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“Those who like sausages and the law should never watch how either one of them is made “ – an old saying that makes you, even more, intrigued to know what happens behind the scenes. Who invented sausages and what are the main ingredients?
Different countries have their own recipe and version for what we would all agree is a sausage – a highly seasoned minced meat encased in a skin or a casing. Because of this, the ingredients for sausages can be very different from country to country or even from region to region within one country.
This begs the question of whether it’s possible that different cultures around the world invented the sausage independently from one another?
In this article, we’ll try to answer the question “Where does sausage come from?” by looking at the origins and history of sausages. But also, we’ll try to give a brief overview of the different types of sausages around the world and the production process, which reveals insights into the sausage industry.
Origins of Sausages
The word sausage comes from the Latin word salsus meaning salted. And, if you’re wondering why the word “salted” would represent minced meat encased in an animal’s skin, there’s an interesting story of how the sausage got its name.
The first thing you need to know is that sausages have been around for centuries. This means that people have been making sausages even before sophisticated methods of preparation and preservation were available. Because of this, with no refrigerators for centuries to come, people used salt to preserve meat.
So, does this mean that the Roman Empire was where sausages were first made? No, not quite. As it seems, sausages can be traced back all the way back to 3100 BC and the Sumerians in a region called Mesopotamia – or at least, one type of sausage.
Since different types of sausages originated in different parts of the world throughout history. Therefore, it makes sense to construct a timeline where different types of sausages first appeared.
Timeline of Sausage Evolution
People began making sausages around 5000 years ago. This means that the history of sausages is as long as civilization itself. Here’s what that looks like.
3100 BC: The First Sausage in Mesopotamia
The Sumerians were an ancient civilization in southern Mesopotamia (today Iraq) who were considered the creators of civilization as we understand it today. But, they’re also considered the inventors of something else too – the sausage.
There’s evidence that Sumerians used the meat of dead horses or hunted animals such as lions, deer, boar, cattle, and more to make sausages.
However, these sausages are not something that we can see today, and for a good reason. They were made in a very unhygienic manner and without any knowledge of preservation, which means their shelf life was basically non-existent.
1000 BC: Sujuk in Turkey
Around 2000 years after the Sumerians, the Turks were able to improve the ways food was prepared. With this knowledge, they created their own sausage – the so-called sujuk.
The sujuk is a dry, spicy, and fermented sausage typically made from ground beef and a lot of spices such as cumin and garlic. In Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, horse meat was used.
The sujuk is still consumed today in several Balkan, Middle Eastern, and Central Asian cuisines.
580 BC – 300 AD: Lap Cheong in China
After the Turks, the Chinese started making their own sausages called Lap Cheong. The term Lap Cheong is a generic word referring to the many different types of sausages originating in China.
The main ingredients in Lap Cheong sausages are fresh pork or liver, although different countries in Asia have their own version and recipe.
Today, Lap Cheong sausages are sold and consumed all around the world.
1300s: Merguez in North Africa
Another type of sausage popular today originated from the Maghreb cuisine in the northwesternmost part of Africa along the Mediterranean Sea. The merguez is a very spicy, red sausage that is typically made fresh from mutton or beef stuffed into a lamb-intestine casing.
Cumin, chili pepper, and harissa are the three spices most commonly used to make merguez, which give the sausage its characteristic red color. Today, the merguez is usually eaten grilled in sandwiches and with french fries.
1313: Bratwurst in Germany
The bratwurst is one of the most popular sausages today in Germany and the world. The word bratwurst is derived from the Old High German meaning finely chopped meat. The sausage is typically made from veal, beef, or pork.
The first documented evidence for a bratwurst recipe in Germany dates to 1313 in Nuremberg, which is still considered an internationally renowned center for production for grilled sausages.
Fun Fact: Did you know that Germany is the country with the largest volume of sausage consumption? In fact, Germans eat three times more sausages (per capita) than the second-largest consumer in Europe – Poland.
1376: Mortadella in Italy
Soon after the popularization of the bratwurst, Italy produced the mortadella, which is their first and one of the most popular sausages.
The Mortadella originated in Bologna, the capital of Emilia-Romagna. Traditionally, mortadella recipes included a pork filling (ground to a paste), small cubes of pork fat, and black pepper. However, today, several different variations of the mortadella exist and some of them contain pistachios or, more rarely, myrtle berries. This combination gives the mortadella a very unique taste.
