Cured vs Uncured Pepperoni – What’s The Difference?

I love a good slice of pepperoni pizza. It’s just a classic. However, pepperoni is one of those foods that can have a LOT of preservatives and chemical additives if you aren’t careful. Have you noticed that pepperoni is either “cured” or “uncured”? But what does that mean exactly? I’m talking all things pepperoni in this post, including cured vs uncured pepperoni, ingredients to look out for, and how to be a pro label-reader when it comes to pepperoni. 

This post may contain affiliate links. As an amazon affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you. See my privacy policy for more.

Homemade pepperoni pizza with a slice missing

What is Pepperoni?

Pepperoni is a type of salami, traditionally made from a mixture of finely ground pork, beef, or a combination of both. Usually it is seasoned with spices like paprika, garlic, and black pepper. However, what sets cured and uncured pepperoni apart is the preservation process and the ingredients used to preserve it.

several piece of pepperoni on a white background

Just for fun, let’s look at the ingredients in a popular brand of cured pepperoni:

BHA, BHT WITH CITRIC ACID ADDED TO HELP PROTECT FLAVOR.Ingredients: Pork, Beef, Salt, Contains 2% or less of Water, Dextrose, Spices, Lactic Acid Starter Culture, Oleoresin of Paprika, Garlic Powder, Sodium Nitrite, BHA, BHT, Citric Acid.

We’ll talk about all of those suspicious ingredients later… but it doesn’t look great in my opinion. Definitely more artificial ingredients than meat and spices. 

On the other hand, here is the ingredients in a more natural, uncured pepperoni:

Pork, Beef, Sea Salt. Contains Less Than 2% Of The Following: Turbinado Sugar, Water, Spices, Cultured Celery Powder, Granulated Garlic, Cherry Powder, Lactic Acid Starter Culture (Not From Milk), Rosemary Extract, Oleoresin Of Paprika, Lime Juice Concentrate. White Pepper, Black Pepper, Cayenne Pepper, Anise Seed Powder, Allspice, Fennel Seed.

What Is The Curing Process for Pepperoni?

After the meat is combined, and spices are added pepperoni is stuffed into casings, kind of like sausage. Next the meat is cured with curing agents, and dried. During this time, other flavor enhancers are sometimes added (which can be really bad for you). Here’s how this last part of the process works for cured vs uncured pepperoni:

Close up view of homemade pepperoni pizza with uncured pepperoni

Cured pepperoni undergoes a typical curing process that involves the use of sodium nitrite or sodium nitrate, and salt. In this curing process, chemical preservatives inhibit bacterial growth and contribute to the pink color of the meat. The curing process can take several days to weeks. Chemical additives (nitrates) are commonly found in many cured meats to increase shelf life.

In contrast, uncured pepperoni is made without the use of synthetic nitrates or nitrites. Instead, natural ingredients are used like celery powder or celery juice, which contain naturally occurring nitrates. When celery powder or juice is used in the curing process, it also helps prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. 

Next, pepperoni is often smoked to enhance the flavor. After smoking, it is aged for several seeks to allow the flavors to develop, and for the texture of the pepperoni to become a little bit firmer. 

Are Nitrates Bad For You?

Of all the ingredients in cured pepperoni, you may have heard of nitrates. But what are they exactly? 

There are actually nitrates and nitrites. Nitrates can be naturally occurring are found in fruits and vegetables. In regards to their effects on health, honestly it’s a little confusing. Basically nitrates/nitrites are chemical compounds composed of nitrogen and oxygen. Nitrates have three oxygen atoms, while nitrites have two oxygen atoms. Nitrates are not inherently bad, but the problem can occur when nitrates contact the tongue, the bacteria in the mouth or the enzymes in the body turn the nitrates into nitrites. Nitrites can form into nitric oxide, which can be good, or nitrosamines which are bad. Nitrosamines can have a negative effect and have been linked to increase in risk for cancer. If you want to learn more, this is a good article

The reason that nitrates are used in food preservation is because they help prevent the growth of harmful bacteria, such as Clostridium botulinum. 

Okay enough with the chemistry lesson. The main concept that you need to remember is that nitrates can be naturally occurring (like in fruits and vegetables), and they can serve a good purpose when they come from nature. Synthetic nitrates on the other hand, especially in processed foods and meats have been linked to several health issues and should be avoided. In general, experts agree that too much nitrates even from naturally occurring sources is not a great idea. 

Ingredients to Watch Out For In Cured Pepperoni

Besides the nitrates, cured pepperoni often has other synthetic chemicals and artificial preservatives added or used in the process. Here’s a few of the ingredients that you might see, and what they are:

cured vs uncured pepperoni... which is better? homemade sourdough pizza topped with cheese and uncured pepperoni

1. Sodium Erythorbate

Sodium ertythorbate is a synthetic antioxidant that is used to preserve the color of pepperoni. If you have ever looked closely, uncured pepperoni often has a darker color because they didn’t use sodium erythorbate to make it pink. While this synthetic ingredient is “generally considered safe” by the FDA, it is still a synthetic ingredient that should be approached with caution for long term effects. 

