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What is Salami? Salami is a type of cured sausage consisting of fermented and air-dried meat, typically beef or pork. Historically, salami was popular among southern and central European peasants because it stores at room temperature for up to 40 days once cut, supplementing a potentially meager or inconsistent supply of fresh meat. Countries and regions across Europe make their own traditional varieties of salami.
The word salami in English comes from the plural form of the Italian salame. It is a singular or plural word in English for cured meats of a European (particularly Italian) style. In Romanian, Bulgarian, and Turkish, the word is salam; in Hungarian, it is szalámi; while Spanish, French, German, and Dutch, have the same word as English. The name may be derived from the Latin words "salsiccia" and "salumen". The word originates from the word sale (salt) with a termination (ame) that in Italian indicates a collective noun. Thus, it originally meant "all kinds of salted (meats)". The Italian tradition of cured meats includes several styles, and the word salame soon specifically meant only the most popular kind—a salted and spiced meat, ground and extruded into an elongated, thin casing (usually cleaned animal intestine), then left to undergo natural fermentation for days, months, or even years.
The concept of fermentation—allowing beneficial or benign organisms to grow in food to prevent destructive or toxic ones from growing—especially with meat, has been around for thousands of years. This is evident in the presence of various types of sausages found globally. As well, environmental conditions dictate what food processes are used, as seen in the Mediterranean and southern Europe where "meat products are dried to lower water activity (Aw) values, taking advantage of the long dry and sunny days, while in northern Europe, fermented sausages require smoking for further preservation. In Europe, the main countries that produce salami are France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and Spain, which make "several of hundred million kg per year.
Worldwide, there are many different versions of sausage, each with its own cultural and flavor profiles. Additionally, each sausage has its own type of seasonings and amount of salt, making each flavor and texture unique. This wide array of fermented sausages, especially in terms of salami, shows its ubiquitous but exclusive nature. For example, due to immigration to North America, European settlers brought many traditions, including fermented meats such as bologna or pepperoni. Similar types of sausages are found in the Middle East, where various meats like beef, lamb, and mutton are used; or in China, where "lap cheong" (translated as "waxed intestines") are usually pork. Likewise, in eastern Europe, Hungarian salami is quite popular. Hungarian salami is "intensively smoked, and then its surface is inoculated with mold starters or spontaneous mold growth.
Traditional salami, with its typical marbled appearance, is made from beef or pork (sometimes specifically veal). Beef is usual in halal and kosher salami, which never include pork for religious reasons. Makers also use other meats, including venison and poultry (mostly turkey). Goose salami is traditional in parts of Northern Italy. Salami has also been made from horse meat. In the Provence region of France, donkey meat is used for salami as well, the product being sold in street markets. Typical additional ingredients include:
Spices, usually white pepper
The maker usually ferments the raw meat mixture for a day, then stuffs it into either an edible natural or inedible cellulose casing, and hangs it up to cure. Some recipes apply heat to about 40 °C (104 °F) to accelerate fermentation and drying. Higher temperatures (about 60 °C (140 °F)) stop the fermentation when the salami reaches the desired pH, but the product is not fully cooked (75 °C (167 °F) or higher). Makers often treat the casings with an edible mold (Penicillium) culture. The mold imparts flavor, helps the drying process, and helps prevent spoilage during curing.
Salami varieties include:
Cacciatore (cacciatora, cacciatorini) "hunter" salami, Italy
Chorizo, also spicy Iberian variant
Ciauscolo, typical of Marche
Felino, province of Parma
Finocchiona, typical of southern Tuscany
Kulen spicy salami characteristic for Slavonia, Vojvodina, and parts of Baranya
Saucisson sec (French "dry sausage")
Soppressata, typical of Calabria
Spegepølse (Danish, means salted and dried sausage)
Winter salami (Hungarian téliszalámi)
Many Old World salami are named after their region or country of origin—such as Arles, Genoa, Hungarian, and Milano salami. Many are flavored with garlic. Some types—including some varieties from Spain (salchichón), Hungary (pick salami), and Italy (such as Neapolitan varieties that led to American pepperoni) include paprika or chili powder. Varieties also differ by coarseness or fineness of the chopped meat and size and style of the casing.
