What is Uncured Pepperoni? Is It Better Than Cured Pepperoni?

October 26, 2022

I know many folks say you shouldn’t eat uncured pepperoni because it’s uncooked and unsafe. But I’m here today to tell you the truth. Uncured pepperoni isn’t actually “uncured.” Uncured toppings are “cured” but the difference between cured and uncured pepperoni is different preservativesare used.  So, the uncured one doesn’t contain uncured meats.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen any pepperoni that isn’t fully cooked. I took a moment to see what the USDA says about the uncured version. It must be free from nitrates and nitrites sources used duringprocessing. So suppose you find pepperoni that’s labeled with the terms “uncured” and “no nitrites” in the US. Does this mean it’s safe to eat just like any other cooked sausage or  summer sausage? Is uncured pepperoni healthier or better? What’s the difference between uncured and cured pepperoni?

In this article, I’ll delve deeper into the topic. Keep reading to find out!

What is uncured pepperoni

What Is Uncured Pepperoni?

This is a spicy Italian-American pizza topping made from pork and beef. The difference here is that the beef and pork are “cured” in natural preservatives of organic sea salt, celery juice, beet extracts, and celery powder. 

Unlike artificial preservatives, these have high sodium nitrate composition and may not be safe for continuous consumption.

So this pepperoni cannot be assumed to have uncured meat. They go through a curing process. Uncured pepperoni, instead, doesn’t contain any form of artificial preservatives.

On the other hand, the traditionally cured pepperoni is processed in artificial preservatives of sodium nitrite or potassium nitrite. These have less nitrite and nitrates than uncured ones.

In general, pepperoni is a spicy variety of salami. It is made with 30% beef, 70% pork, and spices (paprika). It is smoked and dried and sometimes it is flavored with other ingredients such as fennel, peppers, garlic, or mustard seeds. It should not be confused with pepperoni (with a single p), which is a variety of peppers.

It must be said that after cheese it is the favorite topping on pizzas for Americans. It is the favorite ingredient for 53% of Americans according to a survey by YouGov.

It’s crazy, isn’t it?

In the USA you can easily buy it at the supermarket or in delicatessens (deli). 

Uncured Pepperoni vs Cured Pepperoni: What’s the Difference?

The difference is in the preservatives used. Artificial preservatives like sodium nitrite or potassium nitrite are used in cured pepperoni.

On the other hand, unlike artificial preservatives, natural preservatives like organic sea salt, beet extracts, celery juice, and celery powder are used. Meanwhile, uncured varieties have more nitrites and are more carcinogenic than their traditionally cured counterparts. So you should take it minimally and try out uncured meats.

Is Uncured Pepperoni Better?

A quick check online and you’ll see many cooks online marketing various brands of pepperoni. The question is, is uncured pepperoni healthy and does it taste better

First, yes, uncured pepperoni has a slightly lighter, salty, tangy flavor and an overall better taste than the classic pepperoni flavor. The tangy flavor is due to the lactic acid which forms during the curing process.

The good thing about uncured meats is that although they are all processed meats, they are less so. Cured meat products are processed for weeks and sometimes months while you can finish the curing process of meat with sea salt in the fridge in 24 hours

Because of the longer processing time, cured meat tends to be more dehydrated than uncured meat. 

Is it truly uncured, healthy, or healthier than cured pepperoni?

Well, allay your fears. At least for now…

Uncured varieties don’t mean they are not cured. They are actually cured but the curing ingredients are not the same as in cured pepperoni. 

The good news is that artificial preservatives aren’t used in the uncured meats. Instead, natural preservatives like sea salt, beet extracts, celery juice, and celery powder are used. 

However, know that natural preservatives like sea salt, beets, and celery are used. The problem is that like chemical preservatives, all these ingredients may contain sodium nitrates and nitrites even in natural preservatives. 

Pepperoni slices

Benefits and Risks of Pepperoni 

Both cured and uncured pepperoni provide interesting amounts of protein, important in particular for muscle maintenance. It is also a good source of B vitamins, zinc, and iron

However, like the vast majority of deli meats, pepperoni remains a particularly high-calorie and fatty product! Know that a slice has around 26 calories and contains more than 30 to 35% of fats!

These are mainly composed of saturated fatty acids, which raise the rate of “bad” cholesterol and are not good for the cardiovascular system in high consumption. 

Unlike uncured meat, uncured pepperoni is also a product that is very rich in salt, a hypertension factor. Consuming sea salt leads to excessive sodium intake, which causes high blood pressure among other health issues. 

Another concern is that it often contains nitrites, like most cured meats. It’s also thought to increase the risk of cancer. The WHO has also classified deli meats as carcinogenic food. Uncured meat dishes don’t have this risk, however.

So pepperoni is not something you might develop undue addiction for. If you need to, I recommend you limit its consumption!

