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20 Things You Didn't Know About... Sausage

The ones that kill, the ones that fly long distances, and the ones made from pig bungs

By Leeaundra Keany
Sep 14, 2011 12:00 AMApr 12, 2023 2:19 PM


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 Sausages, a blend of meat or blood protein, fat, and spices, were the first processed food. In The Odyssey Homer unflatteringly compares Odysseus to a fat sausage.

2  The English word sausagecomes from the Latin salsus, meaning “salted.” Salt is key to a good link because it dissolves the muscle fiber in meat so the fat can float in a chewy protein matrix. Hungry yet?

3  The Roman word for sausage, botulus, is the origin of the word botulism. The sausage production process creates a warm, moist, anaerobic environment ideal for Clostridium botulinum, the bacterium that produces the botulin toxin.

 In Asia and later the Mediterranean, sausages were left out to ferment, producing lactic acid that retarded the growth of spoilage bacteria.

 Nitrites—chemicals added to cure the sausage—kill botulism more reliably.

6  Unfortunately, nitrites also combine with amines, the natural breakdown products of proteins, to form cancer-causing nitrosamines.

 Before you vegetarians get on your high tofu horse: Nitrites and their chemical relatives, nitrates, are ubiquitous in plants, including vegetables and grains.

 Over the past 60 years vegetables, fish, and home-canned foods have caused more outbreaks of botulism than beef, pork, and chicken.

 Joey “Jaws” Chestnut scarfed 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes at the 2009 Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island, the current world record. And he’s still here to tell the tale.

10  Tip for trying this at home: Soak the bun in water.

11  Another tip: Don’t try this at home. Hot dogs cause 17 percent of food-related asphyxiations in children under 10.

12  Zigeunerwurst, bierschinken, and jagdwurst. Germany produces the greatest variety of wursts, with over 1,000 combinations of ingredients.

13  Does the thought of haggis make you want to hurl? You can do it for real at haggis-hurling competitions held at the Scottish Highland Games.

14  The record is held either by Alan Pettigrew, who hurled a 1 pound 8 ounce haggis more than 180 feet, or Lorne Coltart, whose 1 pound 4 ounce haggis traveled 214 feet 9 inches. Some sports have better record keeping than others.

15  Not retching yet? Take some time to consider haggis ingredients: sheep’s stomach, lamb heart and lungs, beef, suet, onion, oatmeal, salt, spices, and stock, simmered in the stomach of the sheep.

16  You thought you didn’t want to know what was inside. Traditional sausage is encased in the submucosa, the collagen layer of animal intestines. For mortadella, that means cow bladders; for liverwurst, pig bungs.

17  Too-hot hot dogs: The friction inside a meat grinder running full tilt can create a temperature of 120°F. To keep from melting the fat, some sausage makers dip their grinders in liquid nitrogen.

18  Modern hot dogs incorporate the most complex process in sausage making, emulsification. Wieners must be blended perfectly so that the fat is evenly distributed and stabilized by protein.

19  Mark Post at Germany’s Maastricht University is trying to create sausage minus the pig. For his prototype he is growing mouse muscle from stem cells in a petri dish. Thousands of muscle strips later: cruelty-free mouse sausage.

20  Now are you hungry?

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