2. Sodium Diacetate

Yet another synthetic ingredient, this is an artificial flavoring agent that is used to add a tangy flavor to the pepperoni meat. Sodium diacetate has been linked to mood and attention disorders, allergies, and asthma (source).

3. Flavor Enhancers

This vague ingredient term can refer to many different synthetic flavor enhancers that are added to enhance the taste of pepperoni. Flavor enhancers may include MSG, salt or sweetener additives. 

4. Emulsifiers

Emulsifiers are food additives that help stabilize mixtures of ingredients that would otherwise separate, like oil and water. These food additives are commonly used in processed foods to improve texture, consistency, and shelf life. Studies have shown that emulsifiers can have a negative effect on the gut microbiome. Even contributing to digestive disorders like Chron’s and ulcerative colitis. Emulsifiers have also been linked to type 2 diabetes, and heart and liver diseases (source). 

5. Dextrose

This sweetener that is derived from corn, either natural derived or chemically altered. Dextrose is a simple sugar that is not ideal for people who struggle with their blood sugar levels (read more here). 

6. BHA / BHT

Synthetic preservatives that are used a lot in processed meats like deli meat or pepperoni. These preservatives have been found to have carcinogenic properties by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (source). BHA has also been shown to act as an endocrine disruptor,  interfering with healthy hormone production (source). 

The Problem With Synthetic Chemicals in Cured Pepperoni

The truth of the matter is that our bodies were not designed to digest synthetic chemicals or artificial preservatives. Many of these ingredients listed above are toxins to the body, which our livers have to detox out of the body. When the liver is overloaded with toxins, they are stored in fat cells in the body. These toxic ingredients in the body can also contribute to inflammation, high blood pressure, and even increased risk of cancer (source). 

Uncured vs Cured Pepperoni: Taste and Texture

When it comes to flavor and texture, cured vs uncured pepperoni may have slightly different flavors and textures. Some people say that cured pepperoni has a more traditional, salty taste with a little bit firmer texture. Uncured pepperoni, has a little bit milder, more natural flavor with a softer texture. Synthetic nitrates in cured pepperoni vs celery salt / natural nitrates in uncured pepperoni result in slightly different taste and texture according to some. I’m going to be honest with you though, I can’t tell a difference when I use uncured pepperoni on my homemade pizza. 

side view of pepperoni pizza on parchment paper

Natural Curing Agents for Uncured Pepperoni

There are many natural nitrites that can be used in pepperoni as an alternative to artificial nitrates. These natural methods include the use of natural salts, sugar, celery juice or powder, and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) as natural curing agents. 

Shelf Life of Cured vs Uncured Pepperoni

Since one of the main reasons that pepperoni is cured with synthetic curing agents is to increase shelf life, cured pepperoni will in fact last longer, especially at room temperature. While uncured versions might have a shorter shelf life, as long as you keep it in the refrigerator it will stay fresh for plenty of time and is still worth the trade off for natural ingredients. 

Should You Eat Cured or Uncured Pepperoni?

With all of the above health considerations, I would recommend uncured pepperoni as a part of a balanced diet. The risks from the use of synthetic chemicals in cured pepperoni is just not worth the risk in my opinion! Especially when there is not a significant difference in taste of the pepperoni, or loss of shelf life. Thankfully today, most people will have access to uncured pepperoni in their local grocery store. If not, you can actually order it online from amazon

Top view of a pepperoni pizza next to a pizza cutter and kitchen towel

With anything packaged, you should always proceed with some caution and it may be a good idea to do your own research on the company and their processes. See if the company is transparent about their curing method. Buying local is always your best bet. Maybe your local butcher shop sells fresh local pepperoni! It never hurts to look. 

Benefits of Uncured Pepperoni

I hope you see that there are many benefits to choosing uncured pepperoni vs cured pepperoni! In summary, here are a few:

1. Uncured pepperoni doesn’t have synthetic nitrates or nitrites. These synthetic curing agents found in cured peppeorni have been linked to various health risks and increased risk of cancer. They should be avoided! 

2. Uncured pepperoni doesn’t have artificial chemicals or additives. Uncured pepperoni is a more natural version of pepperoni that uses natural ingredients that are better for your body. 

3. Flavor. In my opinion, uncured pepperoni has a fresher taste than it’s artificial counterpart of cured pepperoni. You can be the judge yourself, but I always think that fresh, natural foods taste better. 

cured vs uncured pepperoni, text over homemade pepperoni pizza

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *