The Spicy Italian Sausage 'Nduja Is Taking Over The World

Thanks to globalisation, the world today seems smaller than ever before. While that’s not great news for population control, it does mean we have easy access to food and ingredients that we could never have imagined before. There’s always a silver lining, right? One of the ingredients that has slowly but steadily been taking over the world with its smoky, spicy goodness is ‘Nduja.

The soft, spreadable salume (which is not the same as salami, more on that later) is made with fermented pork and Calabrian chillies. It originated in Italy and more specifically in Spilinga, a tiny municipality in Calabria, in the southwest of the country. Although theoretically an Italian creation, there is a lot of French influence since the Angevins ruled over Calabria and some Spanish touch as well from the Aragonese who later controlled the region.

When it first came about it was essentially a peasant dish, born out of necessity rather than decadence. Farmers who raised pigs would profit from the prime cuts and be left with a mixture of offal, fat, trimmings and blood and in an attempt to reduce waste and save money, they invented this sausage which could be stored safely for long periods and utilised all the unwanted offcuts. At its simplest, ‘nduja was made of ground pork, salt, and a hefty dose of Calabrian chillies, which gives it its signature red colour. Any ground meat that is mixed with salt and spices and cured before being encased is known as a salume. In contrast, sausage meat doesn’t necessarily need to be cured to make the cut. 

The birth of the sausage as we know it is thought to date back to the 16th century. According to some writings, ‘nduja came to Calabria with the Spanish while in others, it was a French import to the country during the Napoleonic empire between 1806 and 1815 by Joachim Murat, the King of Naples. This would definitely justify the etymology of the word since the name ‘nduja most likely comes from the French word ‘andouille’ which was used to identify any sausage made from pork offal. And both these words could stem from the Latin word, ‘inductilia’ which means things that must be introduced, in other words, stuffed.

The role of Calabrian chillies in the mixture goes far beyond simple flavouring though since chillies have a strong antiseptic and antioxidant power which is what allowed the sausages to survive so long without preservatives or additives. The chillies also made ‘nduja a bit of a rarity in ancient Italian cuisine since the use of spice was limited when trade was rare and to have this sausage pack so much flavour made it a coveted delicacy.

India has a more localised cousin of ‘nduja in the form of Goan sausages, which given their Portuguese ties is not surprising. But ‘nduja’s unique smoking process sets it apart from salami, chorizo or any sausage which is familiar on our shelves. ‘Nduja’s popularity is on the rise and since it’s one of those rare flavours that taste great with everything, we hope it’s here to stay.