What Is Kielbasa? (Answered!)

Kielbasa is a type of sausage, but the word can mean very different things depending on whether you are in North America or what part of North America you’re from.

With all these different definitions, it’s no surprise that many people wonder what kielbasa is and what it’s made from.

So, what is kielbasa? Let’s answer all your questions about this tasty sausage.

what is kielbasa

Origin of Kielbasa

The word “kielbasa” means “sausage” in Polish. It is thought to either derive from the Turkish “kol basa,” meaning pressed meat or from the Hebrew “kol basar,” meaning all kinds of meat.  

Kielbasa is a traditional Polish food made by hand since ancient times.

Every community, and often every family, has its own unique recipe, and certain kielbasas are part of traditional celebrations like weddings and holidays.

Today, many Polish kielbasas are protected traditional foods under EU law, which means that only traditionally prepared foods can use the product name. 

Types of Kielbasa

Because kielbasa is just the generic term for sausage, there are many different types.

Kielbasa can be made fresh or smoked and may contain various meats, fats, and seasonings.

Other types of kielbasa have different names in Polish. For example, there is “biała kiełbasa” (white sausage) and “kiełbasa wiejska” (farmhouse sausage).

In the United States, kielbasa usually refers to a specific Polish sausage made from coarsely ground pork, smoked, and sold in a U-shape.

However, there is usually a wider variety of kielbasas in areas with larger Polish populations.

Kielbasa vs. Kolbasa

Technically, “kielbasa” is a Polish or Czech sausage, while “kolbasa” is a Russian or Ukrainian sausage, but the ingredients and flavors may be almost identical.

In the Slavic languages of Central and Eastern Europe, the words for “sausage” are all somewhat similar because they all come from shared origins. Terms that mean “sausage” in these languages are:

  • Kolbasa
  • Klobasa
  • Kobasa
  • Kolbasi
  • Kovbasa

Because these words were brought to North America by different waves of immigrants, other regions adopted slightly different terms and came to use them in somewhat different ways.

For example, in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, they use the Polish plural “kielbasy.”

In Canada, they tend to use terms derived from the Ukrainian “kolbasa” or “kubasa.” In Alberta, a kielbasa dog is known as a “kubie.”

What Does Kielbasa Taste Like?

Different brands of kielbasa use other seasonings and spice mixtures, so each brand tends to have a unique flavor.

However, there are a few things that almost all kielbasas have in common that affect the taste:

Smoke

Almost all kielbasas are sold smoked or cured. This is a big differentiating factor to bratwurst, which it’s often compared to.

This means that it is safe to eat out of the package, and you don’t need to cook it further at home.

It also means that almost all kielbasas have a deep, smoky flavor

Garlic

Almost all kielbasas are seasoned with garlic. While they may include other spices and flavorings, garlic is traditional and imparts a distinctive flavor to kielbasa.

Because of that, most kielbasas taste like smoky pork with a garlic undertone.

What Is Kielbasa Made Of?

There is a wide range of kielbasa recipes, and it’s possible to find turkey kielbasa, sugar-free kielbasa, vegan kielbasa, etc. However, a traditional kielbasa is made of:

Pork

Pork and pork fat are the main meat that kielbasa is made of. It may sometimes include some beef or other meats, but it is typically a pork sausage.

Garlic

Garlic is a traditional ingredient in kielbasa, and most recipes include it.

Marjoram

Marjoram is another traditional ingredient in Polish sausage, but many American kielbasa brands do not include it.

Salt

Naturally, salt makes cured and smoked meats taste salty.

Salt, sodium nitrite, and sodium nitrate are also often added to meats to enhance flavor and color and preserve the food for longer.

Salt is an ancient way of preserving meat, and nitrites and nitrates inhibit bacteria and oxidation.

Sugar

Many kielbasas include sugar in the ingredients.

Sugar is another natural food preservative, and it also helps to balance the saltiness of kielbasa and promote browning during cooking.

Sugar on the ingredient label does not create a sweet flavor in kielbasa. 

What Is Polish Kielbasa Made Of?

While there are many different types of kielbasa in Poland, the classic Polish kielbasa contains:

  • Pork
  • Garlic
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Marjoram

The ingredients are ground together, stuffed into a sausage casing, and smoked or cured.

What Is Turkey Kielbasa Made Of?

Turkey kielbasa is like a classic kielbasa, except it is made with turkey.

Some turkey kielbasas are made with only turkey meat, while some add turkey to the pork.

In Summary

Kielbasa and Polish sausage are the same things, but every recipe may slightly differ and include different meats, spices, and seasonings.

Other brands of kielbasa will have somewhat different flavors, and many of them keep their spice mixes confidential and proprietary.

Now that you know what kielbasa is, what it’s made of, and what it tastes like, you can sample different brands to find the kielbasa you like best.