NO, it isn’t pepper.
Pepper is a spice that is used in Italian sausage. It’s not the most commonly used meat seasoning in Italian sausage.
The most commonly used meat seasoning in Italian sausage is…a mixture of other things.
It’s a mix of ground meat, pork fat, and salt, with some brown sugar and some seasonings that vary from region to region. The proportions of each ingredient are determined by what the sausages are made from; for example, if you want a sausage with less fat it will use less fat to make the same amount of sausage. (This is why the labels on prepared meats often say “lean” and “extra lean.”)
The most commonly used meat seasoning in Italian sausage is a combination of paprika, salt, garlic and pepper. The mixture was first created by a German immigrant named Jacob Kuechle in the 1870’s. It became popular because it helped differentiate bratwurst from other sausages.
One of the most commonly used spices in Italian sausage is fennel. It’s an herb, and it’s from the same plant as dill. But that isn’t what you find in Italian sausage. The most common seasoning for Italian sausage is black pepper. (It also goes by several other names, including peperoncino, pepperoni, pimento, and pimpampette.)
The reason why you don’t find fennel in Italian sausage is a historical accident. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, fennel was a spice that was grown mainly in Egypt and southern Europe; it didn’t get to Italy until the 19th century. And so there wasn’t much call for it then. But when Italians discovered they could use it as an ingredient for their own cuisine, they began using it more and more often. That way of using fennel spread around the world with them; now it’s popular everywhere that uses Italian sausage or similar sausages.
Italian sausage (in the United States) is made with hot dogs, an animal flesh that is not very good to eat. But what do Italian people believe the best sausage seasoning is?
Their answer depends on whether they are using a recipe from northern or southern Italy. The northern Italian recipes use what Italians call timballo, which is meat stewed with vegetables and wine. The southern Italian recipes use something called soffritto, which is a kind of meat-and-vegetable broth.
The difference between them is less important than it seems. Timballo and soffritto are both sometimes called cacciatore in northern Italy, which means hunter, because they both include mushrooms. But whether you call your dish cacciatore or timballo it will have the same ingredients: beef and pork and vegetables and wine and stock.
Sausage spices are herbs and spices used in Italian sausage that are often mixed into the meat before smoking. Sausage spice blends can vary by region, but generally the basic ingredients include sage, marjoram, rosemary, oregano, pepper, cloves, and red pepper flakes.
The most commonly used herbs and spices for sausage spice include:
Sage – It adds a savory flavor to meats.
Marjoram – This herb adds a sweet flavor to meats.
Rosemary – It adds a sweet flavor to meats; rosemary also has healing properties to it.
Oregeno – This herb makes meats taste like they have been cooked in olive oil.
Pepper – Pepper is an excellent choice for adding a spicy taste to meats.
Cloves – Cloves add a sweet taste to meats; they also have healing properties to them.
Red pepper flakes – Red pepper flakes add a spicy taste to meats.
The taste of Italian sausage is dominated by garlic, but it also includes allspice, fennel, and other spices. The exact mix of ingredients varies from region to region. But about a decade ago the U.S. Department of Agriculture tried to standardize the blend for federal meat inspectors.**
The result was their so-called “Hickory Smoked Sausage Recipe.” It contains as much as 30 percent garlic, 12 percent black pepper, and 1 percent allspice. At every step along the way, the USDA adds another ingredient to make a particular kind of sausage (or “type”) that is suitable for that particular part of the country: one for North Carolina, one for South Carolina, one for Tennessee, etc.
This is an example of what economists call “regulatory capture,” the process by which regulators end up shaping the industries they are supposed to be regulating. A while ago I wrote a post* on my blog about this topic called “Why Does Everybody Like Garlic and Spicy Food?” The post focuses on why Italians like spicy food; it doesn’t address whether Italians should like spicy food or not.* In fact, Italians are often said to hate garlic and spicy food; some linguists have even hypothesized that they
In the United States, we’ve come to think of “Italian sausage” as a single sausage with a casing made from pork and fennel (a kind of anise) and sage. But in Italy, they make several kinds of Italian sausage, each with its own casing: beef, pork, chicken, rabbit.
The one that most people think of is the “classic” Italian sausage, which is made with beef and fennel and sage. But there are also sweet Italian sausages, which are made with pork and fennel; spicy Italian sausages, made with pork and fennel; rabbit Italian sausages; chicken Italian sausages; turkey Italian sausages; salmon Italian sausages. And in many places you can get vegetarian versions of all these sausages – veggie turkey sausages or veggie chicken or veggie sweet or veggie spicy or veggie everything. They are called “meats” but they contain little or no meat at all.