Many of us love the delicious taste of pepperoni. But not many people know how this sort of sausage is prepared. A common question is – is pepperoni cooked?
Well, traditionally, pepperoni is considered a raw, dry-cured, fermented sausage. However, sometimes you can come across cooked varieties in stores and the pepperoni served on pizza is also always cooked.
Although pepperoni is raw, it’s perfectly safe to eat without cooking, as the curing and fermenting processes have been used for centuries to preserve meat. In this article, I’ll explain how exactly pepperoni is made and how the fermentation and curation processes work.
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Is Pepperoni Raw?
Technically, pepperoni is a raw sausage. It doesn’t undergo any heating processes and thus can’t be considered cooked.
Often, pepperoni is cooked in the oven when used as a pizza topping or added into other dishes. A reasonable question arises, therefore – can you eat pepperoni raw?
Undercooked pork is unsafe to eat as it may be potentially contaminated with harmful bacteria and parasites. Cooking kills any germs that might be contained in pork.
However, pepperoni is cured and fermented. During the process, any bacteria is killed and pepperoni becomes perfectly safe to eat. In other words, you can safely enjoy uncooked pepperoni in your sandwich or as a snack without risking illness.
Is Pepperoni Fermented?
Yes, pepperoni is fermented. But first, what exactly is fermentation?
Fermentation is a metabolic process that leads to chemical changes in substances through the action of enzymes, proteins that act as biological catalysts. A narrower definition states that fermentation is the extraction of energy from carbohydrates in the absence of oxygen.
Simply put, it’s the process where certain microorganisms kill harmful bacteria and provide food or drink with a desirable flavor.
The fermentation process is required to turn the carbs contained in the meat into acids and alcohols and prevent bacteria growth. In other words, fermentation breaks down sugars and turns them into flavorful molecules that create the unique, delicious smell and taste of pepperoni.
However, fermentation isn’t the only process that ensures pepperoni is safe to eat.
How Pepperoni Is Prepared
The traditional pepperoni recipe involves mixing finely ground pork and beef with 70% lean meat and 30% fat. Then, herbs and spices, such as anise, allspice, pepper, salt, and paprika, also finely ground, are added to the mixture.
Sometimes sugar is added to enhance the flavor and as a fermentation agent. While the meat itself is low in acid, sugar increases the acidity needed for further fermentation.
The next step is curing to remove excess water and slow down bacteria growth in the mixture. Different curing agents can be used for pepperoni, usually sodium nitrate or salt. Nitrate is necessary to give the meat a red or pink color – without it, the meat looks greyish.
The meat is then left in the refrigerator for about three days.
After some time passes, the mixture is put into casings from pig or cow intestines. These are meant to maintain the shape of the sausage. Afterward, the sausages are put back in the refrigerator for about a day.
Finally, the pepperoni is hung to dry and ferment in a cool room for several weeks.
For the fermentation process to happen, the meat must be injected with lactic acid bacteria, commonly found in yogurts and cheese. Lactic acid lowers meat’s pH level, allowing it to be preserved better.
If the refrigerator temperature is too low, the fermentation process will proceed too slowly.
Often, pepperoni is additionally smoked after fermentation to achieve a smoky flavor. This is done in a smoke chamber for 10 hours to three weeks, depending on the amount of meat and the desired level of smokiness.
As bacteria breed in warm and humid environments, low temperature and water removal ensure that pepperoni is safe to consume raw.
Liquids are removed in three steps – at the very start, when meat is mixed into mince, during curation, and during fermentation.
Hopefully, this article answered your questions about pepperoni in general, and in particular, if pepperoni is cooked.
If it’s your favorite topping to use when making pizza at home, you don’t have to worry about making sure it’s cooked to be safe to eat – it already is!