(NEXSTAR) — Hawaii loves Spam, and Spam loves Hawaii. It’s one of those undeniable pairings we’ve come to enjoy. That was especially apparent last week, when Hormel, the maker of Spam, sent five truckloads of Spam products — over 264,000 cans worth — and its non-profit arm, Convoy of Hope, to support recovery efforts after the devastating fires that charred Maui.
Hormel is also selling a shirt, which reads “Spam Loves Maui,” online, with 100% of proceeds going to the Aloha United Way’s Maui Fire Relief Fund. The bond between Spam and Hawaii “spans decades,” Hormel said in a recent press release. It all started during another challenging time: the 1930s.
Hormel Foods introduced the blue-canned luncheon meat in 1937. Within four years, more than 100 million pounds of Spam — which is pork with ham, salt, water, potato starch, sugar, and sodium nitrite — was being sent to feed Allied troops during World War II. Since it was a convenient and affordable product, with an extended shelf life, it was well received.
“By the end of the war, Spam products were adopted into local culture, with Fried SPAM Classic and rice becoming a popular meal,” Hormel Foods explains of its product’s popularity in Hawaii.
Some have pointed to Hawaii’s increased population of Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino migrant workers after the war. It became integral to portions of the state — Spam and other canned meats served as protein for residents after sanctions kept them from deep-sea fishing, food historian Rachel Laudan told Eater.
Now, despite Spam’s worldwide fame (Hormel estimates 12.8 cans of Spam products are consumed every second), it’s Hawaii that seems to adore it the most. Almost seven million cans of Spam are eaten in Hawaii every year, more than in any other state, according to Hormel.
If you’ve ever been to the Islands, you may have noticed how common Spam is at breakfast. It’s usually paired with eggs, rice, bacon, and Portuguese sausage. Even McDonald’s has leaned into the perfect pairing, serving a Spam Breakfast Platter in Hawaii only. Jack in the Box offered a similar dish in 2017.
Spam is also often featured in one of Hawaii’s favorite dishes, musubi. Made with a base of packed white rice, topped with a meat of choice (like Spam), and wrapped around the midsection with seaweed, musubi can be found at countless restaurants, grocery stores, and even some gas stations.
The canned meat is so beloved, Hawaii has an annual festival surrounding the food. Held every year in April, Spam Jam Hawaii involves restaurants serving unique Spam-centric dishes at a block party, followed by restaurants participating in a “Can To Table Restaurant Week experience.”
Just as it was during wartime, Spam’s long shelf life is still valued by Hawaiians. Kiki Aranita, a chef who spent part of her childhood growing up on the Islands, told Food & Wine that Spam and other canned foods help to serve the state’s “mild hoarding syndrome.”
Whenever a national, natural, or “any kind of disaster,” strikes, Aranita says, “It sends people to the store to buy toilet paper and Spam. Those are our two staples in life.”
Spam has also frequently returned the love. In addition to pairing with certain chains, the brand has released special flavors just for Hawaiians, according to Mashed. And while it might be Hawaii’s shining star, it isn’t a Hawaiian product at all — Hormel and the Spam Museum are both based nearly 4,000 miles away in Austin, Minnesota.
Spam is also highly regarded in Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Guam, and the United Kingdom.