Though the history of the sausage began long before it did in Britain. We know that in ancient Briton the sausage was strongly influenced by the Romans during the occupation around 400 A.D. Yes, believe it or not, our humble Great British sausage is born of Italian origin - The original Britalian sausage! Regional favourites such as the Lucanian or Luganega sausage were top of the list for both Romans and our British ancestors. As with anything food related, these original Italian sausage recipes were superb - their secret? Simple, fresh organic ingredients and meats from the original free-ranging, pasture reared animals.
Britalian sausages? sausages made in the UK, mixed with Italian ethos and Slow Food principles. Traditional techniques and the provenance of local naturally grown ingredients. Then, as now, it's hardwired into the Italian DNA. The result, nutrient-dense sausages of superior flavour. Food made this way has the added benefit of helping local communities as much of the money stays local - and not with far off investors.
How to Improve a British Banger
High welfare, 100% free-range pork. Primal cuts of shoulder or belly are ideal as they contain a good ratio of lean muscle to fat. Relax, it's not the fat in a typical British sausage we need to be concerned about.
Low Fat - A flawed Ideology
Are sausages healthy? Let's start with fat and the fact most sausage contains quite a lot of it.
In general, we all regard FAT, along with sugar as being totally responsible for weight gain, i think most will agree. Though a lot of sausages may also contain sugar, let's concentrate on fat as this is common to all true sausages.
Calories In Calories Out or the gluttony and sloth hypothesis is all most of us have ever known. This thinking was nice and simple, easy to understand and made perfect sense to the movers, shakers and decision-makers of the day. This was an easy to follow rule, for sure. A simple message that could also be communicated easily. Though, the human body is a complex system - we know! Could it really be, this simple?
Sadly, this way of thinking is based on the old but erroneous conclusion that gluttony and sloth are the cause of things like obesity, heart disease, cancer, type II diabetes, etc. Having become so deeply ingrained, it's now the norm to think of saturated fats as bad and polyunsaturated fats as good – that consuming a high-fat diet makes us fat.
Growing up in the '70s, I clearly recall the shift. We were strongly persuaded to change to margarine, We were advised to stop eating butter, to use sunflower oil instead of animal fats. Drink skimmed or semi-skimmed milk and never the full-fat version (silver tops as they were then - blue today). In Britain and America, fat had been declared public enemy no.1.
Conventional Thinking: Nutrition
The perception we hold about fat was founded on a hypothesis of the infamous Ancel Keys and his much-disputed Seven Countries Study. For decades successive governments have consistently adopted the findings of the Seven Countries Study and its oversimplified principles of gluttony & sloth. This though was to become the catalyst for the wholesale removal of fats from our foods.
However, it didn't stop there, as food manufacturers discovered that this changed their products significantly. The flavour had gone, they didn't taste of anything! To counter this, sugar and its variants were added on mass.
Though fats perform some very important roles, other than providing essential macro-nutrients, they're also the carrier or transporter of flavour to the taste buds. Take the fat out and you're left with flavorless! bland food.
Sadly, this practice still remains commonplace - it's condoned by NHS advice and the UK government’s Eatwell Guide. But surely NHS advice is based on what's good for us, the nutrition our bodies need?
Medical science now knows Key’s depiction of the Seven Countries Study to be fundamentally flawed and no evidential basis in facts. The data was skewed, manipulated even.
Despite this, Public Health England remains steadfastly behind the Eatwell Guide. Why? We can only wonder!
High levels of saturated fat are fundamental to our good health, after all, we're hunter-gatherers, omnivores, not herbivores. Animal fats will likely always remain the primary element of the human diet.
Low Carb, High Fat Sausage
In terms of creating healthier low carb sausages, saturated fats bring flavour, texture, juiciness and good overall mouthfeel. Natural Sausages are simply (high welfare) meat – chopped, salted & seasoned, mixed and stuffed into natural casings, either hog, sheep or occasionally beef. But to also make a sausage healthier, we need to significantly reduce carbs.
Historically, offcuts, offal and otherwise waste parts would have also used in sausage making, this though was predominantly a reserve of the less well-off.
These uncomplicated principles has become intrinsic to sausage making all over the world. Later more exotic herbs, spices, berries, fruits, and even vegetables were introduced according to local availability. Consequently, many recipes were influenced by seasonal variation and the available trade routes bringing more variation to sausage seasoning.
Sausage or Bread?
