Natural sausage casings (“casings”) are traditional products that have been used in the production of meat specialities for centuries and have remained virtually unchanged in function and appearance. A large variety of sausage is produced world-wide using the processed intestines of pigs, sheep, goats and cattle (and sometimes horses).

It is often assumed that sausages were invented by the Sumerians in the region that is Iraq today, around 4000 BC. Reference to a cooked meat product stuffed in a goat stomach like a sausage was known in Babylon and described as a recipe in the world’s oldest cooking book 3750 years ago (Yale Babylonian collection, New Haven Connecticut, USA).

The Chinese sausage Làcháng, which consists of goat and lamb meat, was first mentioned in 589 BC. The Greek poet Homer mentioned a kind of blood sausage in his Odyssey (book 20, poem 25); Epicharmus (ca. 550 BC – ca. 460 BC) wrote a comedy entitled The Sausage. Numerous books report that sausages were already popular among the ancient Greeks and Romans.

During the reign of the Roman emperor Nero, sausages were associated with the Lupercalia Festival. The early Catholic Church outlawed the Lupercalia Festival and declared the consumption of sausages to be a sin. For this reason, the Roman emperor Constantine banned the consumption of sausages. Early in the 10th century, the Byzantine emperor Leo VI forbade the production of blood sausages following cases of food poisoning, known in Germany as sausage poisoning.

Interestingly, the word sausage is derived from old French word saussiche, which could be found in a dialect spoken between 1000 and 1300 AD in a geographic region spanning the north of France and parts of Belgium and Switzerland. Saussiche comes from the Latin word salsus, meaning salted and creating a clear link to the long-known preservation method of casings using salt.

The art of producing sausages using animal intestines survived the fall of the Roman Empire and continued through the Middle Ages. With the development of cities throughout Europe, the butcher profession re-emerged, garnering great respect and even power. At the beginning of the 12th century, during the time of German Kaiser Heinrich V, butchers were recognized as eminent citizens.

Advances in meat processing were widely observed and sausage-making was practiced throughout the Old World. As early as the 12th century, slaughterhouses in England separated more perishable materials (tripe, intestine) from carcass meat, and the French and Germans had set inspection requirements for meat products in the 13th century.
By the late medieval period, sheep were perhaps the most important domesticated animals; both individual farmers and monasteries owned huge flocks. However, the supply of casings could not meet the steadily growing demand of the sausage makers. Because of this, salt-preserved casings became an important trade commodity across South and Central Europe.

Intestines were praised as delicacies in medieval Europe. The German poet Kunig von dem Otenwalt in his song “Von der Küewe“ (Küewe = cow) regarded large intestines as popular food and Steinmar (around 1200) spoke in his “Schmauslied” (Feast poem) about intestines (“Dermel”) as pleasing and luxurious products. Later, around 1300 Johannes Hadlaub, a lyric poet, described that the German people highly valued meat products, including mesentery, intestines viscera, and sausages. In his painting “The Butcher Shop”, the Dutch painter Pieter Aertszen (1507 – 1573) depicted the details of common sausages amongst other meat specialties of that time such as ring sausages, link sausages, and double links of small sausages.

Figure 1: The Butcher Shop (Pieter Aertszen)
Figure 1: The Butcher Shop (Pieter Aertszen)

In 1662, under the pseudonym Marcus Knackwurst, a book was written describing a number of famous sausage formulations with the emphasis on the use of natural sausage casings. The late 18th and first half of the 19th century were the years of the industrial revolution. Improvements in meat preservation and processing methods resulted not only in dehydrated foods and dried meats but also in new sausage production processes, again making use of animal casings as natural envelop for meat preparations.

The public health and hygienic problems have for long been regarded as critical points in the practical application of casings. As a result, the casings imported into Germany from foreign countries have been subjected to veterinary inspection since the introduction of the Meat Inspection Act (“Fleischbeschaugesetz”) on June 3rd, 1900. Problems related to the quality of casings, such as intestinal parasites and tuberculous knots as well as other sanitary defects, were discussed in the literature of that time (i.e. Von Ostertag, 1905). Gröning (1905) described the results of veterinary-sanitary examination of imported casings. In his studies, published in 1910 and 1920, he discussed the issue of hygiene and quality of imported casings (hog fat ends), including microbial red discolorations of salted products, commonly known as “Red Dog”. The problems related to the cleaning of casings concerned meat hygienists of that time. Schilling (1901) found in hog and beef casings several grams of faecal residue, consisting partly of straw fragments, corn, and animal hairs. Improvements in cleaning efficiency were permanently required.

During the first half of the 20th century, the processing techniques of intestines into finished sausage casings were gradually improving. Knowledge of casing production was growing and new technology emerged. Von Ostertag (1905) described the methods of quality control of casings. New methods and machines were developed for the de-sliming and cleaning of casings (Heiss-Straubig, 1902; Nägele’s cleaning machine – Patents Stohrer, 1919 and 1927). Regulations, strictly applied to the growing import of casings, had an active and positive influence on the hygiene and technology of sausage preparation, not only in Europe but also 11 around the world. The import of casings in Europe started to be more and more rigorously and successfully controlled, not only because of microbial risks but also because of the possible use of inedible salt and other inedible preservatives and additives.

Development of meat processing machines was an important stimulus for an accelerated growth of sausage production in this period. As a result, the need for casings increased which encouraged both further improvement of processing and preserving methods of casings and paved the way for the invention of new alternative types of casings from natural and man-made materials (Savic and Savic, 2002).

This change from a traditional style of sausage production to a uniform industrial approach did not make natural casings obsolete. Dr. Gisela Panzer wrote in 1977 that sausages stuffed in natural casings are, due to their non-uniform appearance, clearly distinguishable from mass-produced products and are therefore acceptable as a higher quality product. Prof. Sakata (1998) stated that natural casings achieve marked consumer preferences over artificial casings due to their better bite resistance (The -“knack”- in knackwurst).

A quick search on the internet shows that sausages have not lost their appeal to the modern consumer. A country well-known for its sausage tradition is Germany, where the average consumer buys some 30 kilos of sausage per year – representing half of his annual meat consumption. This high consumption is associated with a range of more than 1500 different kinds of sausage, produced mostly locally and with regional variations regarding composition, smoking, and spicing techniques (Wijnker, 2006).

Despite the appreciation of sausages as meat products, the attention of the scientific community to this product remained limited. Apart from a handful of studies, most investigations focussed on meat (products) addressing hygienic issues and the control of contagious animal diseases. However, since the 1970s natural casings have been studied more closely and these investigations are presented in more detail in the next chapters.

Previous topic is

Next topic is Production of natural sausage casings