The history of the sausage goes back several thousands of years. Closer to home, the history of British sausage was strongly influenced by Roman invaders during their occupation of Britain around 400 A.D.
Yes, originally, our humble British sausage has a pedigree to be proud of - Italian sausage ancestry, Britalian sausage!
Regional favourites such as the Lucanian or Luganega sausage were top of the list for both Romans and resident Britons. As with anything food-related, the 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.
Improving British Bangers
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 Carb, High Fat Sausage
In terms of creating a healthier low carb sausage, 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 have 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 available seasonings.
What Is Sausage Made Of
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, so they thought!
Fortunately, for the sausage maker the hydration of bread or cereal grains further releases glutenin and gliadin proteins. Ths adds to the amount of gluten 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 like Coeliac disease, Diabetes, Crohn's , Let's no get bogged down with the full list, though take it from me - there's many more.
What are sausages made of?
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 sausages need; bread, rusk or some kind of cereal grain to create the correct taste and give that light consistency. Codswallop! In reality, this isn't true - as our research testifies. In truth, British consumers want a sausage that's high welfare and high meat content. 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 in excess of 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.
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.
What's in a sausage?
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 an 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 nowt, nowt 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 need to recognise that the typical British sausage is in many respects representative of previous mistakes. Consequently, that natural, high welfare, low carb sausages are symbolic of the real-foods we need to hold on to.