Tasty Tidbits About Spam

In a recent entry, I poked fun at a 1958 "Chinese" recipe printed by Good Housekeeping whose main ingredient was "luncheon meat." Sounds sketchy, right? How many Chinese restaurants have you known that featured fresh deli products straight from the wok?

Then a long-time floss reader, Brian, wrote in from Barcelona. "Luncheon ham (also known as Spam) is actually wildly popular with Asian people," he testified. "My Japanese grandmothers would go crazy for Good Housekeeping may have been more authentic than they knew."

We quickly stuck up a trans-Atlantic correspondence about our shared love of Spam (and all the generic copycats it inspired)—and this story was born.

"¢ The epicenter of the Spam universe is Austin, Minnesota, home of a spam factory and a remarkable museum dedicated to the town's most famous product. Spam has such a worldwide following that Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia—to whom Rastafarians would dedicate many a song—once toured the plant.

"¢ Hormel invented Spam in 1937 and still makes it today. At first, the product had a less-than-charismatic name: "Hormel Spiced Ham."

"¢ If you think there's just one flavor of Spam, you're missing out on a world of flavor. There is also hickory-smoked Spam, hot and spicy Spam, garlic Spam, and—for the dieting Spam-lovers among us —"light" Spam. There's even a collector's edition Spam Golden Honey Grail.

"¢ Hormel sponsors an annual recipe contest called the "Great American Spam Championship," with cooks developing new recipes for this product. Some of the 2006 winners state by state: philly cheesesteak spamwich with garlic mayo (California), a-spam-agus risotto (Alabama), and a "romantic country salad for two" with pecan-crusted spam and sweet-and-sour dressing (Tennessee). Extra points, it seems, are given for creative puns.

play-it-again-spam.jpg"¢ Speaking of puns, author Tamar Myers has developed a series of punny murder-mysteries that feature recipes (The Crepes of Wrath, Between a Wok and a Hard Place, The Hand that Rocks the Ladle). The 2005 installment in her series: Play It Again, Spam.

"¢ In South Korea, Spam is considered an appropriate gift for a guest to give a host or vice versa—which beats the hell out of trying to choose a bottle of wine, doesn't it? In fact, Costco carries a Spam gift pack that will make a perfect holiday gift.

"¢ Hawaii consumes about 7 million cans of Spam per year, which comes out to 5 or 6 cans for every man, woman and child. That's a lot of sodium and gelatinous fat, which in turn is thought to contribute to Hawaii's obesity problem. One very popular snack item is the Spam musubi, as shown on the front of this collector's Spam can...


...[photo courtesy of pomai_05]. It's a traditional Japanese rice ball with a slice of Spam on top, wrapped in a belt of seaweed to keep that sodium-laden delicacy safely attached "“ a SEAtbelt, if you will.

mr-spam.jpg"¢ Since 1997, Hormel has sponsored the Waikiki Spam Jam, where it crowns a Mr. or Miss Spam! The 2006 Mr. Spam, a Mr. Wade Balidoy, won a PlayStation and a year's supply of a certain canned meat product.

"¢ Spam is so popular in some communities that it's infiltrated big chain restaurants. The McDonald's breakfast platter in Hawaii includes Spam. In San Francisco's Japan Town, Denny's serves a breakfast combo with Spam, two eggs, steamed rice, and kimchee. You can also substitute Vienna sausages for the Spam "“ or probably negotiate with the waitress to have both.

Stradivarius Violins Get Their Distinctive Sound By Mimicking the Human Voice

Italian violinist Francesco Geminiani once wrote that a violin's tone should "rival the most perfect human voice." Nearly three centuries later, scientists have confirmed that some of the world's oldest violins do in fact mimic aspects of the human singing voice, a finding which scientists believe proves "the characteristic brilliance of Stradivari violins."

Using speech analysis software, scientists in Taiwan compared the sound produced by 15 antique instruments with recordings of 16 male and female vocalists singing English vowel sounds, The Guardian reports. They discovered that violins made by Andrea Amati and Antonio Stradivari, the pioneers of the instrument, produce similar "formant features" as the singers. The resonance frequencies were similar between Amati violins and bass and baritone singers, while the higher-frequency tones produced by Stradivari instruments were comparable to tenors and contraltos.

Andrea Amati, born in 1505, was the first known violin maker. His design was improved over 100 years later by Antonio Stradivari, whose instruments now sell for several million dollars. "Some Stradivari violins clearly possess female singing qualities, which may contribute to their perceived sweetness and brilliance," Hwan-Ching Tai, an author of the study, told The Guardian.

Their findings were published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. A 2013 study by Dr. Joseph Nagyvary, a professor emeritus at Texas A&M University, also pointed to a link between the sounds produced by 250-year-old violins and those of a female soprano singer.

According to Vox, a blind test revealed that professional violinists couldn't reliably tell the difference between old violins like "Strads" and modern ones, with most even expressing a preference for the newer instruments. However, the value of these antique instruments can be chalked up to their rarity and history, and many violinists still swear by their exceptional quality.

[h/t The Guardian]

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