What Is Italian Sausage and What Makes It Italian?

A good sausage and pepper sandwich hits hard. Sweet marinara, melty provolone, and that excellent Italian sausage. But what makes Italian sausage…Italian? Is it actually Italian, or has it evolved into something entirely its own? Grab some mustard and let’s find out. 

What is Italian sausage?

Italy has been making sausages since centurions walked the streets of Rome and there is a huge variety of Italian sausages that are actually from the country. But when we think of Italian sausage in America, we think of the product that is labeled as such in the grocery store: thick, pinkish-red links that are generously spiced. These came from Italian immigrants in the 1800s who brought their sausage traditions from the motherland. So, while Italian sausage does have Italian roots, it has also become a uniquely American product that differs from many mainland Italian sausages.

What is Italian sausage made of? Is Italian sausage pork?

The majority of things labeled Italian sausage in the grocery store are made of pork. But there are also chicken, turkey, and tofu-based links that are marketed as Italian sausage. So that means the defining characteristics of an Italian sausage have more to do with the spices inside.

What spices are in Italian sausage?

There are two primary ingredients that establish a sausage as Italian: fennel and anise. These spices are mainstays and are usually found in the three common varieties: hot, mild, and sweet.

Mild is the baseline sausage; it sticks with fennel and anise and not much else. Hot is the spicy option, which usually gets its heat from red pepper flakes mixed into the meat. The sweet variety usually earns its name from the addition of sweet basil, however to classify them as sweet-tasting is a bit of a stretch. Comparatively, sweet Italian sausages are just a little bit sweeter than the hot and mild varieties.

Other common spices and herbs in Italian sausage include salt, garlic, parsley, basil, oregano.

best italian sausage

Best Italian Sausage

What’s the best Italian sausage? We tasted a bunch of the top brands on the market to find the best Italian sausage for your next meal, whether you’re looking for pork, chicken, or veggie.

How long does Italian sausage last in the fridge?

For the real scientific stuff, we turn to the USDA. According to them, uncooked sausage can be kept in the fridge for just one to two days, whereas cooked sausage can last for up to five days. Freezing extends the life of a sausage much longer—frozen foods can be kept indefinitely—but only if properly stored.

What can you do with Italian sausage?

For my money, the aforementioned sausage and peppers sandwich is the best use for these links. I have strong sense memories of eating these as a child and never once were they bad. And they pretty much pair perfectly with any marinara-based dish. My grandmother always made her sauce with a meat triumvirate of meatballs, Italian sausage, and braciole. It’s chef’s kiss good.

The second best choice for an Italian sausage is as a pizza topping. Pretty much all the sausage that comes on pizza, whether its delivery or frozen pizza, is the Italian variety. But don’t stop there. Italian sausage can also find its way into soups, stews, casseroles, or breakfast omelets and burritos.

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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