Let’s start with some of Spam’s backstory, since the canned meat dates back a few decades.
As both a Depression-era meal and a delicacy, Hormel’s iconic Spam has a duality that’s important to understand.
Spam gained popularity toward the end of the Great Depression in the 1930s, when it was marketed as a cheap alternative to fresh meat. It was also a smart way for meat-production companies, like Hormel, to use up its less profitable cuts of pork.
With some marketing, people liked the canned meat well enough — and during World War II, Spam became a filling, sustainable, and cheap provision that America sent to troops in the Pacific.
Luckily for all of us, Spam later became a respected, beloved staple in Hawaii. Two of the main reasons it became so popular is that transporting fresh food to an island was tricky back then and that Spam pairs really well with rice, a staple of the Hawaiian diet, which is heavily influenced by Asian cultures.
From there, it has slowly gained popularity throughout the US, too, and it can now be found in grocery stores around the globe.
Before embarking on my taste test, I whipped up a batch of egg fried rice.
Spam isn’t really meant to be eaten plain, so I followed a recipe for egg fried rice (boil the rice, then fry it up with a little garlic while stirring in two eggs) from a buddy and fellow Spam lover. It provided an excellent control side dish for my test.
Each can of Spam costs about $3 on the brand’s website. I decided to break up my thoughts on each flavor into two parts: first impressions and overall review.
Spam is often maligned because of the way it looks, and I wanted to see whether the visuals had any impact on my taste-based review.
Here’s my ranking of all of the Spam flavors, from worst to best:
At first glance, Spam with cheese wasn’t exactly appealing, but I was optimistic.
First impression: I am actually afraid of this one. I guess this is kind of like the inside of a ham-and-cheese sandwich, but there’s a weird blob on the side of the Spam block — it’s either fat or cheese — that I just don’t want to interact with.
It feels like I’m opening Pandora’s box, knowing full well that something terrible is going to come out of it. That said, I’m sure it’s going to be my favorite somehow. After all, you can’t go wrong with ham and cheese … right?
It wasn’t exactly terrible, but the cheese had a plastic flavor I couldn’t ignore.
Review: This had an aftertaste that I can only describe as processed. Still, it wasn’t as terrible as I expected it to be based on how it looked.
The saving grace was that I didn’t get very much of the plastic-tasting cheese in my slice, so I was able to mask the flavor with rice. I think it’s fine to eat a little bit of this at a time, but I wouldn’t recommend it be a key component of a meal.
Spam really got the smoky flavor in the can, but it was not very good.
Review: This tasted like whatever the Spam-factory version of liquid smoke is, and it was overpowering. The smoky taste didn’t enhance anything, and it made me want to drink some water.
That said, I’ve spent my whole life watching professional grillers on the Food Network try to tell me how to “seal in the smoky flavor,” and this can of Spam delivered in that respect.
I was extremely dubious about this flavor, because Spam is just not meant to be “lite.”
First impression: Can Spam really be “lite”? It’s not exactly designed to be a low-fat, low-calorie, low-sodium dish. I feel like this version risks losing all the things that make Spam flavorful in the first place.
Regardless of the taste, I fundamentally hate this concept.
This mostly tasted like original Spam, but that angered instead of impressed me.
Review: The difference in taste was negligible. I don’t know how they made this taste like the original, and I don’t particularly like that they did.
Here’s the thing: If you’re going to eat Spam, go all in and eat Spam. If you want to be healthier, try eating something that’s not processed, canned meat.
As a Spam lover, I cannot, in good conscience, rank this one highly.
If this were an old-timey cartoon, I’d be sneezing as soon as I opened the Spam with black pepper.
First impression: I feel like this flavor is going to be overwhelming, which makes me sad, because I love pepper.
But salt and pepper is a classic, perfect combination, and there’s a lot of salt in Spam. Maybe the two will equal out and achieve perfect balance together.
The flavor of the pepper was overwhelming.
Review: If I could have cut the amount of pepper in half, this flavor would have been awesome. In reality, the pepper overpowered my taste buds the way that being on the phone, typing on the computer, and watching TV all while listening to music overwhelms the senses.
The hot-and-spicy Spam kind of smelled like plastic.
First impression: If somebody wants to explain the difference between “hot” and “spicy” to me, I’d really appreciate it. I think “spicy” translates to seasoning and “hot” translates to “please extinguish my mouth.”
This had a slightly more plastic smell than the other flavors, and I’d perhaps be more trusting if it were a collaboration with Tabasco or a different, recognizable brand of hot sauce.
This flavor was legitimately hot, and it might be good in a larger dish.
Review: This was far and away the hottest flavor. Frankly, it tasted as if the entire chunk of Spam had been soaked in hot sauce.
This flavor may not have a place in a “Hot Ones” compilation video, but it’s closer than you’d think. I genuinely didn’t expect to need a drink of water after just a few bites.
I really couldn’t see myself sitting down for a meal of only hot-and-spicy Spam, because it’s a little one-note. Still, you might consider using it as an ingredient in a larger dish — perchance some sort of Midwestern casserole.
I love bacon, but I could see Spam with real Hormel bacon being too much of a good thing.
First impression: I’m pretty excited about this one, but I think it has the potential to be too much of a good thing. It’s essentially pork with more pork, and I could see that getting old.
Overall, I don’t think bacon will elevate the flavor of the Spam all that much. I’m predicting that this is going to be middle-of-the-road.
I would definitely eat this with some eggs.
Review: As expected, this flavor tasted like bacon. It was kind of hard to rank this one because I could see it moving up in the polls if it were served with eggs and a little cheese.
