The Unexpected American Origins Of Pepperoni

America's favorite pizza topping feels like it should come from Italy but it's actually an American invention. Granted, it was Italian-American immigrants who were behind it. Although the exact origins are something of a mystery, the first recorded mention of pepperoni is dated to 1919 in the Big Apple – New York City. It was at the beginning of the 20th century that Italian butcher shops became successful in New York. More and more of them were popping up around the city, but they were struggling to access the same ingredients for their products as they were used to back in Italy.

By combining centuries-old Italian sausage-making with American ingredients, such as smoked paprika and chili spices, the pepperoni sausage was born. The name pepperoni comes from the Italian word for bell pepper, peperone. Initially, pepperoni was more often used in Italian deli sandwiches. It wasn't until later, in the 1950s, that pizza became a wider cultural phenomenon in the United States, and pepperoni rose in popularity with it. Today, a full 35% of all pizzas ordered in the United States have pepperoni on them.

A spicy meat treat

Pepperoni is such an American thing that you can't even find it in Italy outside of high-profile tourist destinations. If you're at a pizza shop in Rome, they might know what you mean. But if you ask for pepperoni anywhere else, you're more likely to get a plate of sliced bell peppers. If you're craving pepperoni while abroad, ask for salame piccante. It's not the exact same thing, but it's as close as you're going to get and it's fun to try foods that are local.

Although pepperoni draws from European styles of food, pepperonis are a truly American product. All chili peppers originated in either North or South America and pepperoni gets its spicy flavor from the chili spices inside. This marriage of Italian sausage with local American ingredients makes pepperoni a truly globe-trotting treat worthy of its fame. The next time you bite into a delicious slice of pepperoni pizza, give a toast to the Italian immigrants who made it possible.