Pepperoni is one of the most popular and well-loved cured meats and is the number one pizza topping in America.
With its spicy, salty, and slightly tangy taste, it is not surprising that people are so enamored with pepperoni. But have you ever wondered what pepperoni is really made of?
What Is Pepperoni Made Out Of?
Pepperoni is made out of a mixture of beef and pork meat, but it can also be made with just pork meat. All-beef versions exist as well as pepperoni made out of turkey, but these have to be labeled appropriately. The most popular version is the one made with a mix of beef and pork.
What Is Pepperoni?
Pepperoni is a type of salami and dry cured sausage that is bright red in color and has a spicy, salty, and tangy taste. It is typically made with a mixture of pork and beef, although it can be made with pork only or beef only.
If it is made with beef only, it has to be labeled as “beef pepperoni”. Turkey versions also exist, but like the beef version, has to be labeled accordingly.
The most popular type though, and the one well-loved by many is the one that’s a mix of beef and pork.
Origins of Pepperoni
It is easy to assume that pepperoni comes from Italy, given Italy’s rich tradition of cured meats.
However, the pepperoni we know and love today was actually thought to have been created in the 1900s, by Italian Americans. It was also during this time that pizza was starting to become popular.
Pepperoni has similarities to Italian cured sausages from the South of Italy, such as salsiccia, however pepperoni is typically less spicy and has a finer consistency than Italian sausages.
Pepperoni can be flavored with many different blends of spices, depending on the maker. But it commonly has garlic and paprika, which is also what gives it its bright red color.
Pepperoni can be used as a topping for pizza, as an addition to salad, as part of a cheese board, or added to various dishes to add flavor and texture. It is versatile and can be consumed as is or cooked further.
How Is Pepperoni Made?
Pepperoni is a dry, semi-cooked sausage that is cured and fermented before being packaged and sold. The process usually takes several days. Here we outline the basic steps in how pepperoni is produced.
1. Meat Selection
To get the right texture for the pepperoni, the mix has to have a fat content of 30-35%. This may be achieved by selecting the appropriate meat cuts, (usually pork butt) or the fat may be added separately.
2. Meat is Ground, Salt and Spices Are Added
The meat is coarsely ground before adding the salt, nitrates, and nitrites. These nitrates and nitrites are what help prevent bacteria from proliferating in the meat, and it also contributes to the color of the final product through chemical reactions with the proteins in the meat.
Sugar and spices like paprika, fennel, garlic powder, anise, nutmeg, cloves, and spices are also added at this point.
The spices added all depend on the sausage-maker or home cook, but paprika is the characteristic spice that is almost always included in the mix.
The meat can be further ground to a finer consistency after resting, to better incorporate the spices.
3. Inoculation of Starter Cultures
Bacterial cultures are also added to the meat mix to acidify it and prevent the growth of microorganisms that cause food spoilage. Lactobacillus, the bacteria that is used to make yogurt, cheese, and sourdough, is often used.
These bacterial cultures feed on the sugars in the mix to produce lactic acid. This lactic acid is what maintains the acidic environment in the meat that make it inhospitable to harmful pathogens. This is also what gives pepperoni its tangy taste.
4. Stuffing Into Casings
Some cooks allow the meat to rest for a few hours before stuffing it into casings, but some stuff them right away. For pepperoni, artificial casings are typically used but it depends on the one making the sausage.
After stuffing into the casings, the pepperoni is allowed to ferment for a few days at controlled temperatures.
Beginning at temperatures of about 75 °F for the first day, the temperature is gradually lowered for the second and third days as fermentation continues.
6. Smoking and Drying
After fermentation, the product is sometimes cold smoked for a few hours at slightly higher temperatures and then allowed to dry again for a few more days, until the pepperoni loses enough weight, usually about 30%.
The whole process takes several days before the pepperoni is dried enough and ready to be used.
The process of making pepperoni usually takes about 5-6 days, shorter than other types of fermented sausage, however, it can vary depending on the manufacturer and the home cook.
Regardless though, it is considered a fast-fermented sausage.
If making your own pepperoni, make sure to follow specific recipe instructions to ensure that your pepperoni will turn out well and will be safe to eat. A recipe for homemade pepperoni can be found here.
What Does Pepperoni Taste Like?
Pepperoni is known for its bright red color and its spicy flavor, due to the presence of spices like paprika.
While specific spice blends vary depending on the one making the pepperoni, paprika is a common ingredient in most types of pepperonis and is a spice that has come to be very closely associated with it.
Also, because it is a cured meat product that uses salt in the curing process, pepperoni also has a salty taste.
Pepperoni is also cultured with bacterial cultures that produce lactic acid, which is what gives it its tangy, slightly sour taste.
Is Pepperoni Raw?
Pepperoni is technically a raw product but it is cured, fermented, and dried in a way that makes it safe to consume.
Pepperoni is sometimes considered as a semi-cooked sausage, as it is often smoked in the drying process, however, smoking is often done to add flavor and not really to cook the meat in the true sense of the word.
As long as it is processed and manufactured safely, pepperoni is safe to eat as the curing and fermentation process in pepperoni protects harmful bacteria that cause food spoilage from proliferating in the sausage.
If you want to learn more about it, check out Can You Eat Pepperoni Raw
How Long Does Pepperoni Last?
Whole and unopened pepperoni will last at room temperature for about 6 weeks, and almost indefinitely in the fridge.
Once opened, it will last for about 3 weeks in the fridge. Make sure though, to keep them properly stored and properly wrapped to maintain their quality and freshness.
Is Pepperoni Healthy?
Pepperoni is a cured meat product that is typically made with a meat mixture that is high in fat and high in calories.
While fat does serve a purpose in our diets, as it helps us absorb fat-soluble vitamins and helps with the production of energy, a diet that is too high in fat, especially saturated fat, can put us at risk for serious health issues, such as heart disease and stroke. It can also lead to weight gain.
Aside from this, pepperoni is also a cured product that contains nitrates and nitrites.
Nitrates and nitrites themselves are safe to consume but their by-products produced through chemical reactions within the meat may produce substances called nitrosamines.
Exposure to nitrosamines may increase the risk and incidence of certain cancers.
As with all types of food, managing our consumption is important. Cured meats can be part of a healthy diet but moderation is important.
Frequently Asked Questions to What is Pepperoni Made Out Of?
What Spices Are in Pepperoni?
Pepperoni is made with various blends of spices that include garlic powder, anise, cloves, nutmeg, fennel, and others, but the most characteristic and most closely associated with pepperoni is paprika, which is also what gives it its bright orange to red color.
Is Pepperoni Pork or Beef?
Pepperoni can be made with all pork or all beef, but the most common and most popular variation is the one that’s made with a mixture of beef and pork.
Conclusion to What is Pepperoni Made Out Of?
Pepperoni is typically made of a mixture of pork and beef, but all pork and all-beef versions exist. Pepperoni that is made with all beef must be labeled as “beef pepperoni”, and pepperoni that is made with turkey must also be labeled as such.
While variations exist, the most popular type of pepperoni is still the version with a mixture of pork and beef.