Spicy Italian Sausage: Ingredients You Need to Know

Spicy Italian sausage is made of pork, red pepper flakes, fennel, and a blend of herbs and spices; it can also be plant-based, offering a meat-free alternative.

Spicy Italian Sausage

What makes Italian sausage spicy? What spicy Italian sausage is made of matters. All sausages are not the same, at all? You can close your eyes and choose any package of sausage from the deli section, and it’ll taste just like the one next to it, right? 

Actually, sausage, and Italian sausage, in particular, is a versatile part of the world of prepared meat.

One of the first questions you might have as you explore different sausages is: what is spicy Italian sausage made of?

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What Spicy Italian Sausage Is Made Of

Spicy Italian Sausage

If you’re in an Italian neighborhood, you might hear spicy Italian sausage referred to as “nduja,” and the name normally refers to a type of pork sausage that gets its taste from roasted red peppers added to the mixture.

Common ingredients of spicy Italian sausage include the following.

  • Pork
  • Salt & pepper
  • Granulated garlic
  • Granulated onion
  • Ground fennel
  • Paprika
  • Oregano
  • Sage
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Red wine vinegar

One of the ingredients of Italian sausage that differentiates it from other types (like German or Andouille or Andouille alternatives) is the addition of fennel, which is an herb that smells like licorice.

The ingredient that gives spicy Italian sausage its hot flavor is the roasted red peppers or red pepper flakes (similar to Red Hot sausages). 

In some recipes, you may see cayenne pepper used in place of red pepper flakes, but the result is the same: a spicy sausage.

Some recipes may also use anise, and the mixture may also feature fresh or dry herbs. The ingredients are simply the personal preference of the sausage maker.

There’s More than One Type of Italian Sausage

If you’re searching for an Italian sausage for your next meal, you’ll want to make sure you select the right type of Italian sausage. Not all Italian sausage is spicy or hot (same as types of German or Hungarian sausage).

Many delis and grocery stores sell Italian sausage in hot (spicy), sweet, and mild types. 

In most cases, it’s the addition of hot red pepper flakes that places Italian sausage in the spicy category.

If you have someone in your household who can’t handle the heat of hot Italian sausage but still wants the unique herb flavor of Italian sausage, you can try sweet Italian sausage as a substitute. 

While red pepper flakes make Italian sausage hot, sweet basil is added to Italian sausage to make it sweet.

Sweet Italian sausage also sometimes has a strong garlic flavor. At a basic level, sausage is a combination of ground meat, salt, fat, and herbs or spices. 

For anyone at your dinner party who’s very picky and doesn’t want the sweet or hot variety, mild Italian sausage might be the way to go since it doesn’t have a strong flavor in any direction.

All Italian sausage types taste similar, but the main differences are the additions of sweet or hot ingredients.

Where is Spicy Italian Sausage Sourced from on Pigs?

In almost all Italian sausage recipes, the meat used is pork, and the casings come from pigs, too. The casings in which sausages are held are made from the pig’s intestines, and the meat normally comes from the leg or shoulders of the pig (similar to cottage bacon). 

One of the unique features of Italian sausage, as opposed to other types of sausage, is that it’s a spreadable type of pork sausage, which is why you’ll often see the sausage included in pizza recipes or in a soup mixture.

The History of Hot Italian Sausage

The first mention of sausage in history occurred in the 1st century BCE when a Roman historian described the process of stuffing meat into pig intestines. The meat was generally salted and mixed with spices.

Over the next two-thousand years, humans would expand upon that basic recipe and create thousands of different flavor experiences.

The Italian sausage most commonly sold in American supermarkets is based on a Sicilian recipe, but the American version is less coarse and features lower fat than the Sicilian variety.

If you want the authentic variety, your best bet is to visit a deli run or owned by Italians since they’ll usually make the sausage according to traditional recipes – like salami, pepperoni, mortadella, etc.

What is Italian Sausage Called in Italy?

