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Pepperoni: A Brief History

Pepperoni, a cured salami spiced with paprika or other chilis, is consistently ranked as Americans’ favorite pizza topping. But where did it come from? Is it even Italian? Here’s a short history of an iconic pizza topping.

Italian Innovation

Although it looks the part, pepperoni isn’t a traditional type of Italian cured sausage. Rather, it was invented by Italians who came to the United States in the early 20th century. In 1919, the pepperoni sausage first appeared in Lower Manhattan, New York City. It was developed by Italian immigrants who added paprika and a mix of other chili-pepper-based spice to dry salami (traditionally called “salsiccia,” “soppressata,” or “salame” in Italy). In addition to its signature flavor, the spices helped give the sausage its red color, along with the nitrates traditionally used in Italian cured meats. 

Hopping on the Pie

Pepperoni wasn’t automatically thought of as a topping for pizza, which in 1920 was still developing into the modern, Italian-inspired pie we know today. Instead, it remained a variation of the traditional Italian-American salami sausage. That began to change starting in the 1950s, when pizza had become an American favorite. The first pizzeria to feature a pepperoni-topped pie was allegedly The Spot in New Haven, Connecticut.

Thereafter, pepperoni became an increasingly popular choice for pizza toppings, largely due to the fact that it was cured and would not spoil easily. It was inexpensive, could be shipped long distances, and consumers loved the spicy, smoky flavor. As with other American staples, a unique combination of price, flavor, and logistics made it popular, rather than widespread preference or culture. By the 1970s, when Rosati’s started issuing franchises, pepperoni had been the nation’s preferred pizza topping for more than 20 years.

Today, pepperoni covers at least a third of all pizzas, if not more, and most Americans can barely imagine talking about pizza without at least mentioning the spicy red sausage. Want to find out more about Rosati’s pepperoni or the Rosati’s franchise opportunity? Visit our franchise page today!



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