How Meaty is Your Sausage?

The UK is a nation of sausage lovers, there’s no doubt about that. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner you can always rely on them. But when it comes to the Great British banger, do we really know what we’re getting? 

Traditionally, sausages were made from the less desirable cuts of meat as a means of reducing food waste. Over time however, using better quality meat in sausages is something that the general populous have come to expect. But…

How much meat is in sausages?

The answer is… it varies. It’s estimated that 86% of households in the UK buy sausages every month, so it stands to reason there are going to be variations across different brands and price points.

But does luxury really mean luxury? 

There are guidelines in place for minimum meat content, it’s expected that sausages should contain at least 42% meat, though the minimum is a shocking 32% if the packaging is labelled as generic sausage. It doesn’t need to be “meat” either; ear, snout and cheek are allowed in pork sausages but will generally be labelled as “head meat”. Yum!

We wanted to find out just how much banger you were getting for your buck and if the sausages we consider good quality really are all they claim to be. So, we set about on our research quest in a bid to discover just how meaty our favourite sausages are and whether they really are as great as we think.

We’ve taken the offerings from the top 8 UK supermarkets including the likes of Sainsburys, Asda and Waitrose, comparing meat content and prices across their basic, standard, premium and reduced fat “thick pork sausages”. We also did the same for some well known brands and we have to say… the results were quite surprising if a little worrying in some instances!

For example, Richmond sausages are one of the most popular sausages brands and will often be the go-to choice for many, but with just 42% meat content and at £2 for a pack of 8 on average, they’re one of the worst value for money when it comes to meat content. When comparing these to lesser known brand, Denny and Sons, whose sausages contain 60% meat and cost just £1.10 on average for 8, it begs the question, is brand awareness more important than quality?

Worryingly, supermarket basic own brand sausages also fared better than Richmond, with Asda’s offering the lowest meat content at just 51%. But at £1 for a pack of 8, they’re literally half the price. Not so surprisingly, the basic sausages from Waitrose contain a somewhat respectable 67% meat and yet, are still cheaper than Richmond at £1.70 for a pack of 8. 

At the other end of the scale, those we consider premium are often lauded as being the best of the best when it comes to meat content, but is this really the case?

Of the branded premium pork sausages we looked at, Edwards of Conwy pork sausages contained just 70% meat and at £3 on average for 6 sausages, it also makes them one of the more expensive. In terms of supermarket premium sausages, we were surprised to see Waitrose fall short when compared to the others, containing 87% meat they had the lowest amount (10% less than many of the other supermarket offerings), again they were also the highest price at a hefty £3.79 for just 6 sausages, making them the worst value across the board.

By comparison, 5 out of the 8 supermarkets we researched offered premium sausages that contained 97% meat, with Aldi offering 6 premium pork sausages for just £1.99. This might raise a few questions, such as: “is the quality of the meat compromised? Or, should we pay less attention to the branding and take a closer look at what it is we’re really eating? Either way, eating sausages made from higher levels of meat is surely better than the substitute products making up the rest of it, right? With this in mind…

What are sausages made from? 

Aside from the meat, there’s a whole concoction of other ingredients that go into them and not all of them are particularly pleasant or good for you (not that sausages are considered a healthy option anyway). The main filler ingredient for most sausages is rusk. Rusk is a twice-baked biscuit-type food with little to no nutritional value. Once baked, it’s broken down and mixed in with the meat to “bulk it out”. It was originally made from stale bread which is why many store-bought sausages aren’t gluten free, however this is starting to change as yeast-free alternatives continue to be introduced to sausage production.

Other ingredients can include chemical additives and preservatives such as sodium nitrite (which is considered to be carcinogenic and a possible cause of cancer), potassium, sodium triphosphates and carmine – which comes from the grinding up of tiny beetles and gives processed meats it’s pinky-red colour. Then there’s the skin of the sausage, they’re most commonly made from the intestine of a pig, however they can also be made using collagen, cellulose or even plastic in some cases.

In addition, a mixture of herbs and spices will be added by the manufacturer, this mix is often a closely guarded secret and historically was done as a way to disguise the taste of poor quality meat used, however it’s more about preference these days.

One major thing to look out for when buying sausages is the amount of salt and water used to make them, your daily salt intake should be kept to a minimum and over-consumption can lead to a number of health problems. Also, many cheaper sausages often have water added to them to make them appear fuller and more substantial than they truly are. However, when cooking, this water will dissipate, leaving you with not much sausage and a messy frying pan!

So, the bottom line… 

Higher meat content will usually mean better sausages, BUT… higher meat content doesn’t necessarily mean better value, so check your prices!