“There are two big secrets in the USSR – the composition of nuclear bombs and the composition of our salami”

This Russian sausage has a curious history – it has its roots in Italy and more precisely in Bolognese sausages, it was first noticed in the USA and was brought in 1939 to the Soviet Union by a food technologist.

It owes its cheerful bright pink color to saltpeter, which was used as both a coloring agent and a preservative.

And what is even more interesting is that it is also called “doctor’s salami” because it was personally prescribed by doctors in certain situations.

Before getting this nickname, salami was simply called “sausage” because the USSR lacked a particular variety of such processed animal products.

The years after the October Revolution were difficult and full of hunger, there was not enough meat to feed the Soviet citizens, but at the same time, Moscow was determined to prove to the world that the inhabitants of the Union lived luxuriously and happily.

Therefore, in 1939, Stalin personally invited the food technologist Anastas Mikoyan to him and assigned him a tour abroad in order to create new meat delicacies. Mikoyan made it to the Chicago exhibition, where he was introduced to the prototype of what would become the doctor’s salami.

The sausage is somewhat copied from the bolognese “mortadella” type salamis, which have a smooth mashed consistency and not too many spices to bring out the flavor of the meat. Salami is fattier and has a high nutritional and caloric value.


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As soon as he returned to Moscow, Mikoyan began work on the first sausage workshop, which was located on the outskirts of the capital.

For one batch of salami of 100 kilograms, 25 kilograms of beef, 70 kilograms of browned pork, 3 liters of fresh milk, 2 liters of eggs, 2 kilograms of salt and 200 grams of sugar are used. Add 20 grams of cardamom and 50 grams of saltpeter. Everything is ground to a homogeneous paste and molded into molds.

Although the end product is relatively healthy, Russians are partial to the sausage. It seems to them unusual in color and consistency, and in addition, rumors immediately spread that toilet paper is put in it.

Therefore, the Kremlin takes urgent marketing measures and starts a massive salami advertising campaign. Sausage sandwiches are available on the streets, books abound with mouth-watering recipes with it, even certain writers write odes to salami.

In big cities, the sausage enjoys serious popularity and it is a symbol of prestige to make a sandwich, omelet or Russian salad with it. In the smaller settlements, however, the situation is not rosy at all.


Photo: iStock

Due to collectivization and poor harvests, hunger reigns in the villages and doctors begin to prescribe salami to the most malnourished in order to strengthen the body.

Sausage is ideal for the purpose because it is almost entirely pure meat, contains a lot of protein and is low in calories. According to the doctors at the time, the salami proved to be perfect for “treating the hunger caused by the civil war and royal despotism” and hence the product acquired the name “doctor’s salami”.

Patients who had a prescription for doctor’s salami benefited from the priority of the queues in the butcher’s shops, and had the right to a discount on the price of the sausage.

Others believe that the name “doctor’s salami” comes from Mikoyan’s words that he created an extremely healthy and suitable product for any diet, which after its release on the market and a number of doctors began to strongly recommend.

Along with it, the doctors recommended other types of salami that came out of Mikoyan’s factory, such as “egg sausage” containing beef and bull testicles and “tea salami”, which was of such low quality that it was not suitable for direct consumption , but only for boiling and frying.


Photo: iStock

In 1974, the shortage of meat became critical and the production of sausages, and especially doctor’s salami, became prohibitively expensive.

Therefore, the government is changing the state standard and now allows, in addition to pure meat, beef bone meal, starch, soy and other products to thicken the product to be added to the mixture.

The taste is seriously different from the original, and a lot of jokes are made about the new salami. Some joke that “there are two big secrets in the USSR – the composition of nuclear bombs and the composition of salami”.

Others add that for this money it is not necessary to buy salami, but one can directly buy a dog from a kennel, hinting at exactly what meat is in the sausage. Many have bad memories of the dishes made with the salami in question, such as boiled potatoes with sausage, noodles with fried sausage and even pelmeni stuffed with the grated salami.

Over time, the doctor’s salami recipe underwent more and more changes, until in 2002 the state standard for it was finally canceled.

Since then, each producer is free to use his own recipe, however modified it may be.

This gives modern Russian manufacturers the chance to abuse nostalgia by introducing things like “doctor’s sausage from the olden days”, “sausage without added enhancers” and others.

“Normal meat in the USSR simply didn’t exist. It was available for the nomenclature, while all scraps and leftovers went to sausages,” writes culinary blogger Maxim Mirovich in turn.

“Sausages were just a substitute for meat,” he insists.

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