What Is Bologna? Besides Impossible to Pronounce

Whenever I see the word bologna, I have to do a complex math problem in my head to pronounce it correctly, and that’s after years of Oscar Mayer indoctrination with their bologna ad campaign that has existed since the 1970s. But there’s nothing complicated when it comes to deciding whether or not to eat bologna—it’s always a yes. But exactly what is bologna and how did it become such a popular lunch meat in America? Let’s spell it out.

What is bologna made of?

In America, bologna is a type of sausage made of finely ground meat mixed with cornstarch, a collection of spices, and preservatives. Traditionally, that meat is pork, but there are beef, chicken, turkey, or even vegetarian varieties that you can find in your grocery store. Once the meat is finely ground, it is put into a sausage casing and cooked or smoked. After that is done, the bologna is either sold whole or it is sliced.  

When it comes to the spices, there is a lot of variety. Black pepper is the most common, followed by nutmeg, allspice, coriander, or celery seed. Some traditional bologna also includes myrtle berries, which have a fruity aromatic taste. However, most mass-produced bolognas are made with fewer spices and more preservatives. 

Your standard Oscar Mayer bologna is the textbook version of the deli meat. However, there are several different varieties. Ring bologna is made in a similar fashion but has a much smaller diameter and is usually sold whole (in a loop or ring shape). It’s closer to a summer sausage in texture. There’s also my personal favorite—Lebanon bologna. This version was perfected by the Pennsylvania Dutch. It is made of beef instead of pork, it has a sweeter taste, and a consistency that’s closer to salami. I can’t stress this enough: If you have a chance to try Lebanon bologna, you simply must.

Where does bologna come from?

Bologna takes its name from the eponymous Italian city, which has a tradition of making many decadent meat products like mortadella. Traditionally, mortadella has cubes of pork fat in it, but the USDA said “absolutely not.” Bologna must be finely ground without the fat cubes. As Italians emigrated to the United States, they brought their food with them, and bologna started to grow in popularity. It’s around this time that Americans who struggled to pronounce the Italian word morphed it into “baloney.”

There was a “bologna boom” during the Great Depression. Because bologna is made from ground meat, it is much cheaper to produce than ham or literally any piece of butchered beef. The bologna sandwich—bologna and mustard on white bread—became the preferred method for feeding a lot of people at once. Once a whole generation grew up on bologna sandwiches, there was no turning back.

By the 1950s, Oscar Mayer, ironically a company founded by a German, was mass-producing individually sliced, vacuum sealed bologna that found its way into the lunch box of every kid and working-class dad. It was also around this time that people began innovating with the bologna, making fried bologna sandwiches, bologna salad, and, perhaps the most baffling of all, the bologna cake. Thus, bologna cemented itself as a classic American food.

How long does bologna last?

Cured and cooked meats, in general, tend to last longer than raw meats. Thanks to the preservatives, your typical packaged bologna, when stored correctly in the fridge, is going to last anywhere from seven to fourteen days once it’s opened. 

You can also freeze bologna and keep it for 1-2 months. Freezing is a good option if you are a fan of the friend bologna sandwich—just peel off a few slices and throw them in your frying pan.

Can we all finally agree on a spelling change?

Maybe I’m basic, but I’m a bologna stan. The only thing that drives me nuts is how it’s spelled. In this article alone, I have written the word “bologna” 38 times. And each time I had to pause and spell it out in my head. I’ve had enough! Either we change the spelling to baloney or we change the pronunciation back to its original form. The next time I go to my local deli, I’m ordering a half a pound of “bo-lo-gna” and I refuse to be corrected. If we all do this, maybe we can start a movement. 

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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