Though completely uncooked, salami is not raw, but cured. Salame cotto—typical of the Piedmont region in Italy—is cooked or smoked before or after curing to impart a specific flavor but not for any benefit of cooking. Before cooking, a cotto salame is considered raw and not ready to eat. Three major stages are involved in the production of salami: preparation of raw materials, fermentation and ripening and drying. Any minor differences in the formulation of the meat or production techniques could give rise to the various kinds of salami across different countries.
Before fermentation, raw meat (usually pork or beef depending on the type of salami that is produced) is milled and mixed with other ingredients such as salt, sugar, spices, and yeast, and, if the particular salami variety requires it, bacterial starter culture. They are then inlaid into their casings with the desired size. To achieve the flavor and texture that salami possesses, fermentation, which can also be referred to as a slow acidification process promoting a series of chemical reactions in the meat, has to take place. Direct acidification of meat was found to be inappropriate for salami production since it causes protein denaturation and an uneven coagulation thereby causing an undesirable texture in the salami. For a more modern controlled fermentation, makers hang the salami in warm humid conditions for one to three days to encourage the fermenting bacteria to grow, then hang it in a cool, humid environment to slowly dry. In a traditional process, the maker skips the fermentation step and immediately hangs the salami in a cool, humid curing environment. Added sugars (usually dextrose) provide a food source for the curing bacteria.
The bacteria produce lactic acid as a waste product, which lowers the pH and coagulates the proteins, reducing the meat's water-holding capacity. The bacteria-produced acid makes the meat an inhospitable environment for pathogenic bacteria and imparts a tangy flavor that distinguishes salami from machine-dried pork. Salami flavor relies as much on how these bacteria are cultivated as it does on the quality and variety of the other ingredients. Originally, makers introduced wine into the mix, favoring the growth of other beneficial bacteria. Now, they use starter cultures.
The climate of the curing environment and casing size and style determine the drying and curing process. According to the variety of salami, different fermentation methods involving different acids are explored in order to create various colors and flavors. Starter cultures such as lactic acid bacteria (LAB) and coagulase-negative cocci (CNC) are most commonly used in salami production. More species of LAB and CNC were discovered during the last decades and they were found to have different fermentation temperatures with variable rates of acidification. Even though these bacteria can help maintain a longer shelf life for meat products and even retard the growth of pathogens, there are a few studies that argue some starter cultures may be related to the production of enterotoxins or biogenic amines that can be harmful to the human body. Therefore, starter cultures have to be carefully selected by producers and properly used in fermentation.
After fermentation, the sausage must be dried. This change the casings from water-permeable to reasonably airtight. A white covering of either mold or flour helps prevent photo-oxidation of the meat and rancidity in the fat. Ripening and drying happens after fermentation. This stage causes the main physical and microbial changes through the large amount of water loss. About half of the water is evaporated and further water loss must be prevented by packaging. Nonuniform drying processes could cause the formation of a hard shell on the surface of salami. This is like other food products such as fruits that undergo dehydration to prevent water removal from inside which would increase the risk of diseases or spoilage-causing microbial growth. In modern manufacturing temperature and relative humidity are strictly controlled according to the size of salami. Nitrates or nitrites are added to provide the cured meat color and inhibit growth of harmful bacteria from the genus Clostridium. Salt, acidity, nitrate/nitrite levels, and dryness of the fully cured salami combine to make the uncooked meat safe to consume. High quality, fresh ingredients are important to helping prevent deadly microorganisms and toxins from developing.
