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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, including:

  • spices and flavorings
  • cure compounds
  • water
  • salt
  • sweeteners
  • binders-extenders
  • phosphates
  • antioxidants
  • mold inhibitors
  • starter cultures and acidulants

Within most of these groups, there are many compounds, each with their own specific characteristics.

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 flavor.
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 oleoresin.
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.

Cure compounds

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 moisture content.
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, dry place.

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 formulation cost.
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 inhibitors

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 sausage manufacturing.

Reprinted from Meat & Poultry magazine
"A Processing Workshop "
By Professor Robert Rust and Dr. Dennis Olson