What is peperoni made of? And everything you would ever want to know about making peperoni!
Pepperoni is a much-loved ingredient by pizza enthusiasts around the world. This spicy, tangy sausage is the perfect complement to pizza both in flavor and in aesthetics. It is impossible to imagine American pizza without it.
What is pepperoni made of? For a food that is so popular, most people don’t know anything about it. Is it some crazy invention from a food lab, or is it made with real meat? What makes it different from other cured meats? It is a fascinating food and can teach us a lot about cooking, science, and nutrition.
What Is Pepperoni Made Of? The Short Answer
Pepperoni has five main ingredients: meat, spices, salt, acids, and nitrates. The meat is all-pork, or a mixture of pork and beef. The spice mix will vary between manufacturers but is very heavy in paprika, giving pepperoni its peppery flavor.
Traditionally, the acid would come primarily from the curing process (more on that later). Modern industrial kitchens often add other sources of acid like vinegar. The acid and salt add to the flavor and work with the nitrates to help preserve the meat.
The cuts of pork used in pepperoni are mainly shoulder and belly, which are high in fat. Contrary to popular myths about processed foods, pepperoni is not made with low-quality leftover meat or organ meats. High-quality pepperoni should also not contain any fillers.
Pepperoni casings are like other sausage casings. “Natural” sausage casings use the intestines of animals to encase the meat. Collagen casings are more popular now, using proteins extracted from animal hides to produce a durable and edible casing.
A Very Brief History of Pepperoni
Sausages have been around for a very long time. Traditionally, sausages were a means of using undesirable meats in a manner that preserved them for longer. Some records refer to sausage dating back to ancient Mesopotamia. Sausages were eaten across Europe at least as far back as the middle-ages.
Pepperoni is related to salami. Salami is an Italian word, but meat also has a long history in Hungary, France, and Spain. Salamis are not cooked but cured, which is responsible for their tangy flavor. Salami also tends to be low moisture and have a spicier flavor than other sausages like Bratwurst, summer sausage, or kielbasa.
The first record of pepperoni goes back to the early 20th century and is actually from America. The name is derived from the Italian word “peperone” which means pepper. While there is no way to know precisely when the term was first used, Italian immigrants were likely the first to make pepperoni. Pepperoni is therefore considered an “Italian-American” food.
What’s the difference between pepperoni and salami? Pepperoni is actually a type of salami. Pepperoni has a very low moisture content and is made with a lot of paprika. That is why pepperoni tends to have a flavor that is more peppery than spicy. Very commonly used in Stromboli.
How Do You Make Pepperoni?
Before explaining how to make pepperoni, note that the process will vary. The timelines and equipment involved will differ between industrial facilities and butcher shops. Cheap pepperoni will use shortcuts, such as using liquid smoking rather than real smoke.
First, you select your meat. Pepperoni is either all-pork or is a mix of pork and beef. The meat should be about half fat. A meat grinder is used to break the meat into evenly sized pieces, which are mixed together. Some pepperoni has large white deposits of fat that can be clearly seen. This is a result of using a larger grind, meaning the individual chunks of meat are bigger. This is mainly an aesthetic feature and does not strongly impact taste or texture.
Once the meat is ground, it is mixed with spices and preservatives. As mentioned above, pepperoni tends to be heavy on paprika. Other common seasonings include black pepper, mustard seed, garlic powder, fennel, cayenne pepper, and salt. For preservatives, manufacturers use a combination of vinegar, nitrates, and lactic acid. Lactic acid bacteria starter culture will also be added at this point, which includes a bit of sugar.
After the meat and the additives are well-mixed, the meat is packing into a casing. This is a strange-looking process, where the meat is basically injected into a casing. Pepperoni made in industrial facilities will tend to use more robust casings because it allows the machines to operate at a higher speed.
Next comes the curing process. The pepperoni is placed in a room that is low-moisture and about 104 F (40 C). This dries out the meat, causing the flavor to intensify. This temperature is also perfect for activating the lactic acid bacteria while killing disease-causing bacteria. The bacteria will begin to grow, digesting any sugar in the pepperoni, turning it into acid that gives the meat its tangy flavor.
Curing is followed by smoking, which increases the temperature to kill the lactic acid bacteria. The smoke also imparts a rich flavor to the pepperoni, adding to the flavor profile. The temperature in this step only gets to about 212F (100 C), so some durable microbes could still survive. Most brands of pepperoni contain nitrates to avoid this issue, particularly to stop botulism.
From here, the pepperoni is fit to be packed up and ready to be eaten by pizza lovers from around the world.
I’m sorry to report that salami is not a diet-friendly food. By weight, it is 46.2% fat, according to MyFoodData. Just one 3 oz (85 g) serving contains 50% of your daily recommended fat intake! The salt content is even worse, with one serving having 58% of your daily recommended sodium intake.
Pepperoni also doesn’t offer much in terms of nutrients. Pepperoni is 19.2% protein, meaning a 3 oz (85 g) serving provides 33% of your daily recommended value. The vitamin and mineral content is also relatively low.
Data source: MyFoodData
Each brand of pepperoni will have a unique nutritional file. It is possible to find low-fat or low salt varieties if you are on a strict diet. Luckily, since pepperoni is usually eaten only in small portions, its nutrition issues are not a huge concern.
How to Find Great Pepperoni
Pepperoni is an example of a food where you often get what you pay for. High-quality meat, real smoke, and sufficient amounts of spice all cost money. Lower quality pepperoni may also have fillers, which dilute the flavor of the meat and seasoning.
There is a wide range of flavors in high-quality pepperoni. Different brands will have a unique balance of spicy, smoky, salty, tangy, and meaty flavors. To find the perfect pepperoni for you, you are going to need to just try them out!
If you are looking for an excellent pepperoni for pizza, pick one with a strong flavor when eaten by itself. Pizza has a ton of cheese, tomato sauce, and bread, which offer powerful flavors. Cheap pepperoni is typically very mild, which means the flavor is lost when it is put on pizza. Think back to cheap pepperoni pizza you have had in the past – could you actually taste the pepperoni? Probably not.
Putting a Pep in Your Step
Modern pepperoni is an amazing mix of traditional Italian cuisine and high-tech food science. A surprising amount of ingenuity goes into just this one ingredient. Hopefully, that has given you a new appreciation for the humble pepperoni pizza. Or, at least given you something to talk about when you are out having your next slice.