What is Mortadella?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Mortadella is an Italian cured sausage, resembling bologna in size and appearance. It is made of pork that is first ground and then mashed into a paste, and may get its name from the Roman word for "mortar." A mortar and pestle were once commonly used to crush meats, fruits, and grain.

Cubed mortadella.
Cubed mortadella.

In addition to meat, mortadella is studded with fat taken from the throat of the pig. It is spiced with pepper, and may also contain myrtle berries and coriander. In Italy, the sausage is often studded with pistachios or pine nuts. As prepared in Italy, it is cooked for several hours at a low temperature, with low humidity. After baking, it must be refrigerated, but can keep for up to eight months.

Mortadella sandwich with cheese.
Mortadella sandwich with cheese.

Mortadella was and is still most frequently produced in Bologna, Italy, and it's mentioned in records dating as far back as the 14th century. An estimated 160,000 tons are consumed in that country each year.

Diners enjoy an antipasto platter that includes mortadella.
Diners enjoy an antipasto platter that includes mortadella.

In most cases in the US, mortadella is sliced as thick as bologna, but Italians prefer to serve it very thinly sliced. Even though the fat pieces may look ominous to dieters, this sausage does not contain an overwhelming amount of saturated fat. Each slice has approximately 9% saturated fat, but an overall 28% fat content.

Mortadella is popular in Argentina.
Mortadella is popular in Argentina.

In Italy, mortadella is a popular sandwich ingredient, often combined with provolone cheese in a panino. It's also used as one of the meats in antipasto dishes, where it may be topped off with a thin layer of olive oil. Most US submarine sandwich restaurants use mortadella, along with Genoa salami, ham and provolone cheese, to produce the well-loved Italian sub. Europeans outside of Italy use the sausage frequently and are its largest consumers outside of Italy. It's also popular in Brazil and Argentina, and its market in the United States is experiencing significant growth.

Most gourmets avoid American-made mortadella, unless it is made in the Italian style. Part of this may be due to the US tendency to serve the sausage in thick slices, where the spice and fat may be overbearing. Throughout the US, Italian and other European markets and delis often offer more traditional styles.

If a shopper cannot find mortadella that appeals to him or her locally, it can be ordered from various American suppliers online. The Internet also provides the opportunity to order the classic sausage straight from Bologna. Chefs my find that it's necessary to invest in a slicer to achieve the classic serving style.

Mortadella is studded with fat taken from the throat of a pig.
Mortadella is studded with fat taken from the throat of a pig.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


You can eat mortadella from the pan (fried). I also grew up with that. A couple of eggs over easy over a mortadella slice tastes very good. Of course you have to have good bread (solid, not sodium).


Wow, I have grown up with mortadella, as my father is of Spanish origin, yet i never knew what was in it. But now i know how tasty and delicious pig throat fat is, mmmmmm.

Thank you wise geek, you are my hero!


I was so ticked when I went into this deli/bakery and asked for a simple Mortadella sandwich and they come back with a fried sandwich. No, no, no! Mortadella is not meant to be fried. I am from an old town in Italy and if anyone were to do such a thing you'd get chased with a rolling pin lol. Italian is about simplicity -- nothing more.


when I was a kid growing up in Brazil we would have mortadella sandwiches. Just a few thin slices of mortadella, butter or margarine, on a french sour dough bread and that's all we needed. later, we adopted a less fatty version in it, which doesn't have the lard blobs in it, because it is healthier - and, in that, it is similar to American bologna.


Hard mortadella salami on french white bread. maybe little olive oil warp in paper and you're good to go!


In Sicily, Mortadella is made from Donkey & Pork meat & spices.


Um, I don't see any mention of peppers or olives in the making of mortadella: "...In addition to pork meat, mortadella is studded with pork fat taken from the throat of the pig. It is spiced with pepper, and may also contain myrtle berries and coriander. In Italy, mortadella is often studded with pistachios or pine nuts."

American or not, (and fried or not) I think anon55405 has this meat confused with olive loaf? Or perhaps they didn't read the whole article.


Come on! Fried mortadella? that's plain wrong. Why do you americans want to fry everything? Mortadela should be eaten with a good pan flauta (kind of like your italian bread) alone, to give the taste buds a good sample of the spices, peppers and olives. And if you are worried about your cholesterol, you might want to stay away from any italian cold cut.


Wouldn't eat it everyday with a cholesterol issue. Once a week is fine. I love it.


I went to the deli and asked for mortadella. They didn't know if it was a cheese or a meat. We assumed it was cheese. We were wrong. It was called for in a recipe for muffaletta salad by Emeril. I'm going to make it anyway with the mortadella omitted. We'll probably never miss it.


Is mortadella bad for you if you have high cholesterol?


fried mortadella sandwiches is also a great way to eat mortadella!

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