SPAM, the canned processed meat product that has developed a cult following, was introduced by Hormel Foods on this day in history, July 5, 1937.
The mystery meat's ingredients are not so mysterious after all, according to the official website for SPAM (a combo of the words "spiced ham").
Consisting of "six simple ingredients" — pork with ham, salt, water, potato starch, sugar, and sodium nitrate — SPAM has "a relatively simple, conventional" production process, says its website.
"First, the pork and ham are pre-ground. Then, salt, sugar and the rest of the ingredients are added and mixed, to reach the desired temperature," the site points out.
"From there, the mixture is moved over to the canning line, where it’s filled into the familiar metal cans, 12 ounces at a time."
The filled cans are then brought to a "closing machine," where they are vacuum sealed.
The cans are then cooked and cooled for a three-hour period, are given labels and are then put into cases, the SPAM website details.
Beginning in 1941, SPAM was sent around the world to feed Allied troops during World War II, says the SPAM website.
Since the meat is pre-cooked and tinned, it is shelf-stable and ideal for shipping long distances.
Over 100 million pounds of SPAM were sent to feed the troops, the site indicates.
In 1959, the one-billionth can of SPAM was sold.
As of 2023, over 9 billion cans of SPAM have been sold throughout the world, the company says.
The popularity of SPAM has led to at least two annual festivals in the United States that celebrate the product, as well as the SPAM Museum in Austin, Minnesota.
Austin, Minnesota, is also home to the SPAM Jam, a festival about all things SPAM-related.
While Hormel Foods is headquartered in Minnesota, another state has taken a particular liking to SPAM: Hawaii.
"More SPAM is consumed per person in Hawaii than in any other state in the United States," says the website for the Waikiki SPAM JAM, the other SPAM-focused food festival.
"Almost seven million cans of SPAM are eaten every year in Hawaii," said the festival's webpage.
It is so popular in the state that McDonald's introduced SPAM products in its Hawaiian restaurants in 2002, the Associated Press noted at the time.
SPAM is also a popular ingredient in various Asian cuisines, particularly Korean.
South Koreans consume more SPAM than the residents of any other country besides the United States, the Hormel Foods website notes.
Despite having only a sixth of the population of the United States, South Koreans consume half as much SPAM each year.
The popular Korean dish "budae jjigae" — which translates to "Army stew" or "Army base stew" — developed after the Korean War, when an economic downturn meant that meat was scarce and expensive.
A U.S. Army base in the South Korean city of Uijeongbu had a surplus of various processed food, including SPAM — which "was totally new to Koreans," Korean chef and YouTube creator Maangchi said on her website.
"Eventually these ingredients made their way into surrounding areas of the base and some creative Koreans made stew from them," she said.
"They boiled spam, ham, sausages and baked beans with kimchi, garlic and hot pepper paste and flakes, creating a Korean-style stew with American ingredients."
Even as South Korea's economy rebounded, the stew — and SPAM as a whole — remained extremely popular.
As of 2023, SPAM is available in 11 varieties: SPAM Classic, SPAM Lite, SPAM 25% Less Sodium, SPAM Maple Flavored, SPAM with Real HORMEL Bacon, SPAM Oven Roasted Turkey, SPAM Hickory Smoke Flavored, SPAM Hot and Spicy, SPAM Jalapeño, SPAM Teriyaki and SPAM with Tocino Flavoring.
Limited edition flavors SPAM Pumpkin Spice and SPAM Figgy Pudding were produced in 2019 and 2022, respectively, says the SPAM website.
In 2022, Hormel claimed that some 13 cans of SPAM were consumed every second, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.