German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck (1815-98) once commented that “To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making.” Sausage began as a frugal means of preserving meat scraps, offal and blood left from butchery in convenient, edible containers – the intestines or stomachs of slaughtered animals. The word sausage is from the Latin salsus, meaning salted, and salting sausage meat helps to preserve it.
Sausages are among the world’s oldest processed foods. In The Odyssey, the Greek poet Homer compares Odysseus to a fat sausage, Epicharmus wrote a comedy titled The Sausage (sadly, now lost) and Aristophanes’ play The Knights is about a sausage vendor who becomes a political leader. Sausage also appears in De re Coquinaria, a cookbook published in Rome in the first century C.E.
What began as frugal soon became epicurean; sausages now are made with many kinds of meat, most often beef, pork or veal. Fillers, like breadcrumbs, and vegetables, fruits or spices may be added. Sausage is sold as patties of freshly chopped and seasoned meat, or stuffed in casings, either natural or synthetic. They may be dried, fermented or smoked, and their meat may be ground to a fine paste or roughly chopped. Some must be cooked before they can be eaten while others are so heavily cured and smoked that they are eaten raw. In the English-speaking world, sausages are generally categorized as fresh, cooked or dry:
o Fresh sausages (such as Italian pork sausage or breakfast sausage) are made from uncured meats and must not only be refrigerated, but also must be well cooked before eating. Fresh smoked sausages (like mettwurst and teewurst) are fresh sausages that are smoked and cured. They usually are packed in sausage casing, but don’t require cooking.
o Cooked sausages (frankfurters, Braunschweiger and liver sausage, for example) are made with fresh meats and then fully cooked. They require refrigeration. Cooked smoked sausages (like kielbasa or mortadella) are cooked and then smoked. They also must be refrigerated.
o Dry sausages (including salami or summer sausage) are cured, fermented, dried and sometimes smoked. They are eaten cold and last a long time.
Germany produces the world’s greatest variety of wursts, with over 1,000 different combinations of ingredients. And the British spend nearly half a billion pounds on sausages annually, eating more than a quarter of a million tons. The British Sausage Appreciation Society has more than 5,000 members in the United Kingdom. In the United States, Joey “Jaws” Chestnut swallowed 76 hot dogs (with buns) in 10 minutes at the 2021 Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island, the current world record. And haggis, a Scottish concoction made of sheep’s stomach, lamb heart and lungs, beef, suet, onion, oatmeal, salt, spices and stock simmered in the stomach of the sheep, is central to haggis hurling (an unfortunate choice of word) competitions held at the Scottish Highland Games. The disputed 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.
Following are but a few of the most popular sausages:
o Andouille is a spicy, heavily smoked pork sausage that is French in origin but widely associated with Cajun cooking.
o Bratwurst is a German sausage made from pork and veal seasoned with spices, including ginger, nutmeg and coriander or caraway. It is generally sold fresh and must be well grilled or sauteed before eating.
o Chorizo is a highly seasoned, coarsely ground pork sausage flavored with garlic, chili and other spices that is used in both Mexican and Spanish cooking. Mexican chorizo is made with fresh pork while the Spanish version uses smoked pork.
o Italian sausage is made from coarsely ground fresh pork forced into plump links. The sausage often is seasoned with garlic, fennel or anise seed and comes either hot (with red pepper flakes) or sweet (without). It must be cooked before eating.
o Kielbasa is a smoked Polish sausage made from pork, although beef sometimes is added. It usually is sold precooked.
o Loukanika is a Greek lamb and pork sausage flavored with orange rind. It is a fresh sausage that must be cooked before eating.
o Weisswurst, German for “white sausage”, is a delicate, fresh sausage made with veal, cream and eggs. It’s traditionally served at Oktoberfest with sweet mustard, rye bread and beer.