Eating sausage casing is a common question many people have when preparing and consuming sausages. The casing is the material that encloses the sausage filling. There are a few factors to consider when determining if sausage casing is safe and appropriate to eat.
What is sausage casing made from?
Sausage casings can be made from a variety of materials, including:
- Animal intestines – This includes pig, sheep, cow intestines. These are known as natural casings.
- Collagen – Collagen casings come from the collagen in cow or pig hides.
- Cellulose – Cellulose casings are made from cellulose of plant origin.
- Plastic – Some casings are made of plastic like polyamide or polyvinylidene chloride.
- Fibrous – Casings may be made from fibers like cotton, hemp, or paper.
The most common types of casings are animal intestines, collagen, and cellulose. The material the casing is made from determines whether it is edible.
Are natural sausage casings safe to eat?
Natural sausage casings are made from the intestines of animals like pigs, sheep, and cows. These intestines are cleaned, processed, and packaged into tubular shapes to encase sausage. Natural casings are made of materials like collagen, elastin, and muscle fibers that come from animal intestines.
Natural casings are fully edible and safe to consume. In fact, natural casings can provide protein, vitamins, and minerals from the animal tissues they contain. Many cultures around the world traditionally consume natural casings as part of sausages or other encased meats.
However, it’s important that natural casings are fully cleaned and processed properly to ensure food safety. Reputable producers thoroughly clean intestines to remove any contaminants or waste material. As long as high quality processing standards are followed, natural casings are perfectly fine and nutritious to eat.
Are collagen sausage casings OK to eat?
Collagen casings are made from collagen derived from the hides or connective tissues of cows and pigs. Collagen gives the casings a natural appearance and bite, similar to natural intestine casings.
Collagen casings are safe and acceptable to eat. The collagen itself contains no harmful substances. In fact, collagen can provide nutritional benefits including amino acids like glycine, proline and hydroxyproline. These support joint, bone, skin, and connective tissue health.
The caveat is that some collagen casings go through artificial coloring and flavoring processes. Opt for uncolored, untreated collagen casings if you want to avoid any chemical additives.
Can you eat cellulose sausage casings?
Cellulose is a plant-derived fiber that can be made into a sausage casing material. It comes from the cell walls of plants like wood or hemp.
Cellulose casings themselves are technically edible and non-toxic, but they are very chewy and tough. Most cellulose casings are not intended to be eaten. They are indigestible fiber and provide no nutritional value. The casing is primarily used as a processing aid to shape and cook sausages.
If you want to eat a natural casing, look for alternative options like intestine or collagen-based casings. Avoid eating the cellulose casing materials.
Are plastic sausage casings safe to eat?
Plastic sausage casings are made from synthetic materials like polyamide (PA), polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC), polyester, or other polymers. They are used for mass processed sausages to provide a very uniform shape and appearance.
Plastic sausage casings are not designed to be eaten. Consuming pieces of plastic casing material would be quite harmful to your digestive system and health. PVDC can release toxic compounds when heated.
Only use plastic casings to shape the sausage during processing. Always fully remove the plastic casing before cooking and eating the sausage itself.
Can you eat fibrous sausage casings?
Fibrous casings are sometimes made from materials like cotton, hemp, or cellulose fibers woven into tubular shapes. Like cellulose casings, fibrous casings provide a non-edible processing aid for shaping sausages.
Fibrous casing materials are not intended for consumption. While they are made from natural plant sources, the fibers themselves don’t provide nutritional value. They are also difficult to break down during digestion. Avoid eating fibrous casings.
Signs a sausage casing is not meant to be eaten
Here are some signs that a particular sausage casing should not be consumed:
- It has a tough, plastic-like texture
- It’s very chewy and fibrous
- It has an artificial appearance
- It’s extremely uniform and tube-shaped
- It has no nutritional facts or ingredients label
Casings designed just for shaping and processing sausages, rather than for eating, will have some of these characteristics.
Nutrition of edible sausage casings
Natural sausage casings offer nutritional benefits from the protein, vitamins, minerals, and fats they contain. Here is the nutrition in a 3.5 ounce (100 gram) serving of pork small intestine casing, which is likely representative of other natural casings:
As you can see, natural edible casings provide a range of nutrients, particularly protein, minerals like phosphorus and zinc, and vitamin B12.
Are sausage casings high in fat?
In their uncooked state, sausage casings do contain a moderate amount of fat at around 12 grams per 100 gram serving. This fat comes from the natural adipose and connective tissues in intestines or other animal sources.
However, when the casings are cooked as part of sausage preparation, much of this fat renders out of the casing and into the sausage filling. Cooked casings end up quite low in fat, while contributing flavor and collagen to enrich the sausage.
Do sausage casings add collagen?
Natural sausage casings can add valuable collagen to sausages. Collagen is found abundantly in the intestinal tissues and connective fibers used to make casings. Heating casings releases gelatin from this collagen to infuse into meat.
