This was no ordinary museum, but a big bite of food history. We walked in the door and a plastic lea with an attached foil vacuum packed sample was put around our necks as we were greeted to the SPAM MUSEUM in Austin, Minnesota. A few minutes later we were served delicate tooth-picked cubes of pepper- flavoured Spam, very tasty and not my childhood memory of Spam.
I remember camping meals made with slices of Spam fried up with chopped canned potatoes. We loved it then, but really, do people continue to eat SPAM these days?
Yes, was the answer and I was in for a big lesson in SPAM’s past, present and future. We learned about the origins of the canned wonder, the history, the wartime relevance and how it has grown in use through time. It has become a bit of an international cult food and exhibits showed it’s culinary use in many countries.
The museum in 2016 and averages 330,000 visitors a year . There is a themed gift shop in the museum, but surprisingly, no eatery. We learned on our tour that when the museum was built, a decision was made not to serve food made with SPAM so that the diners and restaurants in town would also benefit from visitors to the museum. Many of the restaurants serve special dishes made with SPAM on their menu.
Hormel Food Corporation has produced the canned meat throughout the years and now sells a whopping 90 million cans a year. I looked and sure enough, it is sitting pretty on grocery store shelves almost everywhere.
Spam during the War
During WW11, 133 million cans of SPAM were sent to Russia and Great Britain to feed the troops. Apparently Great Britain paid their bill, but Russia never did pay theirs in full. Canned meat was a revolutionary way to get protein that could be cooked in many ways in difficult places, during the war.
SPAM was credited by noteworthy politicians for helping feed the troops. They went so far as to say that it was one factor that contributed to their success in winning the war.
How is SPAM made?
I was surprised to learn the ingredients in a can of SPAM. Here are the contents:
- Potato Starch
- Pork -shoulder and thigh
- Sodium nitrate (keeps it pink and prevents spoilage)
All ingredients are mixed together and cooked in the can.
The museum displays include computers with recipes that could be chosen and send to the visitor, a military display, some history memorabilia, a mock factory setting where the visitor can experience making SPAM, a display of how various custom made flavours of SPAM are shipped to other countries and displays of international dishes that are made using SPAM. SPAM sushi took my interest, and I was sure to send myself several unusual recipes from the computers. There are games, a trivia centre and a special children’s area. A SPAM train circles above the museum on a track and it takes 18 minutes to travel from beginning to end.
In the gift shop are SPAM related items one could never dream of such as 15 flavors of SPAM and gift packs for sale, as well as T-shirts, hats, even instruments made of the cans.
I left the museum with a smile on my face and yes, two cans of SPAM under my arm.
One very popular SPAM recipe comes from Hawaii and is a popular snack and lunch item.
SPAM Musubi – Popular in Hawaii
Grill a slice of SPAM and brush with a mixture of equal parts soya sauce, mirin sauce and sugar. Take a SPAM can, line with plastic wrap and press rice into the bottom of the can, drop a piece of SPAM into the can. Turn upside down and wrap in a strip of Nori (dried seaweed). This SPAM treat can be found at corner stores all over Hawaii.
Come on, give it a try!