Overall, if I wanted bacon and got Spam I’d be disappointed, and if I wanted Spam and got bacon I’d also be kind of bummed. This doesn’t seem like a great compromise.
I just don’t know how often I’d be in the mood for this specific flavor.
Turkey isn’t as good as ham, but I expected oven-roasted-turkey Spam to be a solid flavor.
First impression: I don’t like turkey as much as ham — you’ve really got to dress it up to make it taste nice — but it’s pretty good, so I’m willing to believe in this flavor.
It smells about the same as original Spam but has more juices, which I don’t love.
It wasn’t terrible, but I did feel like I was missing out.
Review: It was not my favorite, but was not terrible either. This flavor felt like it was missing a pinch of salt, which is surprising, considering Spam is quite salty.
The turkey flavor, which Hormel nailed, was just a little bland and uninteresting. Used correctly in a sandwich, or even just paired with mustard, this could be really good.
Jalapeno Spam sounded pretty good, but seeing a pepper in it was disconcerting.
First impression: This should be pretty good, but something is giving me pause. After a moment, I realize that jalapeno is the only type of produce in this whole Spam collection.
Seeing something green among all the pink put me a little on edge. Reservations aside, it smells OK, and I think the two flavors will go well together.
Unsurprisingly, this tasted like Spam and jalapeno.
Review: It really tasted like Hormel added jalapenos to Spam, which is exactly what was promised on the label.
If you like the sound of that, you’ll probably like this. If not, then get something else. I’m sorry there’s no better description.
Some of the other spice combinations had better flavor, but this was solid. What really pulls this one down in my rankings is that I’d rather add my own jalapenos to a dish.
Condiments are personal, and I don’t think Hormel has my best interests at heart in that department.
I love chorizo, so I couldn’t wait to try Spam with chorizo seasoning.
First impression: When I surveyed the cans as a group, I had the highest hopes for this one. Chorizo seasoning can’t be that hard to replicate, and it should, ideally, make anything taste better.
These high hopes diminished slightly after actually looking at the Spam out of its can. Still, I expect it to be a more flavorful version of the original, and it smells that way.
It didn’t quite meet my lofty expectations, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
Review: This was tasty, but not exactly what I had hoped for. I never thought I’d describe chorizo seasoning as “vanilla.”
It was as if somebody accidentally knocked a dash of chili powder into a vat of Spam and called it chorizo. I also didn’t get that truly salty taste of the original Spam that some people love and others can’t tolerate.
However, it was good overall. It paired well with the rice and added a little kick that left my tongue (slightly) tingly.
The combination was good, but not quite what I wanted it to be.
Review: I’m a little disappointed that the flavors didn’t blend together that well, but I still enjoyed this variety. Maybe I hyped it up too much?
Sweet and salty is a great combination, but this tasted more like Spam in teriyaki sauce rather than a teriyaki-flavored Spam.
There’s something to be said for the fact that less sodium means I can feel better about eating more Spam.
Review: The flavor of this lower-sodium Spam was slightly milder than the original but still delicious.
This feels slightly more forgivable than the lite Spam, because having less sodium really makes me feel like I could consume more of the meat in one sitting without being concerned about my health.
Still, there’s something that doesn’t feel right about this Spam. Eating this for the reduced sodium feels like watching an anger-management coach tell their clients to shout instead of yell.
The smell of the garlic Spam was unsettling.
First impression: I honestly don’t want to try this after smelling it. There’s no good description I can give without grossing people out to the point of not wanting to read.
Instead, I’ll just say it smells as if my dad’s garlic shrimp and pasta had gotten left in the back of the refrigerator for a few weeks. (There, I did it.)
Before opening this, I had high hopes, as a proud Italian garlic lover. Now, after smelling it, I am afraid to try this one.
Smells can be quite deceiving — I liked this one a lot.
Review: This was the biggest surprise in the collection. Dare I call it one of my favorite flavors? The garlic in the Spam tasted perfectly sautéed and vaguely reminded me of a tasty Italian pasta dish.
I would totally eat it again, but only if I didn’t have to smell it right out of the can and if somebody else cooked it for me.
The Spam with Portuguese sausage seasoning smelled like my favorite soup, which is a good sign.
First impression: I’m not sure what this should taste like, but it smells like Italian wedding soup, which is lovely.
It’s kind of concerning that this will be my first experience with Portuguese sausage. It makes me wonder: Do the Portuguese feel about this flavored Spam the way true Italians feel about Olive Garden?
Can a Spam flavor be described as robust? If so, that’s what this one is.
Review: This had a nice amount of spice and gave me the urge to eat it with pineapple to create a nice balance of sweet and spicy.
I also learned that Portuguese sausage is traditionally seasoned with garlic and paprika. so I looked for those flavors in this Spam. I didn’t taste the garlic, but I did taste the paprika.
This was better than the chorizo flavor (the closest comparison I could think of) because the flavor was more robust. It tasted like a real sausage.
I still love the classic Spam, even after trying all its brother and sister flavors.
Review: I love everything about Spam, from the slightly unsettling aroma that it has uncooked to the unique (take that however you will) flavor.
It tastes like the crispiest part of bacon when cooked right, but with more salt, somehow.
Spam with tocino seasoning seems like it will taste like sweet bacon, so it should be good.
First impression: I learned that “tocino” translates to “bacon” in Spanish and that tocino is a sweet, quintessential Filipino breakfast meat.
I’m curious to see whether this tastes sweeter than the Spam with Hormel bacon.
Other than that, my first impression is the same as it was for the bacon flavor: I’m pretty excited about this one, but I think it has the potential to be too much of a good thing.