What's in a sausage?

It’s hard to tell exactly what's in a sausage; you might get more – or less – than you bargained for
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01 .Inside view


Sausages were once the perfect example of up-cycling: leftover meat, organs and blood in a handy package that, in an age before refrigeration, could be cured with salt and spices for eating later. But what’s in a modern sausage? 

“A traditional sausage is meat, fat, and seasoning in a natural casing, which is made from intestines,” says Romeo Baudouin, head chef at Victor Churchill butchers in Woollahra, Sydney. “The use of cereal fillers is a British custom stemming from the first and second world wars, when meat shortages led to breadcrumbs and flour being added. That practice continues today as people got used to the taste – it also requires less meat, making them cheaper to produce.” 

As well as meat and fat, high on the ingredients list you’ll see fillers or binders such as rice, flour, maize, hydrolysed vegetable protein, potato and tapioca starch, and rusk (wheat). A little water is required to make sausages, but it can be a major ingredient in the mass-produced kind, used to bind the meat and fillers and add bulk to the sausages - which are sold by weight. 

We found a variety of intriguing additives on ingredients lists, which allow manufacturers to add flavour and colour while keeping costs down. These include sugar, spray-dried wine, HVP preservative, yeast extract, natural roast beef flavour and smoke flavour. Most mass-produced or butcher-made sausages use preservatives to inhibit bacteria growth and delay the grey-brown oxidisation of meat. For those sensitive to sulphites, sulphur dioxide (220), sodium and potassium sulphites (221-225 and 228) are permitted in sausages, but they’re limited to 500mg per kilogram. There are no regulations limiting the level of sodium in sausages and, although offal is allowed, it must be declared in the ingredients list or to consumers at the butchers. 

When it comes to sausage casings there are two types. Natural casings are made from animal intestines and collagen casings, which are industrially processed protein, usually made from beef or pig hides. These artificial casings are cheaper and come in convenient, uniform sizes. 

tomato-sauceThe lowdown on labelling 

FSANZ specifies that sausages should have more than 50g of fat-free meat flesh per 100g, and the fat content should not exceed 50% of the fat-free meat flesh. Fat-free meat flesh is broadly defined as: “the skeletal muscle of any slaughtered animal, which can include any attached animal rind, fat and connective nerve, blood, blood vessels and, in the case of poultry, the skin.” If the label specifies a particular type of meat, such as beef, the regulations say it should contain beef. 

We discovered that working out the “fat-free meat flesh” content of a sausage is not so simple. It took several emails and phone calls to various authorities to establish that when an ingredients list says pork (70%) it refers to the combined total of fat-free meat flesh and fat.

For example, in order to work out the lean meat content of Welsh Dragon sausages, you’d firstly have to look at whether there is any other ingredient containing fat in the ingredients list. If not, you take the total fat per 100g in the nutrition panel – in this case it’s 19g fat – and subtract that from the 70g/100g (70%) pork, to discover there is only 51% of fat-free lean meat in the sausage. 

If you see “meat” in the ingredients list, the product may contain “the whole or part of the carcass of any buffalo, camel, cattle, deer, goat, hare, pig, poultry, rabbit or sheep, slaughtered other than in a wild state”. Butchers are exempt from labelling requirements if products are sold unpackaged, but they’re obliged to supply that information if asked, and must indicate when a food contains added sulphites in concentrations of 10mg/kg or more. 

Some butchers make their own sausages, some buy them in from other butchers, some from commercial wholesalers, and some do all three - so it’s hard to find out exactly what’s in the sausages or where they come from. Apart from taste, the top tip we got from butchers is to trust your instincts. “Butchers are competing with supermarkets and word-of-mouth can make or break us, so we have to deliver,” a butcher from Bendigo told us. “When you walk into a butcher, trust your gut feeling that you are getting good value.” 

Video: What's in your sausage meat?


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