Even though the name pepperoni is derived from the Italian word for bell pepper (pepperoni), this product is a dry-cured sausage resembling the hot salamis of southern Italy.
But why is pepperoni red? Is it because pepperoni is often seasoned with cayenne pepper and crushed red pepper, or can it be because of the structure and type of meat used in the production? Most importantly, does it contain red dye, and if so, is it safe for us to eat it?
The main reason for its red color is due to red paprika being the main spice which is added to pepperoni.
This article will look further at pepperoni and how it gets its distinctive red color. Read on to learn more.
What Makes Pepperoni Red?
To answer this question, first, we must look at the very structure of the meat from which this famous American-Italian product is made.
Pepperoni is usually made from a mixture of pork and beef, and we know that both are considered red meat.
One of the two essential pigments important for meat color – myoglobin – is responsible for the purple-red color of the fresh meat.
Once myoglobin is exposed to oxygen, it produces oxymyoglobin, a pigment that gives the meat a recognizable cherry-red hue.
Considering all of this, we can safely say that one of the main reasons for pepperoni’s red color is the meat color pigment myoglobin.
Next, consider the spices that are added while making pepperoni.
It’s no coincidence that the name pepperoni comes from the Italian word for bell pepper since one of the primary ingredients is pepper. The most commonly used spices are:
- Cayenne pepper
- Crushed red pepper
- Paprika powder
These pepper-based spices give pepperoni a distinctly red color.
In addition to the above, mustard seed, fennel, black pepper, and garlic are added to the pepperoni mix.
Finally, curing salts give sausage a pink to red color. Other examples of sausage that are pinkish red from curing are salami and sopressata.
Does Pepperoni Have Red Dye in It?
Pepperoni’s red color mostly comes from the pepper in the mix, which is added as a spice.
Regardless of that, most manufacturers today use red dye to make the color more vibrant.
Specifically, pepperoni contains food coloring known as Red Dye 40.
Also known as Allura Red AC, this Red Dye 40 should not concern you since it’s one of the most commonly used food additives today and relatively safe to consume.
While health organizations agree that Red Dye 40 causes little to no harm to human health, it has been linked to allergies and impaired behavior in children with ADHD.
It’s worth noting that Red Dye 40 is banned in baby meals across the European Union. All items containing this dye must include a warning label.
To conclude, the main spice added to pepperoni is red paprika, which is where most of the color comes from.
In addition, pork and beef are the two most common types of meat used in pepperoni, and they’re both categorized as red meat, which means they’re also responsible for the color of the final product.
Finally, in addition to various additives, many foods also contain added edible dyes, and pepperoni itself is no exception.