1484: Frankfurter in Germany
As a true sausage-lover, in 1484, Germany invented yet another type of sausage that took the world by storm. The name frankfurter might not mean anything to you, but that’s what Germans call the hot dog! Somewhere in the 1900s, frankfurters were introduced in the United States and quickly became one of the most well-known items of American food.
The frankfurter is a highly seasoned sausage that’s traditionally made of mixed pork and beef. However, unlike many other sausages, the frankfurter is sold ready to eat. You may buy them loose, vacuum-packed, or canned. And, while you can eat them without cooking, they taste best when they’re slightly grilled.
1600s: Chorizo in Spain
In Spain and Portugal in the 1600s, people started experimenting with paprika, which led to the invention of the chorizo – a fermented, cured, smoked sausage with dried, smoked, red peppers. Because paprika is the main ingredient, the chorizo has a deep red color.
Chorizo is traditionally made from pork. People eat it in a sandwich, grilled, or simmered in a liquid such as apple cider or alcohol.
1800s: Kielbasa in Poland
Kielbasa is a generic term that refers to any type of meat sausage originating from Poland. Because of this, kielbasa sausages come in many different flavors. In fact, every region has its own special recipe for kielbasa, including countries outside of Poland such as Hungary, Slovenia, Ukraine, and more.
Kielbasa sausages are typically represented as a U-shape, smoked sausage made from pork, although you can find kielbasa with other meat as well.
The Polska Kielbasa Wędzona, sausage with sugar and marjoram, is a unique and popular choice.
1830s: Saveloy in England
In the 19th century, England introduced the saveloy to the world. The saveloy is a highly seasoned, bright red sausage that’s traditionally eaten with chips (similar to french fries) and sauce.
The characteristic thing about the saveloy is that it’s normally boiled (pre-cooked) during production, although you can also find it fried in batter.
If you want to try a very traditional saveloy meal, go for a “Sav Dip” sandwich.
1903: Chipolata in France
In 1903, in Escoffier’s Le guide culinaire, the name and recipe for today’s famous chipolata sausage was first seen. The chipolata sausage is a very thin and small sausage intended to be eaten for breakfast.
Chipolata sausages are traditionally fresh sausages made from coarse-ground pork and seasoned with salt, pepper, sage, thyme, pimento, or nutmeg (if you follow the original recipe).
Today, chipolata sausages are very popular in England at Christmas, while in Switzerland chipolata sausages are made with veal and milk, in addition to pork.
How Are Sausages Made?
Mainly, sausages are made from fine minced or ground meat from different animals such as beef, lamb, pork, and poultry in combination with salt, spices, and other flavorings. After making the meat mixture, they are stuffed into casings. The casing was traditionally made from animal skin but is now more commonly made from collagen and cellulose.
From everything that we’ve covered so far, we can conclude that sausages can be made from almost anything. From the finest parts of meat to the scrap that is left on the butchers’ floor such as lips, ears, tails, etc. This is why their price tag can vary greatly. Sausages can either be one of the most expensive treats or one of the cheapest and most widely available items of food.
Regardless of what type of meat is being used, most sausage makers use pork fat to bind the ingredients together. Pork fat is considered to be a great binding ingredient because of its texture and mild flavor.
Aside from the ingredients, sausages also vary in the way they’re prepared, which dictated how they’re intended to be consumed. Based on preparation methods, we have several types of sausages.
Types of Sausages
Sausages can be fresh, made from meat, fat, spices, and multiple choices of flavoring required to reach the wanted taste.
There is also a so-called “cured” sausage and it has some good marketing strategy behind it. Cured sausages have a big amount of salt added into the mixture, after which they are left to dry for several weeks until all the moisture is removed from the mixture. The reason behind this process is to make them ready for consumption without the need for cooking. In other words, you can just buy them and get to eating straight away, without the need to cook them.
And, if you didn’t know, you can also have sausages as snacks! This type of sausage is also known as dried sausages or beef jerky. They are usually made the same way as any sausage with the difference of being enclosed in much smaller casings and dried for a long time to get that crispy taste – just as if fried.
We can thank the Sumerians in southern Mesopotamia for the invention of the original sausage, although eating their version is not something we would recommend. Thanks to innovations and discoveries in food preparation, people were able to improve their initial recipes. Then, different cuisines around the world started to experiment with taste and customized the recipe for the sausage to their liking.
Because of this, today, we have dozens, if not hundreds, of different types of sausages available in supermarkets. Whether you prefer fresh, smoked, boiled, cured, highly-seasoned, or not, there’s a sausage for every taste. Today, even vegans and vegetarians can enjoy a sausage thanks to plant-based alternatives.