The Origins of Sausage Making
Sausage making has a long and storied history, with evidence of sausage production dating back thousands of years. Some of the earliest known examples of sausage come from ancient Mesopotamia around 4000 BC. Cuneiform tablets from Sumer indicate that people were making sausages from goat, sheep and pig meat. The ancient Greeks and Romans were also known to produce sausages, mostly from pork. In fact, the Latin word for sausage is “salsus” meaning salted, showing the historical importance of this food preservation technique. Sausages helped make use of every part of the animal, reducing waste in a time before refrigeration.
Sausage in Europe through the Middle Ages
In Europe, sausage making flourished during the Middle Ages. This period saw advancements in spicing and the evolution of many iconic sausage varieties. Pork emerged as the dominant sausage meat, as it was one of the only meats not forbidden by religion. Germany, in particular, developed a strong sausage tradition, producing bratwurst, bockwurst and many types of smoked sausages. French saucisson sec and Spanish chorizo also have their roots in medieval Europe. The term “sausage” itself derives from the Latin word salsus, meaning salted or preserved. Salting and smoking sausages was crucial to preventing spoilage in the days before refrigeration.
The Arrival of Modern Sausage Making
It wasn’t until the 1800s that sausage making began to resemble its modern form. Advances in food science led to the development of engineered meat products and artificial casings. In the 1870s, German immigrant Charles Feltman opened up the first Coney Island hot dog stand in New York, kicking off the hot dog’s rise to fame. In 1897, the first known hot dog bun was developed in St. Louis, Missouri. Mechanical grinders started being used in the late 19th century, facilitating mass production of finely minced sausages. Sausage stuffing technology also improved dramatically, enabling the making of curved, linked sausages on a much larger scale.
The 1900s – Innovation and New Varieties
The 20th century saw several major breakthroughs in commercial sausage production. Electric meat grinders, hydraulic sausage stuffers, smokehouses and climate controlled curing rooms all enabled large-scale manufacturing and consistent product quality. Many iconic sausage brands like Oscar Mayer, Johnsonville and Hebrew National were launched during this era. ready-to-eat breakfast sausages grew popular, fueled by the increasingly fast pace of life. New ethnic sausage styles also emerged, from spicy chorizo and andouille to German bratwurst and Polish kielbasa. Health concerns led to the development of chicken and turkey sausages as lower fat options. By the late 1900s, globalization had expanded access to sausage worldwide.
The Evolution of Sausage Casing
One important but often overlooked aspect of sausage history is casing development. Early sausages used animal organs, like stomachs, bladders and intestines, as casings. This limited the size and shape of the sausage. By the early 20th century, artificial cellulose casings allowed for mass production of link sausages. In 1925, an extrusion process for manufacturing cellulose casings was patented. In the 1950s, an automatic device for threading casings onto the stuffing horn debuted. This technology automated what had previously been a manual process. In the 1960s, collagen casings were introduced, followed by fibrous and plastic casings in the following decades. Today, sausage casings come in natural, cellulose, collagen and synthetic options.
Notable Sausage Varieties Through History
Bratwurst originated in Germany and dates back to 1313. Its distinguishing feature is the finely ground pork and veal stuffed into casings. Bratwurst was brought to the United States by German settlers in Wisconsin during the 19th century. It remains very popular in the Upper Midwest.
Salami is thought to have been created by the Romans as a way to preserve meat. Today, it refers to cured, fermented sausages made of ground meat coated in white mold. Salami varieties like Genoa, soppressata and pepperoni can be traced back to medieval Italy.
Chorizo is the iconic sausage of Spain and Portugal, first mentioned in writings in the 1300s. Heavily seasoned with smoked paprika, garlic and other spices, chorizo develops its signature red color during fermentation. Mexican-style chorizo emerged later, in the 19th century, as a fresh pork sausage without the dried, cured texture.