Salami is homogeneous in appearance and highly ductile. Its quality is dependent on the quality of the raw materials and the level of technology used in its production. The aroma and taste of salami are developed by enzymatic and non-enzymatic reactions. The characteristic fermented meat flavor is believed to be developed by a combination of endogenous enzymatic activities and the lactic acid produced by the starter culture. Lactic acid bacteria develop the tangy flavor of salami through the fermentation of carbohydrates and produces an appealing red color to the meat after fermentation, while coagulase-negative cocci can catabolize amino acid and fatty acid to produce volatile compounds. The flavor itself consists of odor properties, which comes from volatile substances, and taste and tactile properties, which comes from non-volatile substances that are a result of enhancers and synergists.
When smoke is applied to salami, it also affects the taste, smell, appearance, and texture. Some of these changes are due to the formation of phenolic compounds, which slow fat oxidation. The pyrolysis of cellulose and hemicelluloses in the salami casing produces carbonyls, which develop the color of the meat.
More than 400 volatile compounds have been identified in different types of dry-fermented sausages. For example, the organic compounds identified in Hungarian salami produced the dominant flavors of smokiness, sweetness, pungency, sourness, and cloves; secondary flavors included cooked meat, cheese, popcorn, cooked potato, mushroom, seasoning, phenols, roasting, sulfur, and sweatiness. Some minor flavors included malt, garlic, fruit, pine, grass, citrus, honey, caramel, and vanilla. The overall smoky note is the result of numerous phenols. Whether these odorants are formed in the salami or simply transferred from the raw materials during manufacturing is unknown; systematic studies have yet to compare the odorants present in the raw materials to those in the final product.
Salami will remain stable for long periods of time, as it has a low water activity and contains preservatives, colorings, flavorings, antioxidants and acidifying cultures. Semi-ripened salami will maintain its flavor for long periods of time under retail display conditions, but it will eventually deteriorate due to the development of incipient rancidity. The shelf life of salami is mainly determined by sensory deterioration, which is the result of various oxidation phenomena; pathogenic or spoilage bacteria do not readily proliferate in dry-cured sausage. The main cause of flavor deterioration in dry-cured sausage is rancidity, though the possible formation of other off-flavors, such as moldy, acid, putrid or pungent traits, may contribute to the decreased eating quality.
The use of coriander essential oil in salami has been shown to increase the higher synthetic antioxidant effect of butylated hydroxytoluene, which delays lipid oxidation and the rancid aroma and taste that come with it. Additionally, salami with coriander essential oil shows improvements in the sensory attributes of taste, odor, texture, brightness, and red color intensity.
Salami is a raw fermented sausage consisting of raw comminuted pork and/or beef meat, fat, and additives, such as curing salt, spices, sugar, and a starter culture. There are multiple different types of Salami meat in various markets around the world. In northern and central Europe, smoked salamis are preferred, and ripening is controlled by the addition of lactic acid-producing starter cultures, whereas in southern Europe, salami is slowly air-dried and mostly mold-ripened. Therefore, different preservation and drying methods are used around the world to prepare salami.
Hungarian-type salami is a specialty in salami production, because it is first slightly smoked and mold-ripened afterward. The salami that is of Hungarian origin, the so-called "Hungarian Winter salami", is made of raw pork, bacon, salt, spices, sugars, and sodium nitrite. Szegedi téliszalámi (winter salami) is made of Mangalitsa pork breed, with horse large intestine used as its casing to preserve and serve it. This type acquires a grey mold cover on it and has a firm texture and excellent keeping quality after a 30% weight loss reached in 3 to 4 months. Hungarian salami is one of the world's two trade names for salami, Milano salami being the other. These fermented sausages combine smoke and mold application in one. The traditional technology used to produce them is based on the Italian pre-drying technique developed during the nineteenth century, but they are smoked and their pH does not drop below 5.5, so the final flavor of the product is not acidic.
