A Brief History of Foods: Sausages
The humble sausage The humble sausage is popular the world over with many nations and individual regions having their own characteristic versions using the meats and other ingredients native to that region and employed in traditional dishes. The word ‘sausage’ can refer to the loose ground or minced meat, typically pork, beef or poultry combined with salt, spices and other flavourings, which can be formed into patties or stuffed into a skin. Other ingredients such as grains or breadcrumbs may be included as fillers or extenders.
What we usually think of as ‘a sausage’ is the cylindrical product encased in a skin. Traditionally casings use animal intestine, but mass-produced versions are more likely made from synthetic materials. Sausages that are sold raw are cooked in many ways, including pan-frying, broiling and barbecuing. Some sausages are cooked during processing such that the casing may be removed.
Sausage making is also a traditional food preservation technique by curing, drying (often in association with fermentation or culturing, which can contribute to preservation), smoking, or freezing. Some cured or smoked sausages can be stored without refrigeration. Most fresh sausages must be refrigerated or frozen until they are cooked.
History According to the on-line Merriam-Webster dictionary the first known use of the word ‘sausage’ was in the 15th-century in the meaning defined right. In Middle English ‘sausige’ was derived from Norman French ‘sauseche’ or ‘saucis’, which was itself derived from the Late Latin ‘salsicia’ (from Latin salsus, ‘salted’).
The salt link makes sense as traditionally sausage makers salted various meat scraps, offal, blood and fat to help preserve them. These mixes were stuffed into casings made from the cleaned intestines of the animal thereby producing the characteristic cylindrical shape. Unsurprisingly sausages, puddings and salami are among some of the oldest of prepared foods, whether cooked and eaten immediately or preserved to varying degrees. The historical record on sausages begins around 4,000 years ago. An Akkadian cuneiform tablet from Mesopotamia, for example, records a dish of intestine casings filled with some sort of forcemeat .
In China a type of sausage, lup cheong, is recorded from the Northern and Southern dynasties (589 BC to 420 BC). It is described as made from goat and lamb meat with salt, and flavoured with green onion, bean sauce, ginger, and pepper .
Sausages were popular with both the ancient Greeks and the Romans, and most likely with the various tribes occupying the larger part of Europe. The earliest appearance in classical literature, for example, is of a type of blood sausage mentioned around 800 BC in Book 18 of Homer's classic saga ‘The Odyssey’ :
‘Here at the fire are goats' paunches lying, which we set there for supper, when we had filled them with fat and blood.’
Later, Hesychius mentions that, in 500 BC, the Greek dramatist and philosopher Epicharmus of Kos  wrote a comedy called Orya (‘The Sausage’; literally meaning ‘the pork’). Further literary evidence for sausages in ancient Greece is provided by Aristophanes' comedic play Hippeis (‘The Knights’). The play is a satire on political and social life in 5th-century BC Athens in which a sausage-seller vies for the confidence and approval of Demos, an elderly man who symbolizes the Athenian citizenry .
An early example of Italian sausage is lucanica, discovered by Romans after the conquest of Lucania, a historical region of southern Italy. The descendants of this ancient Roman sausage, its recipe greatly changed over the millennia, can be found in Italy (luganega), Spain (longaniza), Portugal (linguiça), Greece (loukaniko), Bulgaria (lukanka) and beyond . Today, this sausage is identified as Lucanica di Picerno, which is produced in Basilicata whose territory was part of the ancient Lucania .
Thanks to the Romans, the first recognisable recipe using lengths of intestine rather than a stomach as the casing can be found in Book 2 of Apicius’ De Re Coquinaria (‘On Cookery’). The Apician recipe botellum sic facies instructs the cook to :
‘Take the yolks of six hard-boiled eggs, chopped pine nuts, onion, and sliced leeks, and mix with blood [and forcemeats]. Add ground pepper and fill the intestine with the stuffing. Cook in stock and wine.’
From the Middle Ages, various European cities became known for their local sausage varieties, differing only by the types of meats that are used, the flavouring or spicing ingredients (garlic, peppers, wine, etc.), and the manner of preparation. Types such as the ‘Frankfurter’ (Frankfurt am Main), ‘Bologna’ (Bologna, Italy), and ‘Romano’ (Rome) are instantly recognizable being named for their places of origin. Likewise, salami (named for the salting process, Italian: salare, ‘to salt’) is a similarly popular type of sausage with numerous national and regional varieties.
One final thought Given the definition, etymology and our brief history, why exactly would any vegetarian or vegan eat a sausage? Just a thought. Bon appétit.
1. Bottéro, J. (1985), ‘The Cuisine of Ancient Mesopotamia’, The Biblical Archaeologist, 48(1), 36-47, Available on-line: https://doi.org/10.2307/3209946 (accessed October 25th, 2021).
2. ‘Forcemeat. is derived from the French farcir, ‘to stuff’ and describes a uniform mixture of lean meat with fat made by grinding, sieving, or puréeing the ingredients.
3. Zeuthen, P., (2007), ‘A Historical Perspective of Meat Fermentation, Early Records Of Fermented Meat Products, Raw Cured Ham’, in Toldrá, Fidel (ed.), Handbook of fermented meat and poultry, p. 4.
4. Homer's Odyssey, Line 44, translated by A.T. Murray.
5. Epicharmus wrote between thirty-five and fifty-two comedies though many have been lost or exist only in fragments.
6. Demos meaning the ordinary citizens of an ancient Greek city-state.
7. Aristophanes’ ‘The Knights’, Classical Literature, Accessed October 26th, 2021.
8. Perry, C., (2012), ‘Forklore: A Very Important Sausage’, Los Angeles Times (accessed October 26th, 2021).
9. Riley, G., (2007), ‘The Oxford Companion to Italian Food’, Oxford: OUP, pp. 301-302.
10. ‘The Lucanica di Picerno, A Historical Sausage’, Arte Cibo (accessed October 26th, 2021)
11. The Roman festival of Lupercalia was held on February 15th, involving Juno Lucina, and is usually understood as a rite of purification and fertility to purify the city, promoting health and fertility. Lupercalia was also known as dies Februatus after the goat thong whips called februa used in the rituals and was the basis for the month named Februarius (February).
12. Edwards, J., (1988), ‘The Roman Cookery of Apicius’, London: Rider, p.26.