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Asia Minute: South Korea is Spam Central — and Not the Computer Kind

Mike Mozart

A local food favorite in Hawai’i is making headlines in Asia this week. Its local roots go back to the days of World War II — but the recipe has been adjusted to taste in at least one location in East Asia.

South Koreans have spent more than 3.5 billion dollars on Spam since a localized version of the canned meat product was introduced to the country 32 years ago.

That word came Wednesday morning in Seoul – from the local manufacturer.

It’s probably no surprise that the country was introduced to Spam by way of the U.S. military during the Korean War.

But domestic production started in 1987 — with a slightly different recipe that’s less salty than the U.S. version. A spokesman for the local manufacturer calls it “a light side dish that goes well with rice and kimchi.”

Spam’s enthusiastic reception in Hawai’i is pretty well-known. In fact, on Hormel’s company website about Spam, one of the “frequently asked questions” is “Why are Spam products so popular in Hawai’i?”

As for South Korea, Spam consumption continues to set records — selling more than 363 million dollars of it last year. That means more than seven dollars a year spent on Spam for every man, woman and child in South Korea.

One big draw is holiday time — including the Lunar New Year.

The local manufacturer says 60-percent of its sales come from Spam holiday gift sets — going for the equivalent of about 25 to 35 dollars apiece.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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