All about those non-meat ingredients
WHAT MAKES one sausage different from another is not so much the meat as the
non-meat ingredients. Many of these ingredients are used to impart unique
characteristics to hundreds of different meat products. Each ingredient has a
specific function and should be used only to the extent needed to impart the
desirable characteristics for the product.
Non-meat ingredients can be classified into groups based on their intended use,
- spices and flavorings
- cure compounds
- mold inhibitors
- starter cultures and acidulants
Within most of these groups, there are many compounds, each with their own
Spices and flavorings
Spices give each sausage its unique flavor. Some spices are commonly expected
in certain sausages, such as sage in fresh pork sausage and peppercorns in
cervelat. Many spices compliment other spices to produce a full, well-rounded
Spices come in various forms, and are ground to different degrees fineness.
Coarse ground spices may be visible in the product, while the fine ground
varieties are nearly indistinguishable.
Since most spices have some bacteria, these spices can be purified with
ethylene oxide to reduce their bacterial loads or be sterilized by
irradiation. Spice flavor compounds can be extracted in the form of oil or
In the extracted forms, these flavorings are free of bacteria and soluble in
water. However, the flavor generally deteriorates in a shorter time (four-to
six weeks) than natural spices (three to-four months).
There are a number of flavorings that are used. These include peptides,
hydrolyzed proteins from plant or animal sources.
The compound that distinguishes fresh products from cured products is
nitrite. Sodium or potassium nitrite reduces to nitric oxide (a gas) and binds
to myoglobin, the color pigment in meat. This binding forms the pink color of
cured meat after heat processing.
Sodium erythorbate or ascorbate are used to accelerate the conversion of
nitrite or nitric oxide, which accelerates the curing reaction. Sodium nitrite
also serves to retard rancidity and reduce microbial growth. Sodium nitrite is
usually blended with salt to aid in controlling the level and distribution of
the nitrite in sausage. Common levels used are 156 ppm sodium nitrite (bacon
requires 120 ppm), and 550 ppm sodium erythorbate.
Water is the least expensive ingredient, yet the most abundant compound in
the finished product. It performs many functions in sausage. However, its
addition to meat products is restricted by regulations. Furthermore, you have to
be careful about the water you use, since some water, such as hard water,
contains minerals that can reduce emulsion stability and accelerate rancidity.
Salt (sodium chloride), is used for preservation, flavor and solubization of
meat proteins. Because it is used at fairly high levels in most sausage
(two-to-three percent), salt’s purity is important. It should be free of heavy
metals, which accelerate rancidity. In formulating sausage, the salt content
in spice and cure blends must be considered as part of the overall salt level
for the product. Potassium chloride is similar to sodium chloride, and can be
used as a partial substitute for it.
This is a class of compounds that reduce the harshness of salt and add
sweetness to sausage. Not all sweeteners have the same degree of sweetness
and some “brown” when heated. Sucrose is a non-browning compound from cane
or beet sugar. It has an arbitrary sweetness value of 100. Dextrose is a
simple sugar that browns when heated, with a sweetness value of 70. Since
dextrose is a reducing sugar, it is commonly used in fermented products at a one
half-of-one percent to-two percent level when starter cultures are used.
Corn syrup and corn syrup solids are sugars derived from acid or enzyme
treatment of corn starch. Corn syrup differs from corn syrup solids only in
The sweetness values of these products vary widely. Based on dextrose
sweeteners, corn syrup or corn syrup solids can be between 20 percent and 70
percent of the sweetness of dextrose (DE 2O to DE 7O). As a corn syrup, the DE
must be 42 or above if it is to be used in a meat product. There is a limit of
two percent corn syrup solids that can be used in meat products.
Sorbitol is a non-browning sweetener with a sweetness value of 50. Its use is
restricted to frankfurters and wiener knockwurst at a level of not more than two
percent. It cannot be used with corn syrup or corn syrup solids.
Saccharin is an artificial sweetener with a sweetness value 300 times that of
sucrose. It can only be used in bacon with special labeling requirements.
Almost all sweeteners will attract water and therefore must be stored in a cool,
Extenders and Binders
There are many different products in this category and their properties vary
widely. Generally, extenders and binders are used for improved emulsion
stability, cooking yields, slicing ability, flavor, texture or reduced
These products have restricted use levels of 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent unless
the meat products are to be labeled as imitation products. Products in this
category are cereals (wheat, corn, rye and other grains), soy protein (50
percent, 70 percent or 90 percent protein), nonfat dried milk, yeast protein,
mustard flour and gelatin.
Alkaline polyphosphates increase pH, protect flavor, improve emulsion
stability and increase the water-holding capacity of meat. They are permitted in
almost all meat products except fresh sausage and ground beef.
Antioxidants retard rancidity development, providing for longer shelf life.
Synergists can also be used to improve the efficiency of antioxidants.
Mold growth can be eliminated or retarded on the surface of dry sausage. Dry
sausages can be dipped into solutions of potassium sorbate or propylparaben.
Starter cultures and acidulants
Starter cultures are live bacteria added to sausage to develop lactic acid, a
byproduct of bacterial growth. These lactic acid-producing bacteria ferment
sausage products to give them unique flavors and longer shelf life. Temperature
and pH must be closely monitored during fermentation process.
Some acidulants are used to lower the pH without fermentation, such as citric
acid, glucono delta lactone, acetic acid, lactic acid and others. Some acids can
be made encapsulated so that the acid is released during heating and not during
Reprinted from Meat & Poultry magazine
"A Processing Workshop "
By Professor Robert Rust and Dr. Dennis Olson