Dry fermented sausage is an important product of the Greek meat industry with an annual production of about 10 000 tons. Its manufacture varies depending on the skill and experience of the meat manufacturer rather than a process solely based on scientific and technological means of production. This type of traditional sausage, which undergoes an adventitious fermentation, is of superior quality compared to those inoculated with starters and made in industrial scale. The quality of this type of traditional salami is often more expensive due to its high quality.
Naples-type salami is also a popular Southern Italian dry fermented sausage made of coarsely minced pork meat. In Northeast Italy, traditional dry fermented salami sausages made of fresh pork display unique organoleptic sensory profiles characterized by accented acidity, slight sourness, and elastic semi hard consistency. Other popular dry salamis in Italy are mainly made from a combination of pork and small bits of beef, seasoned with garlic; pepperoni is also made of pork and beef, and is usually smoked; and chorizo is highly spiced and smoked in comparison.
In central Europe, Germany, there is Westphalian salami. It is made with fast technology from pork meat, pepper, garlic, and sometimes mustard seeds, is a smoked, firm, sliceable product with a distinct fermentation/sour flavor. The sausages are stuffed into large-diameter casings and ripened by lowering the temperature room 24 °C to 12–14 °C until a water loss of 25% is obtained. In the Netherlands, the most popular Dutch products are finely chopped salami, Cervelat, Snijworst (with high fat content and rind added), Boerenmetworst (which is coarsely chopped), and chorizo (which is less spicy than the Spanish product). In Russia, typical products are Moscow-type and Russian-type salamis made from pork and beef meat. A feature of Moscow- type salami is the large size of fat particles (7–8mm) that give the sausage a rough cover.
There are many aspects of salami that can be considered both detrimental and positive to human health. Salami has been found to be a possible allergen to some people due to the use of penicillium species mold starter during the drying and curing portion of processing to add flavor and stop growth of undesirable molds. These molds occur predominantly in the skin of salami. Fermented pork back fat that is used to make salami has very high saturated fatty acid and cholesterol content, which can increase the risk of heart disease and pancreatitis. However, it has been shown that it is possible to replace the pork back fat in salami with extra virgin olive oil thereby changing the fatty acid profile of the salami. Olive oil consists of a much larger amount of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, which allows this substitution to create a healthier product. Salami is considered slightly acidic due to lactic acid that is present. In salami where the pork back fat was substituted for extra virgin olive oil, it has shown to have a lower pH of around 5.00 compared to its original levels of around 6.35 to 6.55 making the salami more acidic. These lower pH levels are healthier for humans as higher populations of lactic acid bacteria inhibit the spread of spoilage microorganisms.
There have also been cases that have highlighted some of the possible health dangers of salami. An outbreak of Escherichia coli O157 infection of a husband and wife was traced back to the consumption of dry fermented salami made with pork meat after the couple was hospitalized for bloody diarrhea. There was also an outbreak of E. coli O157 in 1994 with 17 cases all occurring from the consumption of pre-sliced salami that was processed by one company. A research investigation of the factory where the salami was processed found that all processing techniques and production methods complied with all regulations and there was no evidence of contamination after processing.
Preservation of any meat products is important. Some fungi can create undesirable color and flavor to the contaminated meat and produce toxins. There are also fungi which are not harmful to humans such as those that are formed on the surface of dried salami which are an indication of maturation after ripening. Thus, producers have to eliminate fungi that have potential risks to human health. As natural preservatives are becoming more desirable food additives than artificial preservatives in food industries, some studies about salami have been focusing on the utilization of essential oils such as oregano and clove oil as preservatives that can be applied to salami production due to their anti-fungal activities. Several types of oils including rosemary, clove, oregano and sage oils were found to have different levels of inhibition effect to various types of fungi that could possibly grow on salami. Since several of these oils contain volatile compounds whose amount can affect the flavor of the food, researchers often perform a sensory test to find the amount of the oil that can best serve as an anti-fungal preservative but have the least effect on the flavor or appearance of the salami.