Inviting sausage inclusions

by Donna Berry
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Processors get creative with flavors and inclusions in today's sausage products.

Though once considered an outlet for meat scraps and a means to preserve meat, sausages, also known as encased meat, have evolved into culinary creations that entice consumers’ taste buds with adventurous ingredients. Since the first apple chicken sausages debuted in retail more than a decade ago, commercial processors have become quite adventurous with adding flavorful inclusions to all types of sausages, from breakfast links to hot dogs to kielbasa.

“Sausages don’t have to be only an outlet for inferior meats that get mixed with fillers and nitrates,” says Lance Appelbaum, founder and owner of Fossil Farms, Boonton, New Jersey. “I believe sausages are a great way to introduce consumers to new meats and new flavors. It’s not hard to make a great-tasting sausage. What makes the product good is the ingredients you use.”

Fossil Farms’ specialty is unique meats and flavorful inclusions. Some of the company’s specialties are elk sausage with apples and pears; rabbit and chicken sausage with white wine and bacon; and venison sausage with blueberries and merlot wine.

“We take sausage to a new level and cater to the new consumer,” Appelbaum says. “Most game meats are very lean, making them better-for-you meats; however, many consumers are hesitant to try the meat on its own. In a sausage, with other ingredients, they are ‘game.’”

Zachary Reed, senior associate, meat applications, Ingredion Inc., Englewood, Colorado, concurs that today’s consumers want to explore new flavors, and sausages are an ideal carrier. “As many consumers expand their palates, there’s an opportunity to recreate exotic dishes that people tried in restaurants by making them into flavorful sausages for at-home consumption,” he says.

Parkers British Institution, Buffalo, New York, an acclaimed authentic British food manufacturer, produces traditional sausages in a traditional manner, yet leaves room for creativity. For example, Damian Parker, owner, recently created a piri-piri chicken sausage that contains piri-piri chilies. It joins favorites such as English mustard pork sausages, which come loaded with mustard seed and imported spices.

“Traditional British sausages contain lots of herbs and spices,” he says. “To stay authentic, we import many of our seasonings, including those used in our pork and apple sausages. Here we use dried apple pieces, which absorb the fat in the sausage and become nice and juicy when it’s time to eat.”

Ingredient selection

There are many variables to consider when adding inclusions to sausages. Appearance, flavor and texture must all be addressed.

“First and foremost, the desired final appearance of the product should always be considered,” says Michelle Wetzel, director of research and development, meat seasonings, Kerry, Beloit, Wisconsin. “Consumers want products with recognizable labels, with pure and simple ingredients. If a specific inclusion is listed on the label, consumers want to be able to see and recognize it in the final product. Therefore, for greatest visual appeal, it is best to add inclusions at a point in the process where their identity and piece size is maintained.”

The pH of the ingredients must also be taken into account. Changes in acidity can impact color, flavor and texture.

“If the ingredients you include are on the acidic side and drop the pH of the meat, you can encounter processing issues such as lower cook yields due to diminished water-holding capacity,” Reed says. “This lower pH can also cause textural issues. That’s because when you are processing meat and cooking it, you ultimately want to denature the protein because that is what gives the meat its cooked texture and water-holding capacity. But if you start denaturing the proteins too soon due to low pH, it will decrease the functionality of the protein, causing the meat matrix to crumble and/or not retain its form.”

Reed cites the example of a chile verde-type sausage. Chile verde is a classic Mexican stew that includes beef or pork along with a variety of green chilies.

“Another key ingredient is tomatillos, which provide the needed acidic component to the stew,” Reed says. “However, when processing all ingredients into a pork sausage, the acidity of the tomatillos will cause a pH drop and not allow the sausage to bind together, resulting in an undesirable crumbly texture.”

Sometimes, acid assists with flavor, explains Julie Clarkson, senior research chef, savory flavors, Sensient Flavors, Hoffman Estates, Illinois. “The acid in fruit balances the fattiness of sausage. Fruits also can complement some of the gamey notes of meats such as boar, lamb and venison. Dried fruit pieces work best as they don’t bleed as much as fresh fruits.”

Jeff Manning, chief marketing officer, Cherry Marketing Institute, Lansing, Michigan, says, “Montmorency tart cherries add a sweet-tart flavor, offer visual appeal with their bright red color and, in the case of dried tart cherries, provide a chewy texture that ‘pops’ against a variety of other textures.”

Nuts complement fruits, even in sausage. The Almond Board of California, Modesto, California, developed a chicken and almond sausage Bahn Mi sandwich. There are roasted almonds in the sausage blend, along with spices and herbs.

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