STEM Tuesday: The Stuff of SPAM

Loved-One calls SPAM “mystery meat.”

“It’s not a mystery,” I tell him.  “It’s pretty much just pork.  It’s probably simpler than most of the food you eat.”


Hormel offers 18 different varieties of SPAM:

SPAM is incredibly popular in Hawaii.

Maybe it’s because of the indefinite shelf-life (although Hormel says the flavor may start to change after the third year.) Maybe it’s because it takes up so little space in the pantry and requires no refrigeration until opened.  Maybe it’s because one little can contains six servings, which makes it about 50¢ a serving.  Maybe it’s because it’s pretty much chemical-free.  Yes, that’s right.  It’s not all that bad for you, either.

A serving of SPAM classic is 180 calories, 16 g of fat and 7 g of protein.

  • Compare that to a Kind Bar, touted as a high protein healthy snack alternative: 200 calories, 15 g of fat, 6 g of protein;
  • Compare that to a KFC chicken breast: 320 calories, 14 g of fat, 37 g of protein. (Okay, chicken wins on protein content.)

SPAM is mostly meat.  Pork, ham, and bacon, vacuum sealed while still raw and cooked for three hours.  Modified potato starch binds with the water and holds everything together in that unique little loaf.  A little salt and sugar brings out the flavor.  So what about the Sodium Nitrate?  What that in there for?sodium nitrite - 1

According to Wired Magazine:




Meat processors love NaNO2 because it inhibits the bug that causes botulism, adds flavor, and turns cured meat a “healthy” pink hue. The color magic happens when nitrites convert to nitric oxide (NO), which binds to the iron in muscle myoglobin to form a stable pigment when heated.

Okay, Sodium Nitrate is kinda bad for you. It’s a known carcinogen. At the same time, it’s in hotdogs, bologna, and other sandwich meats. So, I’m not promoting a steady diet of SPAM. Aside from the Sodium Nitrate, that would be pretty darned tedious.

In case you’re wondering why the different pork distinctions:

  • “Pork” is meat from hogs
  • “Ham” is hind leg meat that’ been cured
  • “Bacon” is “cured belly of a swine carcass” according to USDA (mmmm…. yummy.)

By the way, the KFC chicken breast, by comparison, is loaded with chemicals and additives: Salt, Sodium Phosphate and Monosodium Glutamate. Breaded With: Wheat Flour, Salt, Tricalcium Phosphate, Whey, Nonfat Milk, Egg Whites, Corn Starch, Potato Starch, Maltodextrin, Triglycerides, Natural Flavoring (Milk), Gelatin (From Chicken), Colonel’s Secret Original Recipe Seasoning.)

[tweetthis]So have yourself a little SPAMish Rice. [/tweetthis]

It’s not as bad as you’ve been led to believe.


I love Wired Magazine. The column “What is XXX Really Made Of” tickled me in May 2012 when they featured SPAM. I probably cut it out and sent it to my adventure-eating grandson.  If you like Science, Technology, Engineering, or Math, you’ll like Wired. I’d get it for the quirky decision trees alone.  But, that’s a subject for another Tuesday.