What is mortadella?
Mortadella is a traditional Italian luncheon meat. It is also officially known as Mortadella Bologna and, unofficially, as mortadella meat or, more rarely, mortadella ham. Mortadella is a delicacy with Protected Geographical Indication status (PGI) or Indicazione Geografica Protetta (IGP). Having protected status under EU law is a recognition of both its superior quality and origin, meaning real mortadella is not the same thing as bologna.
What is bologna?
Bologna or baloney is a chiefly US sausage-type of luncheon meat. It’s also commonly referred to as ‘bologna sausage’ because of its sausage-like appearance. It’s not a traditional Italian specialty like mortadella, but rather a cheaper luncheon meat version. The names bologna and bologna sausage are believed to be derived from the official name for mortadella, Mortadella Bologna. In addition to American bologna, there are other mortadella-inspired luncheon meats such as parizer, pariser, polony, Lyoner or jumbo.
Mortadella vs bologna: differences
Can you name the differences between authentic mortadella and the American mortadella-like bologna or baloney? It can get tricky since the two are very similar-looking. Here is a thorough comparison between mortadella and bologna to help you tell the difference like you’ve been eating them your whole life:
Ingredients in mortadella vs bologna
Authentic Italian mortadella is made exclusively from pork meat and pork neck fat, seasoned with black peppercorns, salt and myrtle berries, as per the original recipe. Other ingredients include spices such as cloves, caraway, nutmeg, cinnamon, garlic, coriander, anise etc., nuts and seeds such as pistachios or pine nuts, fruits such as olives, chili peppers or pepperoncini, even wine. American bologna can be made from any type of meat, most notably pork, beef, veal, lamb, turkey, chicken, venison and other game, with the addition of varying amounts of fat. In fact, bologna may contain different types of meat in varying ratios. Spices include: black pepper, salt, myrtle berries, cloves, anise, caraway, coriander, marjoram, paprika, allspice and other spices and ingredients typically used in mortadella, to reproduce the taste of mortadella.
What is mortadella made of vs bologna?
Do you know what is in mortadella? Authentic, traditional Italian mortadella is made exclusively from finely ground pork meat, with the addition of visible chunks of pork neck fat. Ingredients are of the highest quality and spices carefully selected. Mortadella contains nitrites and nitrates, both of which occur naturally as a result of the curing process, and can be added for a longer shelf life. Find out all about the side effects and benefits of mortadella, with detailed nutritional information values.
What is bologna made of? Bologna can be made of different types of meat, from pork to beef, veal, lamb, turkey, chicken and even venison and other game. It can be made of either higher quality meat parts (such as leg, shoulder, belly, neck) or miscellaneous parts (essentially meat scraps left over from the production of other, higher-end meat products). Spices are carefully selected to mimic the taste of mortadella. Commercial bologna is also more likely to contain various additives such as soy protein, dextrose, monosodium glutamate (MSG), stabilizers, preservatives (sodium nitrate, sodium diphosphates such as disodium diphosphate), but also ascorbic acid and milk proteins, milk solids, even flour and various grains. The lower the price, the lower the quality of the ingredients used, or the lower the ratio of meat to vegetal ingredients.
How is mortadella made vs bologna?
Mortadella is made by finely grinding lean, high-quality pork meat seasoned with a selection of spices, then mixing in chunks of pork neck fat and possibly also other ingredients such as pistachios, peppers or green olives. It’s then pressed and bagged in an inedible casing. Mortadella is tied with string to help it retain its sausage-like shape and hung in hot air driers to cook for several hours or days, depending on how big it is. While authentic Italian mortadella is typically a cured and cooked luncheon meat, there are variations of smoked mortadella too, or dry or semi-dry variations. Bologna is made in a similar manner, the difference being the choice and sometimes also quality of ingredients used.
Are mortadella and bologna cooked or cured?
Both mortadella and bologna are cured AND cooked luncheon meats. How’s that? Both mortadella and bologna contain nitrites and nitrates which account for the cured part. These form naturally in the products, but are also intentionally added to increase shelf life and prevent spoilage. Granted, bologna tends to have more, especially if it’s on the cheaper side. Mortadella and bologna are also typically cooked, hence their prosciutto cotto-like taste and the beautiful pink color and soft texture of the meat. Of course, there are smoked and dried versions, but these are variations of the original recipe.
Mortadella vs bologna: appearance
Both mortadella and bologna look like giant sausages: long, round or oval, heavy-set rolls of ground meat encased in an usually inedible membrane. But the difference is mortadella is usually a lot larger in diameter than bologna, and a healthy pink color with visible chunks of fat disposed in an irregular pattern. Whereas bologna typically has no visible fat (just finely ground meat). Also, the color of bologna may range according to the type of meat used. Game, venison will be a grayish-brown, beef, lamb and turkey should be pink-red, whereas chicken or soy bologna are a lot lighter colored, a pale pink. Mortadella is available in various sizes ranging from a few kilograms to a few dozens of kilograms, whereas bologna is usually a lot smaller.
Mortadella vs bologna: taste
Some people say they taste the same. I have to say I don’t agree. Authentic Italian mortadella has a finer taste than bologna: delicate pork flavors and a soft and smooth, velvety texture with the richness of pork fat chunks. Extra ingredients in mortadella, such as green olives or pistachios, add a pleasant crunchiness to the smooth meat, and extra flavors that compliment the delicate heaviness of the pork meat and fat. Bologna can be made of superior ingredients and taste good, but there will be a noticeable difference in taste if other meats than pork are used. While spices are selected to mimic the taste of mortadella, you can usually tell the difference between bologna and mortadella if you’ve eaten both at least a few times.
Is mortadella healthy, or bologna?
While mortadella is generally healthier than bologna, neither are the healthiest option in terms of meat products. Wholly unprocessed meat is as healthy as it gets, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any benefits to eating mortadella or bologna. For one, both are made from meat, pork and other types in case of bologna, and should boast relatively good nutrition. Vitamin and mineral profiles indicate a good B vitamin, iron, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, zinc and choline content. Other nutrients from the extra ingredients such as green olives, pistachios or peppers add to the nutrition of the lunch meats.
The disadvantage is that both mortadella and bologna are cured lunch meats and contain nitrites and nitrates, which are not healthy, and also lots of sodium and fat, especially saturated. There are around 10-20 g of protein and 20-25 g of fat in mortadella and bologna, depending on the recipe, with mortadella usually being on the higher side in protein and fat. A big side effect is the potential for allergic reactions since both mortadella and bologna may contain allergens (pistachios, various spices, peppers, milk proteins, milk solids etc.).
Except for allergies, in which case consumption is prohibited, eating mortadella or bologna from time to time is not the worst thing you can do for your health. Occasional consumption should not be a source of major side effects or irreversible health issues, despite being cured meats. Instead, both lunch meats should provide good nutrition and support the health of multiple systems, providing benefits for skin, bones, teeth, the cardiovascular, nervous and even immune system. Ideally, choose mortadella or a higher-end bologna.