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,
The 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?