Hot dogs as we know them today trace their roots to late 19th century America, but eating grilled or boiled sausages in a bun is an older tradition. The earliest known example is the “dachshund sausages” sold in the 1700s by German immigrants in New York. Hot dogs surged in popularity in the early 1900s when baseball parks began selling them.
While raw sausages and cured sausages date back far in history, cooked breakfast sausage is a more recent development. Pork breakfast sausage likely emerged in the late 1800s or early 1900s with the advent of modern commercial sausage making. Pre-mixed seasoned breakfast sausages started being mass marketed by U.S. companies like Jimmy Dean in the 1950s.
Sausage through the Centuries
Sausage has come a long way from its earliest iterations as heavily salted meat stuffed into animal organs. While the basic concept remains unchanged, sausage has benefited from technological advances that make it possible to produce higher volumes with improved food safety and consistent quality. The globalization of food has also popularized regional sausage styles worldwide. From ancient Mesopotamia to modern day, humankind has shown a taste for sausages that links together our past and present.
Sausage Fun Facts
- The word sausage is derived from the Latin word “salsus” meaning salted or preserved.
- Ancient Roman sausages were called “botulus” which is where the word “botulism” originated since improper sausage curing caused this potentially fatal illness.
- Fresh sausages need to be cooked before eating, while cured sausages like salami are safe to eat raw.
- Germany produces over 1500 different kinds of sausage – more than any other country.
- In the U.K., Lincolnshire sausages are so iconic that they have protected geographical status.
- Hot dogs get their name from college sports chants making fun of the sausage’s shape.
- Spicy chorizo sausage originated in Spain and later inspired Mexican and South American varieties.
- Breakfast sausage patties and links helped popularize sausage as an everyday meal.
- The average American eats over 50 pounds of pork sausages per year.
Global Sausage Styles
|Bratwurst, bockwurst, weisswurst, currywurst, blutwurst
|Salami, pepperoni, soppressata, mortadella
|Saucisson sec, boudin noir, boudin blanc
|Bangers, black pudding, pork pies
|Hot dogs, breakfast sausage, smoked sausage
The Future of Sausage
What does the future hold for the beloved sausage? Several trends are emerging:
Artisanal and Local Sausage
There is growing demand for sausages made locally using high-quality, carefully sourced ingredients. This is a return to a more traditional approach led by dedicated sausage makers and butchers. The artisanal sausage market prides itself on craftsmanship.
Alternative Meat Sausages
Plant-based meat substitutes and lab grown meats are advancing the development of vegetarian and vegan sausages. As these technologies improve, alternative meat sausages are poised to better mimic the taste, texture and nutritional profile of traditional pork and beef sausages. This appeals to vegetarians as well as flexitarians seeking to reduce meat consumption.
Innovative Flavors and Fusions
Sausages today feature bolder global spice blends, regional flavors and experimental ingredients like wines, cheeses and chiles. From elk jalapeno cheddar to chicken tikka masala sausages, there is growing demand for more unusual flavor profiles. These reflect changing consumer tastes and interests.
Focus on Quality Ingredients
Today’s food culture prizes high-quality, responsibly raised meat and natural, wholesome ingredients. There is also interest in sausages featuring ancient grains, sprouted seeds, avocados and other nutrient dense foods. These position sausage as a better-for-you choice.
Sausage’s Ongoing Popularity
While innovation continues, at its core, sausage has remained remarkably unchanged over centuries and across cultures. This near universal appeal suggests sausage will continue to thrive and satisfy our cravings. The history of sausage is still being written.
Sausage holds an important place in culinary history. Primitive versions originated thousands of years ago as means to preserve meat without refrigeration. Over time, sausage became a cherished food tradition across many cultures. Production evolved from small-scale family recipes to globalized mass manufacturing. Through it all, sausage has remained a staple source of protein and a versatile, ubiquitous food. The future points to continued innovation in the methods and ingredients behind sausage making. However, sausage’s long-standing appeal reflects humanity’s abiding taste for these cylindrical meats. The history of sausage parallels our own history – intimately entwined with our cultural identity and eating habits since ancient times.