The Italians call sausage stuffed with minced or ground pork salsiccia, which is simply a name for any type of fresh Italian sausage.

These sausages may have different herbs and spices mixed into the pork, and some may taste quite similar to the North American version of spicy Italian sausage.

In Italy, recipes that feature sausage vary significantly and include soups and stews, as well as all sorts of combinations of pasta or risotto.

Sometimes, Italians may use sausage as lunch meat or as a stuffing, and it’s commonly eaten as a snack when cut into slices and paired with cheese. You can even spread Italian sausage on crackers when you eat it as a snack.

If you ever visit Italy and order a dish that features sausage, note that southern Italy tends to have the spiciest or hottest sausage, and northern Italy has milder sausage.

If you’re sensitive to hot sausage, always ask the server or chef whether their sausage is fiery hot or mildly hot.

Is Spicy Italian Sausage Always Made of Pork and Red Pepper Flakes?

At its most basic level, Italian sausage is made of pork, salt, pepper, fennel, and parsley. To create a spicy version, the recipe includes chili flakes or cayenne pepper.

In North America, Italian sausage is virtually always made of pork. Italian sausage is a popular ingredient on pizzas from major pizza chains, and the meat is virtually always made of pork.

However, technically you can make spicy Italian sausage with other meats and still retain the overall spice palate. If you search the store shelves in the deli section, you might see Italian sausage made with beef, turkey, chicken, or lamb.

As long as the recipe includes something spicy like red pepper flakes, the manufacturer can reasonably call it spicy Italian sausage.

Finding a non-pork variety of spicy Italian sausage is helpful for Jews and Muslims who avoid pork as a part of their religion. Just like you can find chicken sausage with German-style herbs if you’re avoiding beef, you can find pork-free Italian sausage that uses an alternative like chicken or turkey.

You may also occasionally see spicy Italian sausage made with other herbs beyond salt, pepper, fennel, and parsley. Some recipes feature thyme or licorice.

Many companies that have perfected their sausage recipes over several generations have tweaked their herbs and ingredients to create a unique flavor.

Spicy Italian Sausage for Vegans and Vegetarians

One of the most interesting developments in the world of sausage is the creation of sausage links made from plant-based foods rather than pork or any other type of meat.

Companies like Beyond Meat have expanded upon their initial “beef” patty options to other areas like sausage. 

Not only does the company sell Italian sausage, but it sells a spicy version, too. Impossible Foods also has a line of plant-based sausages, which includes a spicy version meant to taste like traditional spicy Italian sausage.

If you’re a fan of pigs but like sausage, too, you might consider these plant-based options as a meat-free alternative.

Some of the ingredients of Impossible spicy Italian sausages are salt, onion powder, and chili flakes, which are remarkably like the ingredients you might find in traditional pork-based spicy Italian sausage. 

Can You Make Your Own Spicy Italian Sausage?

If you’re interested in making your own spicy Italian sausage, you can use all the regular ingredients for the sausage, as well as some generic “Italian seasoning” to drive the flavor home.

You’ll want to gather the following ingredients for your recipe.

  • Black pepper
  • Fennel seed
  • Garlic
  • Ground pork
  • Italian seasoning
  • Onion
  • Paprika
  • Parsley
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Salt

The process of making the sausage mixture is very simple and requires nothing more complicated than adding all of the seasonings in a bowl, mixing them, and then adding that mixture to a meat of your choice.

There’s no need to stuff the sausage mixture into casings because you’ll probably just use the crumbles in a mixture with other ingredients like a pasta dish or soup. It goes really well with Sausage & Peppers – and pairs well with a range of dishes.

How Long Can You Store Spicy Italian Sausage?

Whether you buy your spicy Italian sausage or make it at home, you should only store it in the refrigerator for a few days before switching it to a freezer.

Uncooked sausage lasts about two days, but cooked sausage will last about four. If you move your sausages to the freezer, make sure to eat them within four months.

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