Potted meat has a poor reputation, and it’s pretty easy to see why. It’s basically highly processed, cheap meat, with tons of preservatives, stuffed into a can. One common ingredient in potted meat is “mechanically separated chicken.” In case you were curious, the things being separated here are bone and tissue, and this is done by pushing pulverized bone and tissue through a sieve. The result resembles a paste. Potted meat also tends to have an extremely high salt content, the better to help preserve it. Otherwise, its nutritional value is fairly low.
On the plus side, all the preservatives mean that potted meat does stay good for a long time. Its long shelf life and portability make it a good choice for emergency situations, camping, and soldiers’ rations. Plus, there’s no denying that it’s very affordable for those on a budget.
A former coworker of mine (Hi Scott) used to love potted meat, specifically Spam. He would heat it up for lunch by leaving it on the windshield of our work van during sunny days. He further delighted in grossing folks out by making a point of eating the clear gel that coated the outside of the Spam itself.
Spam is, of course, the best known of all the potted meats. It was developed in 1937, and became especially popular as a result of being part of soldiers’ rations, and later post World War 2 food allotments. There was even a Spam-themed radio program in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. And famous comedy troupe Monty Python featured this product as the focus of one of their sketches, in a restaurant that included Spam in every meal offering.
To round out my potted meat experience, I decided to try four different kinds—Spam Classic, Spam with bacon, Treet Original, and generic potted meat. As usual, I’ll go from worst to first.
Generic potted meat’s ingredients include mechanically separated chicken, partially defatted pork fatty tissue, salt, garlic powder, and natural flavors. Yum! Its appearance was, well, a pinkish goo. And it went downhill from there. The taste was nasty, like eating a mouthful of salt. What little meat flavor I could detect underneath all the salt was unpleasant. Even though the tin was tiny, I only could choke down a mouthful or two.
Treet is the Spam knockoff from Armour. Aside from mechanically separated chicken and pork, seasoning, and salt, it also has corn syrup, soy, and wheat. Its texture was firmer than the generic potted meat, and its color was a reddish pink. Tastewise it was certainly better than the generic potted meat, but it still wasn’t very good. I found it to be rather slimy. I didn’t finish the container.
Unlike the previous two, Spam Classic’s ingredients don’t sound so gross. Pork shoulder with ham, salt, water, modified potato starch, sugar, sodium nitrate. As I mentioned, this is considered to be the Dom Perignon of potted meats, if you will. It’s brought to us by Hormel. Anyway, it looked like generic potted meat, its texture was like Treet’s, but its taste was like neither. While it was very salty, it did have a nice flavor—pork/ham-ish, not shockingly. I discovered that the saltiness was cut nicely when I put it on Wheat Thins. I finished the tin without problem, and I would consider buying it again, on occasion. I hear it’s good with scrambled eggs, so the next time I cook (which may be years or even decades from now) maybe I’ll give that a shot.
It’s a cliché (at least among omnivores) that bacon makes everything taste better. It’s true with Spam. While I liked the regular, the variety with bacon was markedly improved—it had a nice smoky flavor. Again, I finished it with no problem, and will probably purchase it again.
American-made Spam is consumed around the world, but it’s most popular on
Asia, and the U.K. The people of Guam, Saipan, the Marianas, and
especially big fans. In Hawaii it’s sometimes
found on McDonald’s menus, even. In the U.K. it’s often
battered and fried.
(Perhaps a few readers are wondering if I did eat the repulsive-sounding gel that lines the Spam like my friend Scott did. Well, I didn’t have the chance. Maybe they changed the formula, or something, but my Spams didn’t have it. But, for the record, I probably would have sampled it, just to be a completist.)
So, to sum up, some types of potted meat are indeed revolting (or at least unpalatable) and should only be eaten if they’re the only food available, and you’re huddling in a basement hiding from zombie hordes or Terminators. But one kind, Spam, is actually okay. Eating it every day is probably a bad idea, healthwise, but on occasion, to some palates, it makes for a decent, and inexpensive meal.