The influences for determining the most popular flavor profile in sausage products are as diverse as the sausage makers themselves. It should come as little surprise then that the flavors and ingredients being experimented with by today’s progressive chefs and developers of new sausage products include: Tandoori Tikka, Fajita, Chilli, Green Thai, Chicken Biryani, seafood, bacon, artisan cheeses, cabbage, apples, blueberries, bananas, kiwi, lemon and much more. For other businesses banking on sausage sales, what’s not in the casings is the emphasis.

A growing number of processors and ingredient companies are focusing efforts on their products’ natural or organic attributes. Ingredient companies are finding the higher prices they must charge customers for certified organic spices are not as widely accepted as they were several years ago among customers, thanks in large part to the worldwide economic downturn of the past 18 months. Despite the economy, processors continue marketing "natural" sausage products. One recent example is Odom’s Tennessee Pride Sausage’s rollout of its first "all-natural" breakfast sausage this past August, addressing demand among customers for what is perceived to be healthier ingredients. Meanwhile, Chelsea, Mass.-based Kayem Foods’ al fresco All Natural line of dinner sausage, which is marketed as containing no preservatives, nitrates, nitrites or artificial flavors, grew to include eight different varieties this past year.

On the foodservice front, an example of what is trendy in sausage is exemplified by the opening of New York City’s Dogmatic Gourmet Sausage System restaurant this past October. The popular eatery features a somewhat eclectic selection of sausages ranging from grass-fed beef to free-range chicken, turkey, pork and lamb, all of which are touted as being free of hormones, preservatives, antibiotics and artificial flavors or colors.

On the menu

Chef Sean Craig, with Gilroy Foods & Flavors, a food-ingredient division of Omaha-based ConAgra Foods Inc., says he continues to see international flavors influence the development of most foods, including sausage, and U.S. consumers’ willingness to expand their palates fuels the varieties.

Blending flavors of smoke and sweet is another trend the chef says is becoming more popular. The marriage of apple flavors, for example, with various smoked-wood flavors is well received by today’s consumers. Other ingredients being used inside sausage casings include vegetables, which isn’t necessarily news, but utilizing fireroasted and grilled vegetables such as peppers and caramelized onions and fresh garlic as ingredients is a more recent development. "You’re seeing more culinary cooking methods being used and infusing those flavors into a raw sausage product," says Craig.

As consumers continue seeking healthier and lower-fat foods, Craig says new sausage products are reflecting that demand. To appeal to this segment, product developers are pushing to rollout chicken, turkey and more recently, seafood-based sausage products. "You’re seeing seafood sausages playing more of a role as the health and wellness-focused people are getting away from pork because they think it’s high in fat. Many [retail and foodservice outlets] places near me are using salmon inside of sausage now or pairing up white fish with a variety of inclusions inside of it," he adds.

Somewhat fueled by the health and wellness trend, eliminating salt from foods is a unified effort among product developers and sausage makers alike. To this end, the goal is "trying to drive flavors by utilizing fresh herbs" in lieu of salt. Among some of the ingredients and fresh herbs used to drive flavors are cilantro, parsley, rosemary, thyme and garlic. Coupling these in gredients with cooking techniques to impart caramelized, grilled and roasted flavors also addresses the issue of eliminating salt. For sausage applications, the chef suggests that utilizing more delicate herbs, such as cilantro or parsley, are a better fit for imparting flavor than are bolder herbs like rosemary.

Another trend, according to the chef, is the use of dry rubs, traditionally reserved for application to the outside of whole-muscle cuts, as a means of enhancing the flavor of new sausage offerings. With origins in Tunasia, Harissa spice blends or pastes are becoming more commonly used as an ingredient in sausage mixtures as of late. Other international flavors are also popping up in the formulas used to develop new sausage products, according to Craig. Importing tastes from Africa and South America are becoming more widely accepted among consumers in the U.S. "One of those seasonings is chermoula, which is a fish seasoning used down in Morocco," says Craig. "Many of the flavors that are used in those countries are starting to come to menus now."

This article can also be found in the digital edition of MEAT&POULTRY, February 2009, starting on Page 30. Click

here to search that archive.