Canned ham is pork that has been cured, pressed into a can, and steam cooked. The result is a very stable, albeit somewhat bland, food product. Unlike conventional ham, the canned variety will keep in less than ideal conditions, and since it tends to be made from cheap ingredients, it is a cheap source of protein. One of the most famous forms is SPAM®, a product that is not technically ham since it integrates several different cuts of meat.
Most commonly, canned ham is mixed with other ingredients to ensure that they do not go to waste. These ingredients are also cheaper than ham, a cut of meat from the back leg of a pig that is in high demand since it is flavorful, rich, and highly versatile. To make canned ham, these ingredients are de-boned and mixed with desired spices before being pressed into the can and steam cooked. Often, gelatin is added to help retain the juices and flavor of the meat.
There are two different types of canned ham. The first is shelf stable canned ham, which is designed to keep for up to two years in optimal conditions, and sometimes even longer. Ideally, it should be stored in a cool dry place at room temperature until it is eaten. However, it has been known to withstand temperature extremes such as very humid tropical weather, which is why SPAM® became such a popular product during the Second World War, when other sources of protein were sometimes difficult to find.
The other form is refrigerated canned ham, which is meant to be kept under refrigeration until it is used. Typically, this type is less shelf stable, with a shelf life of six to nine months. Once removed from the can, excess ham should be refrigerated in a fresh container, to avoid the possibility of contamination.
Because canned ham is cooked, it is perfectly safe to eat straight out of the can. Sandwiches made with it, for example, are a regional treat in many areas of the world. The product can also be heated, leading to food offerings such as deep fried canned ham, or canned ham tossed with a stir fry. Since the product typically contains pork, it is not a kosher or halal food. In regions with large Jewish or Muslim populations, canned poultry or beef may be found instead, to fill the niche that this product would normally occupy.