In post-war Britain with rationing in full swing, meat was ever more scarce and the British sausage was to become an unwitting casualty. Butchers of the day had little choice but to substitute lean meat for trim, rind and non-meat fillers. A particular favourite was cereal e.g. bread, rusk, oats. With meat in short supply this appeared to be the perfect solution. Being able to absorb around twice their weight in water makes these low-cost additions ideal both as a filler and extender, or so they thought!
Fortunately, for the sausage makers, the addition of bread. The hydration process further releases glutenin and gliadin proteins. Thus increasing gluten content to that already present. Consequently, this new process of making sausages identified cereal products (i.e. wheat, barley, rye, oats) as an incredibly effective binder. This meant making sausage was now much easier and profitable for the manufacturers, though as we now know the proteins in these ingredients create all sorts of problems due to the inflammation and disruption to hormone levels.
Perhaps not such good news for today's consumers and those with conditions such as Coeliac disease, Diabetes, Crohn's , Let's no get bogged down with the full list, though take it from me - there's many more.
Current Status - The Bottom Line
It's a sad fact that our humble sausage is nothing more than a commodity to agro-industrial producers. To smaller producers, sausages are often seen as a convenient product to facilitate higher yields and increase margins.
If we were to ask, a traditional sausage-maker here in the UK - What makes British sausage, British? Most will tell you that British sausage needs to have some bread or rusk (quite a lot actually) to create the correct taste and give that light consistency. Codswallop! In reality, this simply isn't the case - as our consumer research testifies. British consumers want high welfare meat - lots of it! in their sausages. This means, even giving an allowance for seasonings that contain fruit and/or vegetables, meat content shouldn't be lower than 90%. For sausages seasoned with a simple herb and spice blend, meat content needs to be exceeding 95%, if it isn't, check the label or ask some questions!
After all, in its purest of form, the definition of Sausage will always be; Seasoned minced or chopped meat (usually pork or beef), preserved with salt and stuffed into the animal intestine (either, pig or sheep)
In an effort to make ever-cheaper sausages, many sausage makers ceased to create their own seasonings. It’s now common for these to be bought-in in pre-mixed sachets for each recipe. This is all very well, though whilst we lose invaluable knowledge and skills. We inadvertently hand over increasing control to the large manufacturers who may, in turn, see our own personal health and well being as the lowest common denominator.
Provenance – what’s in a name
Both loyalty and trust are fundamental to provenance. In principle, this would be knowing the person who created your bacon or made sausages for that matter, by name. Provenance is the integrity of ingredients and confidence in controls applied in creating our food. It's true we should eat less meat! Though we need to pay more too, always choose 100% free-range, pasture-fed meats. In the long term, your quality of life and physical existence may just depend on this one principle.
There is a glimmer of light to improve consumer confidence. As a result of the very sad and tragic death of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse. Natasha's Law will now bring an end to this gap in the law - though not until October 2021. Kate and I were once privileged to meet with Natasha's parents towards the end of their campaigning. A very moving experience and one I shall never forget. They are remarkable people, showing incredible strength in fighting not only for justice for their daughters unnecessary death. But also, in lobbying parliament and the decision makers necessary to actually change the law. This selfless campaign in the midst of their own personal grief should be inspiration to us all.
Are Gluten Free Sausages Healthy?
Rising demand from consumers now sees increasing selections of gluten free sausages becoming available on our supermarket shelves. One or two even made with Pork shoulder and natural casings. However, as a result of this convenience, supermarket options include various synthetic chemical ingredients; Phosphates, Sulphites and Nitrites to extend shelf life and improve colour, Monosodium glutamate (MSG) to enhance flavour, Soya and other legume flours as bulking and binding agents. Sugar (Dextrose) to add taste? In terms of holding it all together, traditional hog and sheep casings are now increasingly rare.
Instead, collagen manufactured from the hides of cows, pigs, fish, and poultry; bones etc. is the norm – it really doesn't bear thinking about. Why? it's cheaper, more robust and straight! (natural = curved) meaning its ideal from a production perspective. As a result, collagen is now the preferred option for almost all manufacturers.
Above all, despite the recent resurgence and resemblance of Proper or Natural Sausage coming to the fore, we should not expect experiences of the previous seventy years to change overnight. With the UK sausage industry worth an estimated £1bn a year, the relevant movers & shakers are likely to be resolute in retaining the status quo.
…if we do nothing – then nothing will change!
In the long term maybe we simply have to accept that our food isn’t a commodity, that we are what we eat and food quality is primary to maintaining our genetic health. That the true cost of food is far greater than we previously realised. Above all, we recognise that the British sausage is in many respects representative of previous mistakes. And finally, that All-Natural paleo sausage / low carb sausage is symbolic of wholly healthy food we need to hold on to.