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What is Salami?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Salami is a type of sausage — ground meat stuffed into a casing — which is not “cooked” but is instead allowed to ferment and cure before being dried and made edible. There are a number of different types of salami, usually named for the region they come from, and they are produced in many different countries, such as Italy, Germany, France, and the United States (US). Different meats are often used to produce them, though beef, veal, venison, and pork are all fairly common. Salami is usually fairly hard, making it easier to slice thinly and ideal for use in sandwiches or enjoyed by itself.

The word “salami” is an Italian word, the plural form of salame, which is simply a term for any type of salted meat. With the rising popularity of salami, however, the term became connected primarily to one particular type of salted meat that was stuffed into an animal casing and then allowed to cure. In English, the word “salami” is used for both singular and plural references to this one type of sausage.

Often found in delis as well as produced by commercial manufacturers for sale as pre-packaged slices, salami has become a very popular type of meat throughout much of the world, including the US. It is typically made by first grinding meat and mixing the ground meat up with a number of spices and flavorings. While salt, pepper, and garlic are all quite common, wine can be added and in some regions paprika is also a popular ingredient. The meat is then allowed to ferment before being stuffed into a casing, usually either a natural animal casing or a synthetic casing, and then hung up to cure. Some types are also smoked before or after curing, usually called cotto salame, which adds flavor to the meat but does not cook it.

The curing process activates bacteria in the meat which makes the ground meat an inhospitable environment for dangerous bacteria that can cause meat to spoil. Helpful types of bacteria were previously introduced in the wine that was added, though now bacterial starters are commonly used. After curing, the meat is dried out to make the casing firm and not allow moisture to pass through, which could spoil the meat after curing. If the process is done properly, it produces salami that is safe to eat, without refrigeration, for several years. This longevity is one of the major reasons these sausages were so popular prior to the development of reliable and affordable means of refrigeration.

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Discussion Comments

By anon319727 — On Feb 14, 2013

Why does dry cured salami stink and taste awful when cooked on top of pizza?

By LisaLou — On May 12, 2012

When I was visiting friends in San Francisco, I was introduced to Molinari salami. This is well known here and the company has been around for at least 100 years.

They use a combination of beef and pork to make their salami and spice it with whole peppercorns.

I love pepper on just about everything, and this adds the perfect amount of spice to this meat. You can eat this alone, and it also tastes great in sandwiches along with some sharp cheese.

By sunshined — On May 12, 2012

I have a cousin that makes his own beef salami. This is really good and I think it has a better flavor than some of the known brands I have bought at the store.

We always know when our family gets together that he will bring his salami. We would be disappointed if he didn't.

He likes to smoke and cure all different kinds of meat, and salami is one of his specialties. Not everybody likes it and if they knew how it was actually made, they would probably never want to taste it again.

I know the way salami is made sounds kind of gross, but it is safe to eat and is something that we like to take with us when we travel.

By Mykol — On May 11, 2012

I have never made my own salami, and now I understand why. This sounds like a long process that would take a lot of time and patience.

I always buy my salami in the store and enjoy the taste of this meat and the many different ways you can serve it.

My favorite way of eating salami is with slices of cheese served on crackers. This makes a great snack or appetizer that will fill you up.

It isn't a sugary snack that leaves you empty, but gives you a full and satisfied feeling and helps curb your appetite.

By orangey03 — On May 11, 2012
Italian salami has a wonderful flavor. I love putting it with pepperoni and prosciutto.

I like to make a sandwich on a wheat roll using several round slices of all three of these meats, combined with American cheese. This is a very satisfying sandwich. It fills me up for hours longer than a one-meat sandwich would.

Sometimes, I prefer to eat the Italian salami on crackers. I buy the big round crackers that are the perfect size to act as edible plates for the salami. I eat them as a mid-afternoon snack or as part of my lunch.

By Perdido — On May 10, 2012

My husband gets hard salami from the deli every week. He eats it for lunch often, and he needs the protein, because he works hard.

He is in construction, and he and most of his coworkers eat lunches that will give them the energy they need to finish the day. Protein is a vital part of this, and salami is packed with it.

It probably isn't the best thing for his health, but it does keep him going. Right now, he takes salami for lunch about three days a week, and on the other days, he eats turkey and chicken. I would like to see him cut down to once a week with the salami, for health reasons.

By kylee07drg — On May 09, 2012

@StarJo – It's the chemical process that occurs that makes it safe to eat. My uncle worked for a butcher for many years, and he once told me a little about how salami is cured.

He said that the key is to use sugar in with the spices. The bacteria in the meat start to eat the sugar, and as they do, the pH drops. This is what makes the meat safe to eat.

I trust my uncle, so I never had any fears about eating salami once he told me this. I guess it is an acquired taste, though, because my mother and sister can't stand the flavor. Personally, I could happily eat a sandwich of nothing but salami and wheat bread.

By StarJo — On May 09, 2012

Wow, so the meat is allowed to basically rot inside the casing? That sounds gross and completely unsafe to eat!

I have never tried cured salami, but my friends love it. I don't like the smell, and something just seems a little strange about it. Maybe it's the fact that it was allowed to ferment.

How can something that was so full of bacteria really be considered safe for consumption? I would never eat a rotten pig, and that basically sounds like what salami is.

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