What Is Pancetta and What Does It Taste Like?
It’s not just fancy bacon.
Have you ever wondered what makes pancetta so tasty? You’ve come to the right place.
What Is Pancetta?
Pancetta is seasoned, salt-cured meat made from pork belly. An Italian invention, pancetta is a versatile ingredient: It can be used to add depth and flavor to soups and pastas or served as a cold cut on a sandwich.
The type of pancetta you’re probably most familiar with is thinly sliced and eaten raw. It’s also sold in cubes, which are used for cooking.
What Does Pancetta Taste Like?
Photography: Jennifer Causey; Food Styling: Chelsea Zimmer; Prop Styling: Mindi Shapiro Levine
Pancetta has a distinctly porky flavor. It tastes a lot like bacon, but without the smokiness.
Get the recipe: Kale, Tomato, and Pancetta Pasta
Pancetta vs. Bacon vs. Prosciutto
Prosciutto, bacon, and pancetta are all types of cured pork. However, how they taste and are used are quite different. Let’s break this down:
- Pancetta comes from the pork belly, or the underside of a pig. It’s unsmoked and seasoned with salts, spices, and other ingredients. It has a light pink color and a silky texture. It can be eaten cooked or uncooked. Pancetta is cured in about three weeks.
- Bacon also comes from the pork belly. Bacon is smoked and its earthy flavor reflects that. Bacon is a darker pink color and is cut into thick or thin strips. Even though it’s cured, bacon must be cooked. Bacon is cured in about 10 days.
- Prosciutto is made from the back leg of a pig. This is a light pink, fatty cut of meat with a very soft, smooth, and buttery texture. It’s sliced paper thin and is almost always served uncooked. Prosciutto is cured in about one year.
No pancetta? No problem. Try one of these alternatives:
- As far as pancetta substitutes are concerned, your best bet is going to be prosciutto. Even though it comes from a different part of the pig, the smooth feel and salty flavor are a great match.
- Of course, there’s always bacon. Just be aware that the smoky flavor that comes with bacon may throw your recipe off a bit—but that may not be a bad thing! Keep in mind that you’ll probably need to cook bacon longer than you would pancetta.
- Thinly sliced ham could also work in a pinch. Pancetta is much saltier than most ham, so adjust your recipe accordingly.
- If you’re a vegetarian, try using mushrooms in your pasta sauce or soup to achieve the umami flavor that meat provides.
If you’re looking for delicious pancetta recipes, from hearty pasta sauces to healthy salads, we’ve got you covered. Check out some of our favorite ways to use pancetta: