Pepperoni is most typically made using a blend of pork and beef along with spices and cultures to give it its distinct flavor. The spices most commonly used to flavor this cured meat are salt, cayenne pepper, white pepper, paprika, anise seed and allspice. Once chopped, ground and mixed together, the ingredients are stuffed into a sausage casing and cured, fermented and dried before packaging.
Pepperoni is not cooked, but instead it is cured using sodium nitrate to prevent the development of rancidity, spoilage, off-odors and flavors. After curing, the meat is fermented to reduce the moisture content, which prevents the growth of bacteria that thrive in moist environments. The fermentation process converts some of the carbohydrates in the meat to acids, which aids in its preservation. The final process includes drying the pepperoni.
While the roots of cured meat date back to the times of the Romans, the product known as pepperoni is an entirely American invention. In Italy, the closest comparable meat is a spicy salami. The word "peperoni" in Italian actually refers to large peppers such as bell peppers, and there is no word in the language that describes this type of cured sausage. However, in Calabria and Apulia, Italy, there are similarly spicy, red-chili sausages produced.