, and nitrites. It’s basically made from the same stuff as hot dogs.
Spam was served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the Pacific during WWII and the Korean War because fresh meat was hard to come by, and the natives quickly developed a taste for it, one that continues to this day. South Koreans consume more Spam than any other country except the U.S., it’s huge in the Philippines (Hormel donated more than 30,000 pounds of it after the 2009 typhoon), each person on Guam eats on average 16 cans of it per year, and Hawaiians eat the most Spam per capita of any state in the US. It’s so popular that McDonald’s across the region have added it to the menus.
Spam’s most legendary contribution to pop culture is arguably the hilariously bizarre Monty Python’s Flying Circus sketch. A couple sitting in a restaurant attempts to order from a menu where just about every item includes Spam, and the Vikings at the next table can’t stop singing about it (seriously, if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor). While it’s not mentioned in the sketch, the couple is actually named Mr. and Mrs. Bun, and the restaurant is the Green Midget Café, in Bromley (which obviously doesn’t exist but is a spectacular name). The sketch was written by troupe members Terry Jones and Michael Palin.
Another fun fact: the repetitive nature of the Vikings Spam song inspired a word for junk email that appears repeatedly in your inbox: Spam.
Should you decide to set about consuming a whole tin of the stuff for yourself, you’ll be ingesting nearly 100 grams of fat, more than 1,000 calories, 240 milligrams of cholesterol, and a whopping 4,696 milligrams of sodium, nearly double the USDA's recommended daily allowance.
There’s a 16,500 square-foot Spam Museum in Austin, Minn. Where you can learn the history of the luncheon meat and watch live cooking demonstrations. There’s an annual “Spam Jam” in Waikiki as well as a yearly Spam Parade & Festival in Shady Grove, Ore.
During the 2000’s, a kosher variety known as Loof was distributed as field rations by the Israeli military. Made from chicken or beef, it was phased out in 2008.