Thomas Edison once famously said that none of his inventions came by accident, and that being a successful inventor boiled down to “1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” That may have been true for Edison, but local resident Art Pua’a had a very different journey. You may not recognize the name, but you undoubtedly know about Art’s happy kitchen accident. Chances are you have a pantry full of his invention. Art created the wildly popular meat product, SSHAM.
Shrimped, salted ham has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry from its humble beginnings in Art’s kitchen. Last year over 10 million cans were sold in Hawaii alone, making it the most popular processed meat product in history. It’s true that the pig meeting shrimp for spicy-salted-goodness flavor takes a while to get used to for the uninitiated, the smell in particular can be a high hurdle. One critic famously described the smell as something like, “a pig with legs made out of rotting shrimp playing in a puddle of industrial waste,” Pua denies rumors that SSHAM is made from a shrimp-pig hybrid that Vereserum of Lahaina created in some late night experiment. In fact, Art says the first batch was born from necessity, convenience, and a little luck.
“It was late December 2029 and I was sitting at home with my jaw wired shut. We had a bunch of friends and relatives over for the holidays, and they wanted to try out the new ziplines in town. Needless to say there was an accident that involved my face and the side of a building. I broke my jaw in 3 places, and was sitting at home watching everyone eat and laugh while waiting to take another sip of my liquid pain medication. Everyone went to bed, but I couldn’t sleep so I went into the kitchen, broke out the blender, and started to look for something that I could liquify. Pickings were slim, but eventually I found some shrimp cocktail, a cuban sandwich, and a few other secret ingredients. I put it all together and pushed the button. After a few minutes, things looked smooth enough for me, and I had a taste. I was amazed at how good it was. I ended up sitting on the back deck taking small sips out of the blender cup and passed out. When I woke up everyone was raving about the blender loaf I made. It was unusually hot that week, and I guess I left the blender under the glass table at just the right angle. The sun had cooked the top half, and for some reason my uncle tried some before throwing it away. If it wasn’t for uncle Andy’s penchant for eating anything, SSHAM might not exist today. The rest has been an amazing journey. I’m not saying it was always an easy one, but the public response has been great. I especially love all the different ways people are using it.”
There’s no doubt that millions of people enjoy the flavor of SSHAM, but that is just a part, the smallest part one might argue, of the products allure. One of the earliest advertising taglines, “Tell us what you do with your SSHAM” was a huge success, with multiple websites and cottage industries born from the campaign. The company now proudly claims that SSHAM is “The meat of 1,000 uses.”
Art has a team that searches for the best recipes and uses for his creation, and posts them on the company’s site. The uses cover a wide range and some are quite creative. According to the site, SSHAM makes a good fish bait if you run out and rubbed liberally on the skin makes an effective mosquito repellent. Bits of it left around the outside of your home can even deter termites according to one claim. Others say that SSHAM promotes healing and a slice can be used to treat minor cuts, scrapes, and burns. People claim that applying a paste made from the product to your feet at night helps draw out toxins. There is even a beauty spa in Maui that offers SSHAM facials.
Other uses include: Mixing with antacids to make a strong natural glue, inserting a small strip of cloth in the middle to make an emergency candle, and drying a can to use the crumbled SSHAM as a furniture polish.
Even the packaging is special. SSHAM makes its containers of a natural plastic derived from shrimp shells. “We pride ourselves on sustainability,” says Art. The special nature of the containers make it popular with hobbyists and artists alike. Local artisan Ano Lee makes bags and device protectors out of the containers at his maker commune in Lahaina. “Of course we love to eat it just like everyone else, but we also believe in using every part of the SSHAM here,” he says.
SSHAM has plenty of more traditional users as well. It’s almost impossible to not find an infused shot or tea on the islands, and it is widely used as a flavoring agent in restaurants despite it’s famously strong smell. When asked about it a local chef answered, “I’ll be honest it takes a while to get used to, but after using it for so many years now I actually like the smell. It smells like….nature.”
SSHAM’s popularity shows no signs of slowing down with Art saying that he is in the planning stages of building a new factory in Lahaina now. “The new facility is just the beginning. We’re talking with a few outlets about doing a show highlighting the different things SSHAM can do, and we plan on testing a few new flavors next year. I can’t get into specifics, but if you like fruity or spicy flavors you’ll be happy with what we have coming.”