The sausage casing is the fibrous, tubular substance that encases and holds the soft sausage material. Sausage casing comes in two forms: natural and synthetic. It may be soft, as in the casing that holds hot dogs; thick, as in the casing that holds smoked sausage; and plastic, as in the type of casing that holds bologna.
Synthetic sausage casings are made from cellulose or plastic and are not edible. They are popular with mass producers of sausage-type products as they are cheaper to use compared to natural-type casings, they can be coloured and embossed with the company's logo and information, and require no refrigeration. They are very strong and provide a consistent uniform shape.
Natural sausage casings are made from the cleaned intestines of animals such as sheep, hogs and cattle. After they are cleaned, they are placed in tubs of salt where they can be stored indefinitely in the refrigerator. They can be used for almost any type of sausage product. The advantage in using natural casings for smoked sausage is that the casing tends to shrink equally with the sausage within. This keeps the sausage more aesthetically appealing.
Collagen casing are also a type of natural casing that is made to be eaten with the sausage. It is made of beef hides. The beef hides have the hair removed and then the skins are rolled into uniform thin sheets. From these sheets, tubes are formed to hold the sausage material. The advantage of collagen casings is that they are edible, they can be made into specific uniform-sized tubes, and they are very strong. They are capable of holding fairly large-sized sausage rolls that are being hung to smoke. They can have smoke flavourings added to them to enhance the flavour of the sausage.
Sheep intestine casings are used for small, lightweight sausages such as breakfast links. Hog intestine casings are the most popular size as they are used to traditional sausage rolls and Polish-smoked sausage. Beef intestine casings are used for large-sized rolls such as bologna and salami. Collagen casings come in a variety of sizes and lengths, according to what is being placed inside them. Synthetic casings can also be manufactured in numerous sizes.
There are both advantages and disadvantages with both natural and synthetic casings. Natural casings do not come in uniform sizes and have to be refrigerated to keep from spoiling, whereas synthetic casings have indefinite shelf life and can be made into whatever size tube the manufacturer wants. Natural sausage casings are much more expensive to produce,and there is also no way to produce enough natural casings to handle the amount of sausage that is produced in the United States each year.
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