What Is Mortadella And What Does It Taste Like?

Ah, mortadella. Some may call it the bologna of Italy, but it's truly so much more than that. Yes, it's a cold cut that adorns sandwiches both hot and cold and finds its way on charcuterie boards (especially in the Northern Emilia-Romagna of the country). But, what exactly is mortadella?

Mortadella is an emulsified sausage that originated in Bologna, Italy, The Spruce Eats notes. It sometimes contains pistachios and has added flavors of black pepper and myrtle berries. The meat is known to have a spotted look, with white dots seen throughout the pale pink meat. This is due to its extra fat content, as mortadella is made with at least 15% pork fat cubes.

Mortadella that comes out of the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy is actually labeled "Mortadella Bologna." Other types of mortadella are not given that distinction and usually follow a more strict recipe. Mortadella — the original bologna, if you will — is smooth, luxurious, fatty, and delicious, redolent of subtle, warming spices and flavorings. Bologna is cool, sure ... but mortadella stands on its own.

What is the history of mortadella?

Veroni, an Italian cold cut company, notes that mortadella originated in Bologna, and when it began to spread beyond Italy, the cured-meat-turned-cold-cut became known simply as "bologna," in reference to its birthplace. Of course, American bologna is truly an entirely different product than the original mortadella — mass-produced, pinker, and milder. Mortadella was enjoyed by Romans who mixed the meat and spices and was later known throughout Europe. In fact, a special consortium was established in the 1600s to ensure the highest quality mortadella and to protect against any attempts of copying or counterfeiting the meat.

Italy Magazine states that with the rise of industrialization in the 1800s, mortadella became more commonplace and much cheaper. Prior to that, mortadella was actually one of the more expensive Italian foods, often enjoyed by some of the elite members of Italian society. Industrialization also allowed for the salume to be made and shipped worldwide, as opposed to only being eaten throughout Europe.

What does mortadella taste like and how is it used?

While you may assume that mortadella may taste like the cold cut bologna, you're not wrong, but not exactly right, either. Mortadella is rich and fatty and the spices and pistachios are designed to give the meat several layers of flavor.

The pistachios and spices (typically myrtle berries or black pepper) add a freshness and vibrancy — and a bit of bite or spice — to the otherwise smooth, mild salume (via Food52). The pork of mortadella includes cubed white bits of pork fat. While mortadella is textured, it has the same silky feel of other cured meats. Beyond cold cuts, mortadella can be chopped and mixed into pasta salads, pasta dishes, quiches, or frittatas, in stuffed pastas, in meatballs, in a mousse, and more. Of course, it's also delicious alongside any cheese. It's a major component in the famous muffuletta, the super-meaty sandwich that is doused in olive tapenade and often enjoyed in New Orleans. 

Food Channel has a recipe for homemade mortadella, which contains pork, salt, lots of spices (coriander, anise, mace, caraway, etc.), red wine, and pistachios. Taste offers an especially delicious mortadella recipe, sandwiching crisped, fried mortadella between slices of bread and adorned with provolone. If you're familiar with Taylor ham, you might find that crisped mortadella is somewhat reminiscent of its delicious flavor.

Nutritional information for mortadella

Nutritionally, mortadella is a bit of a mixed bag. As ArteCibo notes, mortadella is not especially caloric or high in cholesterol. Mortadella also packs multiple vitamins, niacin, zinc, and iron. Because the white interspersed throughout mortadella is pork fat, it can be quite high in fat (via Foodstruct).

It should also be noted that mortadella and bologna are both incredibly rich in sodium, so it can be wise to steer clear if you're looking to minimize your salt intake.

Cooked Best does acknowledge, though, that mortadella contains amino acids, which may boost the immune system, and may also bolster brittle nails or thin hair. Foodstruct also states that mortadella has a high glycemic index and contains 3 grams of carbs. It is, obviously, not a vegan or vegetarian food, but it can be eaten on the keto diet. It is said, also, that processed meats are not a wise choice to eat on a regular basis.

Where can you find mortadella?

Quality mortadella may not always be easy to find, because if you're really wanting to try this, it has to be right. Some supermarkets have well-stocked deli counters, and you may be lucky enough to find it there. And, if you can wait for it, you may be able to find it through a delivery service or online. However, there is one place that you should always be able to find you some delicious mortadella — Italian specialty stores. 

Unsure what to ask for when making a mortadella purchase? When shopping for the meat, flavor and texture are the most important things to look for, per Food52. Once purchased, you can feel free to treat mortadella as you would any other cold cut. Store it in a sealed container in the refrigerator, and it should stay for about a week. 

While you may get somewhat addicted to this meat (because it's delicious!), remember that it is part of the cold cut family and shouldn't be eaten every day.