what is pepperoni made of
Food & Drinks

What Is Pepperoni Made Of? Origin, Ingredients, and More

Good old pepperoni — it’s tasty and goes with almost anything. It’s a classic pizza topping but it can also be used in sandwiches, salads, pastas, and more. But what exactly is pepperoni and what is pepperoni made of? We consume a lot of it but not many of us know what’s behind this savory ingredient.

Let’s rectify that right now. This article takes a look at what pepperoni is, where it came from, the ingredients that it’s made of, and more.

Pepperoni’s Origin Story

Origin Story

Many people assume that pepperoni is an Italian creation since it’s almost always found on pizzas. But they would be wrong. Pepperoni is 100% American-made, just like baseball and jazz.

Pepperoni remains one of the most popular and best pizza toppings in the US, with over 35% of pizza orders using it as a topping. It emerged during the early 1900s when Italian pizzerias and butcher shops were on the rise among Italian-American communities.

The Italian-sounding name of this spicy sausage comes from the Italian word peperoni, which means bell pepper. The American invention proves that the US has become a melting pot for many cultures and that culinary inventions can become products of different countries.

It first appeared in 1919 when Italian immigrants in Lower Manhattan, New York added paprika and other spices to dry salami. 1915 to 1925 was an important time for the humble pepperoni. During that decade, American-Italian pizzerias flourished. In just a few years, over 100 of them appeared, making New York pizzas incredibly popular.

The Importance of Curing in Preparing Pepperoni


The production of pepperoni employs the curing process which was pioneered by the Romans. To create it, spices and salt are used as the primary curing agents. Aside from adding flavor, curing also allowed the meat to stay fresh for longer. By employing this technique, people were able to stockpile and store meat for future use without having to procure fresh meat every day.

In the beginning, pepperoni could only be made during late fall and winter because preparing it required refrigeration and a certain humidity — two conditions that many people couldn’t yet artificially reproduce. The supply of pepperoni in those days couldn’t meet the demand.

This meat preservation process paved the way for the invention of sausages and salami, including spicy, distinctly red sausages. Since then, sausage has become Europe’s staple food until it reached the US and became a staple in pantries.

The American pepperoni is likely the result of an attempt to emulate and produce food that’s similar to sausages and salami while using ingredients that are available in the United States.

Even back then, many assumed that pepperoni was an Italian recipe since it was often used by Italian pizzerias and delis.

Fun Facts About Pepperoni

Fun Fact

This all-around pizza topping is an interesting piece of meat with an impressive texture and taste. And with these fun facts, you’ll never look at pepperoni the same way again.

#1. September 20th is National Pepperoni Day, a tradition that Domino’s Pizza began in 2020.
#2. Americans consume more than 340 tons of pepperoni every day and over 250 million pounds of pepperoni yearly.
#3. The first kind of pizza ordered online in 1994 was a Pizza Hut mushroom and pepperoni pizza.
#4. Three ounces of pepperoni contains 428 calories that are made up of 15% protein, 1% carbohydrates, and 84% fat. While it’s undeniably delicious, consume it in moderation!
#5. Aside from cheese, pepperoni is the most popular pizza topping in the US.
#6. About 36% of pizza consumers request additional pepperoni for their pizzas.
#7. Pepperoni pizza is the most produced frozen pizza variety.
#8. The red color of the pepperoni comes from paprika.
#9. Pepperoni can be eaten cooked and uncooked.
#10. Pepperoni is one of the most versatile ingredients when paired with other flavors and textures.
#11. The states that consume the most pepperoni are New York, Illinois, California, Florida, and Texas.
#12. Pepperoni is also often used in pasta and calzones. As a nation, we consume 80 million pounds of it through calzones and more than 70 million pounds through pasta.

What Is Pepperoni Made Of?

Made Of

Since pepperoni can be viewed as an American version of salami, the Italians might consider calling it salame picante, a term meaning “spicy salami.” But what gives it that pleasant explosion of flavors?

Pepperoni is made of cured pork and beef that have been seasoned with different spices. These spices include black pepper, paprika, crushed red peppers, garlic, mustard seeds, cayenne pepper, and fennel seeds.

