Salami vs. Pepperoni – What’s the Difference?

Many would say that pepperoni is a mass-produced American version of its authentic Italian ancestor, salami. However, those with a refined sense of flavor know that things aren’t that simple!

So, salami vs. pepperoni – what’s the difference? 

Salami is a cured sausage typically made of air-dried, fermented pork meat. Various spices, vegetable ingredients, and smoking give it a distinct taste. Other meats like beef, poultry, or veal are also used for salami. Pepperoni is simply a variation of salami that is fine-grained, smoky, spicy, and may consist of varying proportions of both beef and pork. 

The difference in both these forms of meats, no matter how minimal, starts with the ingredients, followed closely by how it’s prepared and served. 

Sounds a bit anticlimactic, but that is the gist of it – but there is a lot more to it if you want to stick around and find out. 

A Generation Apart

Salami and pepperoni belong not just to a different continent but a different generation as well. Despite their use as a substitute for each other, there is a difference in taste and texture. These seemingly small differences may also affect the entire recipe you are preparing.

Anyhow, America is indeed a melting pot – precisely, a pot where all deli meat melts together. So, if you love sandwiches and pizzas, you must already be familiar with both of these meats as primary ingredients. 

Both salami and pepperoni are a type of sausage with each of its specific uses in various cuisines. Both add a rather rich flavor to the food. More often than not, they are served on the side. 

Salami, which is Italian for cured meats, is traditionally served at lunch, usually as part of an antipasto, i.e., the first Italian meal course. Pepperoni, being more American of the two, is a more recent variation used as a popular topping for pizzas and a much sought-after layer of your favorite sub.

Chances are if you enjoy pepperoni, you are likely to enjoy salami as well. There are many variations of salami at your local deli, pepperoni being among them. These variations share similarities but offer unique flavors owing to their ingredients and the preparation.

Before we talk about the fundamental differences in more detail, it is crucial to understand where it all began. 

It Started with Salami 

The best way to put it is, “Pepperoni’s a variant of salami, but salami isn’t a variant of pepperoni.”

There is a variety of different sorts of salami, each with uniquely identifiable names like the Genoa, Milanese, Soppressata, Finocchiona, and of course, the all too familiar Pepperoni. 

The American pepperoni variation of the salami is loosely based on a spicy variant from Naples, Italy, known as the ‘Salsiccia Napoletana Piccante.’ 

Antipasto vs Seasoning

When it comes to ‘how’ and ‘when’ these sausages are served, there are profound differences between salami and pepperoni. Salami is served as a part of a sandwich, sub, or as a side dish. In its native land, Italy, it is served at lunchtime as part of the first course. 

Pepperoni, on the other hand, is served as more of a popular seasoning atop pizzas. It is also used as a topping for a lot of different dishes and snacks. It isn’t normally consumed on its own unless you are a huge fan who wants to munch on pepperonis.

Defining Ingredients

When it comes to meat used for these sausages, there is one fundamental difference; pepperoni can only be made out of beef and pork. 

So, is salami beef or pork? Is it both? Well, salami can be made of various meats, including but not limited to beef, poultry, pork, and veal. 

When it comes to salami, the defining ingredients depend on the unique flavor the deli is trying to deliver. Many delicatessens have their signature salami flavor to flaunt. 

Caloric Difference

Let’s take an average single serving of 3 ounces of both salami and pepperoni. Salami contains an average of 415 calories, while the caloric value of a single serving of pepperoni can amount to 551. An important difference to note when deciding on a healthier option. 

Moreover, salami has less saturated fat than pepperoni. While sodium content is a tad bit higher in salami, the presence of phosphorus, zinc, and vitamin B3 in higher quantity still makes it a healthy option.  

The Process 

Long before refrigeration became mainstream, curing meat was the primary method to make it last longer without spoiling. Curing allows meat to be stored at room temperature for about forty days once cut. The tradition of curing meats has continued in the preparation of deli meats and sausages.

Salami has roots in Italy, and has been a dominant part of Italian cuisine for ages. It has now become popular across the world – because who doesn’t like Italian food! 

Traditionally, salami is made of chopped beef, pork, or veal. Nowadays, it can be made with chicken or turkey added to the mix. The meat is mixed with specific proportions of spices, seasoning, and preservatives to achieve the flavor and texture unique to salami.

As opposed to the traditional salami, pepperoni is a mix of cured beef and pork seasoned with peppers and other spices, including chili peppers and paprika. Once thoroughly mixed and shaped, it goes through that same fermentation and air-drying process of curing. 

Overall, pepperoni is a drier, softer salami variation, with a smoky taste and aroma, and bright red color.

The Sourness of Salami

When compared to pepperoni, salami is slightly sour and less spicy.

For salami, ingredients used in addition to the meat are white pepper, vinegar, garlic, herbs, minced fat, and nitrate. Once thoroughly mixed and shaped, the meat undergoes a fermentation process that allows healthy bacteria to grow, preventing it from developing pathogenic bacteria and giving it a sour flavor that we’ve come to love. After fermentation, it is air-dried to result in the cured sausage that is generally drier and harder than other meats of this type and is light red. 

There is a variety of salami available at delis with uniquely identifiable names like the Genoa, Milanese, Soppressata, Finocchiona, and of course, the all too familiar pepperoni. Besides, there are some ethnic variations available in salami as well around the world. It all depends on who is making it in which part of the world.

The Pepper in Pepperoni 

If you think the term ‘pepperoni’ has something to do with pepper, you aren’t wrong.

As we’ve mentioned before, pepperoni is just one of the many salamis types – a peppery one.

What makes pepperoni stand out from other types of salami is that it is prepared using a much higher proportion of spices, predominantly pepper. Such a high meat-to-spice ratio gives pepperoni a rather deep, delicious taste. Nothing can substitute for the smoky, spicy zest it adds to your pizza or sandwich for fans of this flavor. 

That said, salami is predominantly an American sausage, famously available in the USA with variations found worldwide.

Salami vs. Pepperoni – Which goes better with pizza?

Now to answer the one question you guys have been sitting with since the beginning of this post. 

Anyone who has taste buds developed enough to notice small differences in flavor can tell that pepperoni pizza is a tad too peppery. I wouldn’t mind enjoying a slightly sour, more herbal, and less spicy version of the topping, loving it just the same! In the end, it’s about what you feel like having at the time at any given time or what’s available when you are truly craving a pizza. 


In a battle between salami and pepperoni, the winner is whichever you decide. 

The topic seems to be a rather hot debate for ages, especially in the US, where most people prefer pepperoni because of its easy availability. We don’t see what the fuss is about! If you like one, you can switch it up with the other. One is spicy, but the other has a herby flavor that’s just as rich and delicious.


What are the white bits in salami?

The white film on the surface of salami is the mold formed during the curing process. It is known as Penicillium Nalgiovense, and as weird as it may sound is entirely safe to eat. The white spots you see are marbled fat. It is where the texture and rich flavor comes from. 

Can you eat raw salami or pepperoni?

Salami and pepperoni fall under the category of cured air-dried meat. They are both safe to be stored at room temperature and consumed without any more processing.  

Are salami & pepperoni kosher or halal?

Traditional pepperoni and salami are made from beef and/or pork that isn’t kosher or halal. Although, there are variations of salami that are just made from halal or kosher beef and do not contain any pork. You can find other variations of these sausages prepared from other kosher/halal meats such as chicken, turkey, and venison. 

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