Added gelatin helps retain moisture in cooked sausages and gives them a rich, succulent texture. It also allows fat to emulsify uniformly throughout the sausage. So yes, eating natural casings increases the collagen and gelatin content of sausages.
Do casings change the taste of sausage?
Sausage casings can impact the final flavor of cooked sausages in a few ways:
- Meat flavor – Natural casings add meaty, savory notes from the casing itself.
- Smoke absorption – Casings that undergo smoking absorb and impart smoky flavors.
- Spices – Spices added to the casing or sausage mix provide flavor.
- Fats – Fats from the casing dissolve into the sausage, giving a rich taste.
- Collagen – Gelatin released from collagen results in a moist, succulent texture.
In general, natural casings enhance the meaty, smoky, spicy flavors of sausage while giving it a satisfying texture from fat and collagen.
Do casings give sausage a “snap”?
Edible collagen casings in particular impart a pleasing “snap” when you bite into a sausage. This snap comes from the pliable yet slightly firm texture of the casing.
Collagen casings give the right amount of resistance when biting to pop pleasingly. This also allows the sausage to retain its shape. Natural intestines don’t have quite the same snap, while cellulose and plastic casings are too tough.
Are sausage casings high in sodium?
Fresh sausage casings themselves are quite low in sodium, with around 50-70 milligrams per 100 grams. However, processed pre-packaged casings may have higher sodium levels from 700-900 mg per 100 grams.
The sodium comes from added salt used to cure and preserve the casings for longer shelf life. If following a low sodium diet, look for uncured fresh or frozen casings without added salt.
Do you have to peel off sausage casings?
For casings that are not intended to be eaten, like cellulose or plastic, you must fully peel off the casing from the sausage before cooking and eating. Any remaining pieces could present a choking hazard or cause intestinal blockages.
However, for fully edible natural or collagen casings, you can choose to eat the casing along with the sausage. There is no need to peel off edible casings, and many people enjoy consuming them as part of the sausage experience.
Can sausage casings be digested?
Natural intestine casings contain collagen, muscle, and fat tissue that is digestible by the human gastrointestinal tract. The collagen gets broken down into gelatin, then into amino acids that are absorbed. The muscle proteins and fats are also broken down and taken up by the body.
However, synthetic materials like cellulose or plastic casings cannot be broken down and should never be consumed. Only choose casings labeled as food-grade collagen or edible natural casings.
How to cook sausages with casings
To cook sausages in their casings:
- Choose quality fresh sausages with edible natural or collagen casings.
- Prick the casings all over with a fork to prevent bursting.
- Place sausages on a baking sheet and bake at 375°F for 15-25 minutes until cooked through.
- Alternately, pan fry over medium heat, turning occasionally, for 12-15 minutes.
- Boiling sausages for 6-8 minutes also works well to gently cook in their casing.
- Grill sausages on medium heat for 10-15 minutes, rolling to heat evenly.
Cook until the internal temperature reaches 160°F. The casing will become browned and develop more flavor. Enjoy the satisfying snap and mouthfeel of the casing along with the juicy sausage interior.
Are there any health risks from sausage casings?
There are minimal health risks associated with consuming edible natural or collagen sausage casings. However, a few precautions apply:
- Ensure casings come from reputable suppliers following food safety standards.
- Cook sausages thoroughly to recommended temperatures to kill bacteria.
- Avoid casings if you have dietary restrictions or allergies related to pork or other meats.
- Don’t eat plastic or cellulose casings as they can pose choking or intestinal risks.
In most cases, savoring edible casings as part of your sausage provides protein, collagen, nutrients, and flavor with minimal health concerns.
Do vegetarian sausages have casings?
Many vegetarian and vegan sausage products do utilize casings to shape and cook the sausages:
- Collagen – Some contain collagen extracted from plants, like mushrooms or bamboo shoots, to make vegetarian collagen casings.
- Cellulose – Like meat sausages, cellulose from plants can form a sausage shape.
- Alginate – Alginate from seaweed and brown algae acts as a plant-based casing.
- Konjac – This starchy tuber is made into an edible vegetarian casing.
Even without intestines, vegetarian sausages need a “casing” for structure. These plant-derived options keep the sausages intact during cooking. Always check the ingredients to ensure the vegetarian casing is made from plants, not animal sources.
Natural sausage casings provide protein, nutrients, and flavor to enhance your enjoyment of sausages. Collagen-based casings are also fully edible and impart that satisfying “snap.” On the other hand, cellulose, plastic, and fibrous casings are not meant to be eaten.
When preparing sausages, take care to remove any non-edible casings. Cook raw sausages thoroughly and choose quality ingredients for the best nutrition and food safety. If following dietary restrictions, check that the casing ingredients meet your needs.
Overall, consuming natural and collagen casings can be a tasty part of enjoying sausages. Just be sure to fully peel off casings of plastic, cellulose or other non-digestibles before serving up your savory sausages.