While many people still wonder what sausages are made of, another pressing question involves sausage casings and whether you can eat them.
There is a lot of confusion surrounding sausage casings since there are several different types and shapes.
The ones used for one type of sausage, such as summer sausages, may be completely different from those used for another type, such as Italian and breakfast sausages.
Sausages are a mixture of ground meat, fat, and seasoning that require a casing to give them their unique shape. Depending on the type, the sausage casings can either be edible or inedible.
So, can you eat sausage casings? And which ones are edible? Most sausage casings found in grocery stores and butcher shops are made using natural materials and are edible. Casings that are too thick, although edible, may be unpleasant to eat and, therefore, it is best to remove them.
The only inedible sausage casings are those made with artificial materials such as cellulose and plastic. They are generally found on mass-produced skinless sausages and luncheon meats.
Read on to find out more about the different types of sausage casings, which ones you can eat, how to tell which ones are edible, and much more:
Types Of Sausage Casings
Sausage casings come in two broad types: natural and artificial.
Natural sausage casings are edible and are permeable to air and external flavorings.
They can be made either from the stomachs or intestines of animals or from plant-based ingredients such as vegetable glycerin, water, and starches or sugars.
Artificial sausage casings, on the other hand, although more cost-effective and consistent in size, are not edible and are usually made from plastic, cellulose, collagen, or cotton.
The type of sausage casing used is generally determined by the type of sausage it is used for.
You will mostly find artificial casings for mass-produced sausages, whereas natural casings are a more popular choice for home sausage making and smoked sausages since they are more permeable.
Which Sausage Casings Are Edible?
Let’s look at the different types of sausage casings in detail and see which ones are edible and which ones are not:
Natural Sausage Casings (Edible)
Most commonly made from animal intestines or stomachs, natural sausage casings are generally used for fresh and dry sausages such as breakfast links, bratwurst, and pepperoni.
They can be made from different sources of meat, such as beef, sheep, pig, or lamb, and in some less common instances, these casings may also be made from the animal’s bladder or esophagus.
Natural casings are the most expensive of the lot and, depending on the source of the natural casings, they may not be uniform in size.
They are 100% edible, offer a distinct snap in the bite, and have a classic texture that cannot be achieved using other types of casings.
Vegetarian And Vegan Sausage Casings (Edible)
A relatively new product in the market, you may also find natural sausage casings that are made of plant-based products.
Used for vegetarian and vegan sausages as well as Halal and Kosher ones, they are made using vegetable glycerin, starches, and sugars to provide a similar texture as natural animal-based sausage casings.
Most vegetarian and vegan sausage casing manufacturers also claim that the taste and texture of their casings are similar to collagen sausage casings.
As is obvious, vegetarian and vegan sausage casings are edible. They are, however, extremely delicate and must be filled with utmost care to avoid breakage.
Reconstituted Collagen Sausage Casings (Edible But Not Recommended)
Reconstituted collagen sausage casings are sourced from animals and are usually made from beef hides as well as the bones and tendons. In some cases, they are also made using poultry or fish.
Generally uniform in size, they are made by removing the collagen fibers and processing them into collagen sausage casings.
Although they are easy to handle, they are a bit delicate, which is why extra care is required when using them to encase the sausages.
Collagen casings are generally used for dry sausages and are edible, but it is not recommended to eat them since they are thicker and don’t break down easily when chewed.
Artificial Sausage Casings (Inedible)
Made from cellulose or plastic, artificial sausage casings are typically used for mass-produced skinless sausages and luncheon meats.
Cellulose sausage casings are made of viscose, which is a semi-synthetic material derived from wood pulp or cotton linters.
They are strong, sheer, and permeable to smoke, and are peeled off after cooking since they aren’t edible.
Plastic casings, on the other hand, are polymer-based and, although they are strong like cellulose casings, they are impermeable and used for non-smoked sausages.
The biggest advantages of artificial casings are their strength and uniformity. They are used during the cooking process to allow the sausages to retain a specific shape and are peeled off immediately after cooking.
How To Remove Sausage Casings
If you find that the casing on your sausages is inedible or you simply do not want to keep the casing on your meat, there are a few easy ways to remove it:
Slice The Sausages Lengthwise
For times when you want to extract the meat from the casing without worrying about retaining the shape of the sausage, for dishes such as a lasagna or pasta sauce, you can follow these steps:
- Slit the uncooked sausage lengthwise.
- Peel the casing off the meat.
- Enjoy the casing-free sausage meat.
Parboil The Sausages
If you want to remove the sausage casing but wish to retain the shape of the meat, parboil the sausages since it prevents the meat from sticking to the casing. Here’s what you need to do:
- Boil the sausages for a few minutes.
- Remove them from the pot and pat them dry.
- Delicately slit them lengthwise, making sure to use a sharp knife, and don’t apply too much pressure on the sausage to avoid cutting the meat.
- Gently peel the casing off the sausages.
Freeze The Sausages
Another option is to partially freeze the sausages, especially if you feel that the meat is too soft and squishy.
Partially freezing them helps separate the meat from the casing, however, the meat may or may not retain its shape. Here’s what you need to do:
- Place the sausages in the freezer for about 5 minutes.
- Check to see the firmness of the sausages so that they can be easily cut.
- If the meat is still squishy, place them in the freezer for an additional 5 minutes.
- Delicately slit the sausages lengthwise and gently peel off the casing.
Now that you know about the different types of sausage casings and which ones are edible, here are a few additional questions we thought you might have:
How can you tell if sausage casing is edible?
A simple way to tell if the sausage casing is edible or not is to check how thick it is. As a general rule of thumb, the thicker the casing is, the less edible it will be.
Most sausages that you buy are going to have edible casings. Those that don’t, such as dry sausages or deli meats, will be wrapped in plastic or collagen that are fairly thick and easy to remove.
There will usually be a label indicating that the casing is inedible and must be removed before consumption. You may also ask your butcher to remove the casing for you.
Why are some sausage casings slimy?
Natural sausage casings are usually softer and slimier than their artificial alternatives. Due to the ingredients that natural casings are made with, along with being slimy, they are also prone to spoilage.
If not properly cleaned and handled, they can be infested with harmful bacteria, which is why it is important to always buy your sausages from a manufacturer who follows the health and safety guidelines.
In some cases, a slimy sausage casing may indicate that the meat inside it is starting to spoil, especially if it’s been stored for a while. If you notice the casing getting slimier, discard it immediately.
If you’re unsure whether the meat has gone bad or the casing is just naturally slimy, you can always feel, smell, and taste the meat to confirm.
If you think something is off, it’s advised to just throw it out since it’s better to be safe than sorry.
How do you store sausage casings?
Natural sausage casings, both animal and plant-based must be stored properly in the fridge to ensure they stay edible for longer.
It is not recommended to freeze them since they can get damaged at such low temperatures and it may affect their texture after they are thawed.
One easy trick to store sausage casings for longer is to pack them in salt to prolong their life.
You may opt for either wet brine or coarse salt to store the casings. Just wash off the salt before using them. Avoid using table salt and go for the kosher or non-iodized variety.