Difference Between Pepperoni And Salami

Justin Micheal

Food Writer & Editor in Chief For KitchenSanity

Justin Micheal is KitchenSanity's founder, food writer and editor in chief. As an expert home cook with over 30 years of daily cooking experience and food handler certifications, he's a pro at experimenting with recipes and a stickler for food safety. He writes informative and detailed guides about cooking basics such as proper food storage, cutting and cooking methods, and choosing the right products to make cooking easier.

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Pepperoni and salami are sausages made of meat trimmings, seasonings, and preservatives. Although salami was invented in Italy, many countries and regions now have their own versions with unique curing techniques and flavorings.

Pepperoni is actually a soft, spicy salami. Its American-style design is dense enough to sit flat on pizzas and quicker to make than most salamis.

Let’s compare the most interesting similarities and differences between pepperoni and salami.


What Is Pepperoni?

sliced pepperoni

Behind all the sugar, spice, and nice marketing, pepperoni is essentially a kind of salami. Ancient pepperoni legends claim it was invented by an Italian immigrant in a US butcher shop way back in the 90s.

Although it’s based on salami, pepperoni is a thoroughly American product, popularized and mostly eaten in the USA. You can think of it as the American salami.

Related | What Is Old World Pepperoni?

Its name comes from the Italian word ‘peperone,’ with one ‘p.’ ‘Peperone’ actually means bell peppers in Italy. Over time, it added another ‘p’ and slowly evolved into what we call our peppery American salami.

It still means bell peppers in Italian, though, so don’t order a peperone topping in Italy unless you’re hungry for some delicious bell pepper pizza.

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Pepperoni is basically a soft, dry, spicy, bright red salami. It has a higher ratio of spices to meats than most other salamis, which is what gives it the complex taste profile that goes so well with pizza. The main spices in pepperoni include white and red peppers, anise, and paprika.

Other differences include its smokiness and its fine-grained texture. Pepperoni tastes and smells a bit smokier than most other salamis.

The meat it’s made of tends to be ground finer than most other coarsely-ground salamis. This turns into a soft yet dense sausage end product that’s easier to slice.

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The density also prevents thinly sliced pepperoni from curling up on top of pizzas in searing oven heat.

Pepperoni is most similar to the spicy salamis found across southern Italy. These include soppressata, Napoletana picante and Calabrese salami.

What Is Pepperoni Made Of?

The main ingredients in a pepperoni sausage are generally pretty similar, although proportions may vary.

Peripheral pepperoni ingredients can change slightly, depending on the manufacturer’s tastes. The main differences usually involve the amount and kinds of spices and peppers used.

The ingredients you’ll usually find in your pepperoni include:

  • Pork trimmings
  • Beef trimmings
  • Salt
  • Artificial or natural nitrites and nitrates
  • White pepper
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Paprika
  • Garlic
  • Fennel
  • Anise seed
  • Hog casing

How Pepperoni Is Made

Pepperoni is produced similarly to most other salamis. In true American fashion, the production process is generally slimmed down to make it quicker and more efficient.

It all starts with the pork and beef trimmings. These are minced or chopped to make a finely-ground paste.

Next, the spices are mixed in. Here is where pepperoni gets its bright color from the red peppers and paprika. The spicy meat trimmings are then mixed with sugar to balance their level of acidity, which will rise steadily throughout the curing process.

Next, the salt and nitrites are added. Adding these helps to cure the pepperoni and keep disease-causing microorganisms from fomenting.

Lactic acid bacteria are also usually injected around this point. These help to keep the pH balance of the meat trimmings nice and low so the sausage stays preserved rather than turning rancid.

This potent pepperoni potpourri is then sealed in airtight containers and kept at refrigerator temperatures for two or three days to allow it to settle.

In the next step in the process, the hog casings enter the picture. These are fibrous, easy-peeling casings that are stored in brine. They need to be soaked in water to get rid of some of the salt before they’re ready for the pepperoni paste.

When both the paste and casings are ready, the latter gets stuffed full of the former. Each full casing is tied with string at appropriate intervals to section off separate sausage pieces. Then the fermentation starts.

Pepperoni fermentation needs to start at cool temperatures, so the first few days are usually in a fridge.

The sausages are then moved to a low-heat oven or smokehouse, where they will continue to age and dry until they’ve lost about a third of their water weight. The whole process only takes about five or six days.

Is Pepperoni Cooked?

Pepperoni is considered a semi-cooked, fast-fermented sausage. It gets preserved via curing at mostly low and medium temperatures. You can also get cooked pepperoni that has been smoked and dried at higher temperatures.

Can You Eat Pepperoni Raw?

