A weekly look at the story behind some of your favorite foods: Spam

Spam has a bit of an image problem. I love the “Monty Python” skit, but I’ve never touched the food. After all, it’s disgusting, packed with salt, and you can’t trust all those chemicals in it. Besides, you can’t even be sure what’s in the stuff!

But the Hormel product has its admirers. Lots of people think it’s delicious. It’s also widely considered an affordable way to get protein in your diet.

So what is the truth about Spam?

*Spam is “mystery meat”: FALSE*

Every can of Spam has a list of ingredients on the front. It reads: “Pork with ham, salt, water, modified potato starch, sugar, sodium nitrate.” According to Anna Dilger, assistant professor in Animal Sciences, there’s no reason to not take Hormel’s word for it.

So although you know pig is the only animal you’ll be eating if you have Spam, there’s doubt about what part of the pig you might be snacking on. Ham only comes from the pig’s thigh or rear end, but pork can come from any part of the pig’s body.

“People are afraid that it’s random pork, but it’s only pork shoulder,” Dilger said.

All in all, there’s no need to worry that you’re eating pig intestines.

*Spam is full of dangerous chemicals: FALSE*

JayMarie Capalac, sophomore in LAS, grew up eating Spam. But when she got older, her mom started reading about what was in Spam, and her house became Spam-free.

“I only eat Spam when I’m at school now,” said Capalac. “My mom started reading articles about Spam. She was really concerned about all the preservatives, of eating (them) over and over again.”

The preservative used in Spam is called sodium nitrite. Some people have theorized that sodium nitrite reacts with your body to create carcinogens, or cancer-causing agents.

“I don’t think there’s any merit to that theory,” Dilger said.

Dilger explained there is some evidence that the chemical reacts with amino acids to create nitrosamine, which is a carcinogen. However, you would have to eat a very large amount of Spam to put yourself at risk.

“We’re talking twenty pounds,” Dilger said. “Eating a Spam sandwich won’t give you cancer.”

The term “modified potato starch” also sends up red flags for people worried about processed food. But Dilger said this only meant that the potatoes were dried out and mashed into a fine powder.

*Spam is unhealthy: TRUE*

Just because Spam will not give you cancer does not mean that it’s good for you. According to the nutrition facts on the back of the can, a suggested serving size of Spam contains 23% of the recommended daily fat intake. It also has 13% of daily cholesterol and 32% of the recommended sodium intake.

A high-fat diet can lead to a huge range of health issues, including diabetes and heart issues, Dilger said.

She also said that sodium and cholesterol can lead to hypertension later in life, which puts you at a high risk for stroke, heart disease and kidney failure.

Along with all of those health risks, Spam is not even a very good source of protein; one serving only provides seven grams.

*Spam is cheap: TRUE*

One thing that Spam lovers and haters all seem to agree on is that Spam is a really cheap source of protein. This one is actually true. If you like the taste and aren’t concerned about the health risks, Spam is pretty cost-efficient.

Compared to other prepackaged lunch meat, Spam is the cheapest. At Walgreens, a 12-zounce can of Spam costs $3.79. That’s $.31 an ounce. Compare that to Oscar Mayer’s prepackaged ham, which costs $2.99 for an 8-ounce package, or $.37 per ounce.

If you’re the type of person who lets meat go bad because you don’t get around to cooking it, Spam is also a good money saver. The preservatives give it a shelf life of almost two years.

“The can is a great way to preserve the meat,” Dilger said.

*Spam is gross: PROBABLY FALSE*

There is no official way to measure taste, but I decided to try Spam for the first time for this story — and I was surprised by what I found.

“It’s delicious if you can just get past the idea that it’s disgusting,” Capalac said.

She wasn’t lying.

I tried it both straight out of the can and fried. Straight from the can, Spam isn’t outstanding, but fried Spam is fantastic. It tastes a lot like bacon actually, but it has a squishy texture instead of a crispy one. Though frying Spam obviously doesn’t do anything to alleviate the health issues, it sure is tasty.

So Spam tastes pretty good, it’s cheap and it’s not loaded with chemicals like a lot of people think. Just remember all the health risks if you decide to eat it regularly.

_Kevin is a senior in LAS._