Bologna's Unclear Path To America's Sandwiches

Some regard bologna as a mystery meat, but that's a bunch of baloney. We know exactly what bologna is and where it came from. Not everyone is aware of those facts, though, which is perhaps how the meat gets its reputation.

Bologna is processed sausage lunch meat, made from chopped or ground beef, chicken, pork, and/or turkey, which is cooked, seasoned, or smoked, and sometimes sliced (via University of Wyoming). Spices aren't common in mass-produced bologna, but specialty meat markets may use coriander, garlic, or pepper.

Usually, bologna is included in sandwiches, but some snack on it as is, while others eat it fried. Where does this pink protein come from? None other than Bologna, Italy.

Bologna (the place, not the meat) has a much longer history than the food that's named after it. The settlement first formed thousands of years ago, according to the World Travel Guide, back in the Bronze Age. Enduring through many eras, Bologna developed a rich local cuisine.

Mortadella, a thick, spiced sausage with fat, green olives, pistachios, and peppercorns, is the Italian ancestor of bologna, per the University of Wyoming. Bologna's forebear is millennia old, per Eater, but when the pope formalized the exact definition of mortadella, modified recipes needed a new name. Those became known as bologna, after mortadella's hometown.

Bologna recipes date back to the mid-17th century, as noted by History Daily. Over time, this approximation of mortadella spread, eventually emigrating to America.

American baloney

How did an Italian meat become so widespread in the U.S.? The path it took to get there is a little unclear. So, maybe there's some validity to the 'mystery meat' idea, after all.

Eater claims German immigrants are popularly attributed as those responsible for bringing bologna to North America. History Daily states Italian immigrants brought it to America in the late 1800s or early 1900s, where it was primarily consumed by the lower class, at first.

It came to be called 'baloney,' perhaps because the mixture of dialects in New York at the time put an enduring spin on its pronunciation, as posited by University of Wyoming. It may even have been known as 'blarney' for a time.

Bologna attained ubiquity during the Great Depression, due to its affordability and versatility. Kids could eat it for school lunches, while families could fry it for dinner, says History Daily. Eater notes that its uses came in handy during war-time food rationing, at the same time that sandwiches were gaining full steam in the U.S.

By the mid-1900s, packaging and pre-slicing technologies made bologna even more accessible. Oscar Meyer's vacuum-sealing and catchy jingle catapulted bologna even further into fame, during the back half of the 20th century. In the 21st century, bologna remains a popular choice for American meals.

Ultimately, the precise path bologna took to get to the U.S. may not be too important. Maybe it was always destined to end up stuffed between slices of bread!