Why Do Hawaiians Love Spam
In the early days of America, there was no such thing as canned or frozen ham. The only way to get pork for breakfast was to slaughter your own pigs. In those days, pork wasn’t even considered an exotic delicacy like it is today. It was simply what you ate every day.
But then along came Samuel Penfold Purdy — that guy who invented processed meats. He knew how to make cheap products look expensive by wrapping them up in fancy packaging. And he understood marketing. So instead of selling his product directly from his store in New York City, he decided to sell it through grocery stores.
Purdy’s idea worked: By 1910, his company was shipping more than 100 million pounds (45 million kilograms) of hot dogs, bacon, sausage, luncheon meat, and other processed meats each year. That kind of success eventually led to the creation of SPAM, short for “Spiced Ham.”
SPAM hit shelves during World War I, but its origins can be traced back to the late 19th century, when American entrepreneur Charles Goodyear created vulcanized rubber out of crude oil. Vulcanization is a process that turns natural latex into durable rubber. Before vulcanization, natural latex was soft and sticky; after vulcanization, it became elastic, flexible, and impermeable. But vulcanized rubber also needed preservatives to keep it fresh, so Goodyear added boric acid to his new product.
As a result, Goodyear dubbed his invention “Vulcanite” and marketed it as a healthier alternative to animal fat-based lard and tallow for cooking and frying. Vulcanite was sold primarily to restaurants, hotels, and bakeries. The name “SPAM,” however, would not come into play until decades later.
First, let’s talk about the pork itself. Pork comes from two different sources: the loin muscle group and the belly. The loins are cut into steaks called chops, ribs, and tenderloins. Belly is often used for chicharron mondogo, which is fried pig skin stuffed with chopped pork. Both the loin and the belly have plenty of connective tissue, making them tough and fibrous. Tougher pork cuts tend to be pricier, while cheaper ones are usually leaner.
Next, let’s discuss the difference between fresh and saltwater. Fresh water pigs live on farms in pens or cages where they eat a diet of corn, soybeans, and hay. They’re raised outdoors in all types of weather conditions. When their muscles contract, they pull nutrients from blood vessels in their feed rather than pulling oxygen from surrounding air. This results in slower growth rates and smaller yields. Saltwater pigs, on the other hand, are fed a diet of fishmeal, kelp, and grain. Their muscles receive ample amounts of both oxygen and nutrients from the water around them. To grow bigger, faster, saltwater pigs need less space, better feeding, and they don’t need nearly as much care as farm animals do.
And finally, we’ll take a closer look at one specific part of the pig — its hind leg. The hock isn’t just another part of the pig, it’s actually the pig’s lower leg. Hocks are best known for providing flavor in dry-cured ham. A few years ago, scientists discovered that the Japanese consume the largest amount of dry-cured ham per capita. One reason may be that the Japanese traditionally serve ham with rice. Hocks are also high in protein and low in calories.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of pork production, let’s head over to Hawaii. We’ll learn why this tropical paradise loves SPAM so much.
Hawaii has been synonymous with SPAM since 1937, when the Hawaiian Pineapple Company introduced the first canned meat to the islands. At the time, canned goods weren’t popular among locals because they required refrigeration. As a result, canned pineapple quickly took the place of local produce. However, people did enjoy eating canned vegetables, especially green beans, peas, and olives, which were easy to cook without boiling. These items were also inexpensive and widely available.
During World War II, the U.S military relied heavily on canned foods, including SPAM. Soldiers’ rations included canned beef, chicken, and potatoes, as well as canned tuna, sardines, salmon, peaches, prunes, pears, plums, cherries, and cranberries. Canned fruit was also used as dessert toppings. After the war ended, demand for SPAM increased dramatically.
Today, SPAM remains beloved by many residents on the Big Island and throughout Hawaii. For starters, SPAM sandwiches taste great and contain lots of iron, calcium, vitamin D, folate, zinc, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, selenium, copper, and iodine. Plus, unlike many other kinds of processed meats, SPAM contains little sodium nitrate, a compound that contributes to cancer risk. Lastly, SPAM is economical and versatile. You can use it to create everything from main dishes to desserts to sauces.
So next time you’re standing in line at the supermarket wondering if you should buy some SPAM, remember these reasons why Hawaiians love SPAM so much.
One of the world’s leading producers of SPAM is J.L. Brand Inc., based in Honolulu, Hawaii. Since 1931, J.L. Brand has dedicated itself to producing quality pork products. Its signature brand SPAM is made using fresh pork and is cured naturally with sea salt, sugar, red pepper, black pepper, and pink peppercorns. Other brands include Hi-Protein Lo Mein, Jumbo Hot Dogs, and Country Ribs. All products are cooked under strict guidelines to ensure uniformity and quality.
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