What Are Nitrites and What’s the Problem With Them?

Nitrate and nitrite are used for better preservation of processed meat products. Natural preservatives like sea salt and celery may not have as much nitrates, but artificial preservation involves the use of artificial preservatives deemed safe by the FDA. However, the problem is that uncured pepperoni has a slightly saltier taste than the cured versions. 

First, nitrites and nitrates are used for bacteriological reasons. These are substances that prevent the development of bacteria such as salmonellosis, Listeria monocytogenes, or C. botulinum) in processed meat products. Sodium nitrate and nitrite also have an impact on the coloring of cold cuts. This is what gives a candy pink color to the ham, whereas it initially has a gray color.

However, scientists have confirmed the risk of colorectal cancer from exposure to nitrates and nitrites which are found in natural curing agents like green leafy root vegetables and some processed meats.

Another study has confirmed that sea salt which is used in making cured products has about 1.1 ppm and 1.2 ppm of nitrate and nitrites respectively.

So Should I Stop Eating Pepperoni Cured With Natural Preservatives?

You don’t have to avoid eating uncured pepperoni but rather limit your consumption for health reasons. 

To limit exposure to nitrates and nitrites, the best advice is to consume less than 150 grams per week. 

Heap of Sliced Pepperoni Over a Wooden Counter

Can I Find Nitrite-free Uncured Pepperoni?

Yes, but it is much less common and more expensive. Just take a look on Amazon and you’ll see that most of these pepperoni are labeled as nitrates-free. However, these are not usually completely nitrite free, in fact. Most of them contain nitrates from their natural preservatives. Under the effect of bacteria, these are converted into nitrites during the curing process.

For example, take a look at Vermont Smoke & Cure Pepperoni. Boldly printed on the product is “no nitrite or nitrate added” and on the ingredient list, you can see sea salt, which says it all. As I mentioned earlier, sea salt naturally has some nitrite content, albeit lower than the synthetic nitrites. A study recently found that sea salt naturally has about 0.3 to 1.7 ppm of nitrate and up to 0.45 ppm of nitrite.  

The regulations from the USDA require that all uncured pepperoni be labeled “uncured” and “nitrite or nitrate free” if they contain natural nitrate and nitrite sources. 

So that’s why you see products with nitrite sources named nitrite free. But are they truly nitrite free? Not really!

How to Recognize Nitrite-free Ham?

To recognize a nitrite-free ham, first look at the color of the meat: if it is gray and not pink, that’s a pretty good sign. You can also rely on the expiry date (DLC) of the product. 

Nitrite-free pepperoni has a shorter shelf life than a standard one.

Also, the safest thing is to check the list of ingredients to see if there are no additives termed E249, E250, E251, and E252. Behind these codes hide nitrites and nitrates additives. 

How to Store and Use Uncured Pepperoni?

Properly storing uncured pepperoni guarantees safe eating. You can store pepperoni in your pantry up to 6 weeks. 

You don’t have to refrigerate uncured versions of pepperoni since it’s already salted for preservation. But once opened, you can refrigerate it for up to three weeks. 

As the meat is dried and contains preservatives (salt, nitrites), it does not require refrigeration until it’s opened. You can keep it at room temperature in a pantry, for example. After opening it, I recommend that you keep it in the fridge and consume it quickly.

Although it is mainly used as a pizza topping, you can also: 

  • Place pepperoni on a charcuterie board
  • Put it in quesadillas
  • Use it to garnish baked potatoes
  • Stuff your mushrooms

There are plenty of uses for them. Think about what you would do with chorizo. The uses are identical.

FAQs 

1. Which is Better Cured or Uncured?

If I were you, I’d always go for the cured pepperoni. They are more nitrite-free as ingredients like sea salt aren’t used. There’s not much difference, aside from the curing process and the difference in preservatives used. 

2. Does Uncured Pepperoni Taste Different?

Yes, uncured pepperoni tastes saltier and lighter. If you’ve always had the cured version and want to try something new, this can give you some variation in taste. But be careful. Pepperoni is high in calories and the sea salt in the uncured one isn’t good for people with hypertension. It contains nitrites too. But when stored properly, it’s as safe to eat as cured pepperoni. 

Organic Uncured Italian Pepperoni Slices

Conclusion

This is all you need to know about uncured pepperoni which is used as pizza toppings. It has a salty taste. It’s mildly spicy and flavorful, which is why many people are giving it a try.

But this is not something you can keep snacking on and get addicted to with daily consumption. Sea-salt-cured meats have nitrite content and high consumption puts your health at risk.

From this uncured pepperoni vs cured pepperoni comparison, you can also see that this is better for the body because of lower nitrite levels. However, I still advise cautioun with both the uncured and cured pepperoni.

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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