Pepperoni and other cured meats skip the carcinogenic cooking process but are still safe for eating thanks to two preventative measures:

  • Salts and nitrites lower the water content, which keeps harmful bacteria like Clostridium away
  • Lactic acid and sugars feed populations of safe bacteria, which form protective barriers against dangerous pathogens

What Does Uncured Pepperoni Mean?

Cured pepperoni has been preserved with a lot of salt and a little sodium nitrite. Nitrite is a chemical additive that helps kill hazardous bacteria.

The only difference between cured and uncured pepperoni is the source of the curing additives.

Uncured pepperoni hasn’t been processed with the usual added nitrites. It instead uses naturally occurring nitrites found in celery or spinach powder. These cure the meat exactly the same as the artificial nitrites.

Is Pepperoni a Sausage?

Sausages are cylinders of ground meat mixed with salt and spices, wrapped in sinewy skins and cured, dried or smoked. Pepperoni is a spicy Italian-American dry sausage.


What Is Salami?

sliced salami

Salami is any kind of cured, salted meat wrapped up in a sausage casing. It was invented by peasants in pre-refrigerator Italy who were looking for a way to preserve meat at room temperature.

Salami’s curing processes can prevent pathogen fermentation in warm temperatures for over a month.

Not only was salami successful at superb storage, but it also tasted great. Curers began experimenting with different spices and techniques, which quickly evolved into the hundreds of variations that make up modern salami culture.

Today, any seasoned, cured sausage that can be eaten cold we call salami. Salami tends to be drier and harder than other sausages. It can be spicy and fatty or unspiced and lean.

Is Salami Pork?

The word ‘salami’ evolved from the Italian word ‘salare,’ which refers to the action of salting something. The original salamis were made of simple pork and salt.

Today, traditional salamis include pork, beef, veal, and even sometimes poultry. Most salamis have both fatty and lean cuts of pork.

Related | How To Tell If Pork Is Bad

What Is Salami Made Of?

Salami is a high-fat, calorie-intensive food, without which the world would be a little less wonderful.

Traditionally, salami contains some mixture of meat trimmings, salt, sugar, vinegar, peppers, garlic, and other herbs and spices. Nitrites are also added as preservatives.

If you see a white slime on the outside of your salami, some salami chefs also add mold to their creations during the curing. These spores are applied after the fermentation and grow over the sausage surface as the meat dries inside.

The mold is an edible strain known as Penicillium nalgiovense. It adds to the salami’s interesting taste profile and protects it from dangerous strains of competing mold and harmful bacteria.

You can scrape it off if you must, but we recommend walking on the wild side and trying it.

Types of Salami

different types of salami

Besides pepperoni, the most popular kinds of salami include:

  • French salami: a thick pork sausage seasoned with wine, cheese and dried fruit
  • German salami: a sausage made with extra fat and lots of garlic
  • Genoa salami: a basic Italian salami sometimes seasoned with wine
  • Spanish salami: a spicy salami with extra peppercorns
  • Hungarian salami: a high-calorie salami made with fatty pork bellies
  • Milanese salami: a sweet salami from Milan
  • Soppressata: a salami seasoned with unique Italian spices like basil and oregano
  • Salami cotto: a kind of cooked salami

How Is Salami Made?

Salami starts with a specific ratio of fatty and lean meat bits. This proportion is important to give the sausage its rich, marbled look. Those pearly white veins are pure fat.

The meat and fat are ground up and mixed with salt, sugar, spices, and nitrites to make it delicious and durable. The salami chef then stuffs the mixture into casings so it can start to ferment and cure.

The fermenting and curing processes need carefully controlled humidity and temperature to let the preserving bacteria grow in the meat paste. These helpful bacteria eat the sugars in the salami as its salt content begins to draw the water out.

As the meat’s water content lowers, high humidity keeps it from drying to a crisp. In a few weeks, the good bacteria will multiply enough to suddenly drop the pH level in the sausage.

When the pH drops to a safe level, the salami is ready to eat. The whole process usually takes around 17 days.

Final Thoughts

Salami was invented in Italy as a way to both preserve meat and make it tastier.

Today, there are many regional and ethnic varieties around the world, each with its own special method of preparation and unique seasonings.

Pepperoni is an American salami seasoned with paprika and peppers that make it bright red and spicy. Pepperoni and other salamis are usually cured with salt, nitrites, and lactic acid that makes them safe to eat whether raw in a sandwich or baked on a pizza.

Written By Justin Micheal

Justin Micheal is KitchenSanity's founder, food writer and editor in chief. As an expert home cook with over 30 years of daily cooking experience and food handler certifications, he's a pro at experimenting with recipes and a stickler for food safety. He writes informative and detailed guides about cooking basics such as proper food storage, cutting and cooking methods, and choosing the right products to make cooking easier.

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