What Is Pepperoni For National Pepperoni Pizza Day | The Nibble Webzine Of Food Adventures - The Nibble Webzine Of Food Adventures What Is Pepperoni For National Pepperoni Pizza Day | The Nibble Webzine Of Food Adventures
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FOOD 101: What Is Pepperoni?

Pepperoni Pizza
[1] An American classic: pepperoni pizza (photo courtesy Mantry).

[2] Handmade pepperoni (photo courtesy DeLallo).

Bloody Mary With Pepperoni
[3] Got pepperoni? Use the extra to garnish a Bloody Mary (here with blue cheese cubes at Murray’s Cheese Bar).


September 20th is National Pepperoni Pizza Day, and we have a surprise for you:

Pepperoni is a cured dry sausage from…not from Italy!

While there are a number of spicy, dry sausages from different regions of Italy, there is no such thing as pepperoni.

For the authentic Italian sausages that inspired it, take a look at soppressata, from Apulia, Basilicata and Calabria; and salsiccia Napoletana piccante, from Naples.

More than a few foods we think of as authentic Italian are actually Italian-American, such as:

  • Baked ziti
  • Chicken parmigiana
  • Garlic bread
  • Italian salad dressing
  • Penne alla vodka
  • Spaghetti and meatballs and others
    Although we can’t point to its origin, pepperoni seems to first appear in the U.S. the early 1900s, when Italian-American butcher shops made a variety of sausages. The first known print reference appears in 1919 [source].

    “Peperoni” is actually the Italian word for bell peppers. Perhaps the name for the the red-hued, paprika-spiced sausage was inspired by red bell peppers; we just don’t know.

    We do know that in Italian, there is no word related to peperoni that indicates anything but those peppers.

    Pepperoni is traditionally made from a combination of finely-ground pork and beef. Halal/kosher pepperoni is all beef, and there is also turkey “pepperoni.”

    Different producers use different levels of spices, that can include fennel seeds, garlic, hot chiles or cayenne, mustard seeds and/or paprika.

    The sausages are then air-dried (cured). The result: a lightly smoky, sausage, relatively soft and reddish. The red color is provided by the paprika and any other type of chile (e.g. cayenne), plus the sodium nitrite used as a curing agent.

    Pepperoni is the most popular pizza topping in the U.S.: More than 35% of all pizzas ordered are topped with it* (source).

    Pepperoni has a tendency to curl up from the edges in the heat of the pizza oven, called “cupping” in the business. The thicker the slices, the more the edges curl. Under the heat of the oven, the slices give off slicks of orange grease.

    Pepperoni sausages are commonly sold in two sizes: an inch in diameter for pizza and two to three inches in diameter for sandwiches. You can buy whole “sticks,” slices, even chopped.

    FUN TRICK: Freeze a stick slightly, then grate onto pasta or pizza.

    Hormel Natural Choice is a good supermarket pepperoni, but to go to the next level, check out:

  • DeLallo
  • Fortuna
  • Vermont Smoke and Cure

    *The “Top 10” pizza toppings, in order: pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, sausage, bacon, extra cheese, black olives, green peppers, pineapple spinach [source].


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