SPAM®, ‘The miracle meat of a million uses’, has been in existence long before another kind of spam started making its unwelcome intrusion into our email in-boxes. With more than 122 million cans sold around the world each year, some 90 million in the US alone, the popularity of Spam remains as strong today as it was in its heyday as a wartime staple.
Spam is a pre-cooked, long life luncheon meat, packed in a brick shaped can with an easily recognizable blue and yellow label. It’s used in a multitude of recipes and there seems to be no end to the number of inventive ways people use it as a mealtime ingredient. In its original form, Spam was made mostly from pork and contained no ham. However, since its name led many people into believing they were eating a ham based product, its producers, Hormel Foods, began adding ham as an ingredient.
While the name Spam may imply that ham is one of the main ingredients, in fact pork makes up to 90% of the key components with the rest consisting of ham, salt, water, modified potato starch, sugar and sodium nitrate. Sodium nitrate is used as a preservative while also providing the Spam with its familiar pink color.
The process of making Spam begins with the separation of the pork and ham from the bone. The pork shoulders are forced off the bone using a hydraulic press whereas the ham is cut manually by hand. Once this is done, the ham is separated into white fatty pieces and the red meatier sections. All the meat is then deposited into containers and refrigerated in readiness for the following stage.
Next all the meat is transferred to a large bowl and ground up together. After this is done it’s all passed through a metal detector to ensure no foreign metal objects have fallen into the mixture. The Spam mixture is then placed into vacuum mixers along with the remaining ingredients and the whole concoction is chilled to a temperature of 32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius while the mixing is in process.
The chilling and vacuum process is essential to try and limit the amount of liquid meat stock that’s released during cooking. It’s this liquid that produces the gelatin found in the Spam and too much would result in an excessive amount of gelatin being formed.
Now the Spam is ready to be forced through pipes and into the empty cans which are propelled along a conveyor belt. Once the cans are full, they’re placed into a large hydrostatic cooker filled with hot water where the Spam cooks within the can.
After cooking, the cans are moved through different levels of the cooker where they are sterilized, washed and finally cooled ready for labeling. The U.S. Department of Agriculture states that no cans of Spam may leave the plant until ten days have passed during which time random samples of Spam, around one in every thousand cans are routinely tasted and tested for quality control.
Hormel Foods continue to breathe new life into Spam. With consumers becoming ever more health conscious, Spam has moved with the times by manufacturing healthier low sodium and less fat versions of the original classic. They’ve also extended the range to include new flavors such as Spam with Cheese and Spam Hot & Spicy.
In these times of economic hardship and spiralling food prices, Spam may once again come to the rescue for many who are economizing or struggling to make ends meet. With its long shelf life, low cost and seemingly limitless recipes uses, many people are returning to an old cupboard favorite while newer generations are discovering for the first time the versatility and tasty delights of Spam.