There is no standard way to prepare pepperoni because each producer has its own ratio and ingredients. Still, one nonnegotiable is paprika because it’s what gives pepperoni its color.

After trimming the meat to achieve the perfect fat-to-meat ratio, the meat is ground and mixed with lactic bacteria. It is then fermented, dried, smoked, and stuffed into its casing.

The objective is to achieve a harmonious blend of flavors that is distinctly spicy and smoky while offering lots of meatiness in each bite.  Here is a rundown of the most common ingredients used by pepperoni makers.

#1. Sodium Nitrate

Salt is added to the meat together with spices. Its primary responsibility is to cure it so you can seal it and eventually let it stay inside your refrigerator for long periods.

#2. Meat

Ground pork and beef are the two top meat choices in making pepperoni. These are used in different degrees according to what one wants to achieve in the overall taste. Usually, a ratio of 70% lean meat and 30% fat is used to get the texture and taste of most pepperoni.

#3. Paprika

As mentioned, paprika provides the red coloring in pepperoni. At the same time, it is responsible for delivering that earthy, rich, and smoky flavor.

#4. Lactic Acid Starter Culture

This is injected into the ground meat and is intended to reduce the pork or beef’s pH balance. Decreasing the pH balance allows better preservation and longevity for the pepperoni.

#5. Different Herbs and Spices

To enrich the flavor of the pepperoni, the most common herbs and spices used in making it are anise, allspice, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, mustard, and nutmeg. For that spicy flavor, cayenne pepper is also incorporated.

Nutritional Facts of Pepperoni


Pepperoni is delicious, but not everything yummy is healthy. Take a closer look at the nutritional content of this ingredient.

#1. Pepperoni is high in protein.

One ounce of pepperoni provides approximately 5 grams of protein which is integral to repairing and building muscle tissue.

#2. Pepperonis contains various nitrites and nitrates.

Too much preservatives are not good for your body. Still, these are nonnegotiable ingredients that extend the shelf life and the vibrant red color of the pepperoni. In small amounts, nitrites and nitrates are safe, but excessive amounts can lead to a higher chance of developing certain types of cancer.

#3. Pepperoni has a lot of fat.

Every ounce of pepperoni has approximately 12 grams of fat. Unfortunately, most of this is saturated fat so it can increase your bad cholesterol and contribute to the development of heart disease.

#4. Pepperoni is rich in sodium.

Because it undergoes curling, pepperoni is high in sodium. Each ounce of pepperoni contains more or less 480 milligrams of sodium, which already fulfills 20% of adults’ daily recommended intake. Too much sodium can increase your risk of having high blood pressure.

#5. Pepperoni contains lots of calories.

Before gorging on pepperoni, consider that each ounce has 140 calories. While consuming one ounce doesn’t seem that high, it can add up if you think about how much meat you consume overall.

#6. Pepperoni contains trace amounts of minerals and vitamins.

Pepperoni can be a supplementary source of iron, vitamin B12, and zinc — all necessary for our immune systems, metabolism, and red blood cell production. Note, however, that the ingredient contains very small amounts of these vitamins and minerals so it’s far from a healthy treat.

#7. Pepperoni is gluten-free.

No wheat-based ingredients are used in preparing pepperoni so it’s a safe option for those who are sensitive to gluten.

Turkey Pepperoni, Anyone?

Pepperoni tastes good but there’s no getting around the fact that it’s also unhealthy. A better alternative is turkey pepperoni. It offers the same bold flavors but less fat. Each ounce of turkey pepperoni only has 3.5 grams of fat.

That’s a big difference from traditional pepperoni’s 12 grams. Keep in mind, however, that even turkey pepperoni has a lot of salt — even more than regular pepperoni.

A Few Parting Words

With its Italian-American roots, pepperoni is an important part of our nation’s culinary history. It tells the story of Italian immigrants who created an enduring and tasty legacy. Offering a delicious combination of spicy, smoky, and tangy flavors, pepperoni is here to stay. But since it’s high in sodium, salt, calories, and fat, remember to consume it in moderation!

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