The Snag. The Banger. The Snausage.

Ok, maybe not the last one.

Regardless of what you call them, these humble parcels conjure up memories; of barbecues, campsites, sausage sizzles. Childhood.

Coddled between two bits of bread and drenched with dead horse (not the IKEA kind), some bits charred a little too far (forgotten on the grill) some bits oozing searing hot fat (notforgotten on the roof of your mouth) the sum of its parts: happiness.

Problem is, the memories, the horses, the sausages… they’re not the same anymore.

These days, as with many “processed” foods (and soapie starlets), sausages have fallen victim to a bad case of plastic surgery. More filler than meat.

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Some of you may have seen the “sausage exposé” on A Current Affair a couple of weeks ago, and baulked at the story’s findings. The over-riding message was that all of these sausages are practically on-par.

What seems to be implied, is that “you don’t get what you pay for, so don’t feel bad buying the supermarket ones”.

But you should feel bad, and you probably will. If not emotionally, then certainly physically.

Turn over any packet of high-yield snags and you’ll be surprised to find that the contents tend to be more cereal than animal. You’ll also encounter emulsifiers, E-numbers, binding agents (essentially, meat glue) – anything that’ll keep those guys on the shelves for longer without spoiling.

And why?

For a very good, logical reason.

Mince goes off. Fast.

There’s an old saying in the Russian restaurant trade: “like yesterday’s Steak Tartare”*.

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As soon as a piece of meat is hacked into, more and more of its surface is exposed to oxygen, turning it a funky shade of grey (oxidisation) and leaving it open to all kinds of bacteria formation.

That’s why if you’re going to serve raw meat, you do it right away. (watch the judges’ faces when they eat Tartare on MasterChef… they’re trying not to think about the 3 hours it’s spent in the fridge between camera resets and crew lunch).

So how do purveyors of meat overcome the inevitable? That all depends on the economy of scale.

If you’re a small-scale butcher, you make less mince, sell through it, then you make some more. If you’re a large-scale food making corporation, you make heaps and add more preservatives.

Same goes for sausages. Only worse.

“But Alice,” you may say, “the story told me that even the Organic and Gourmet sausages are full of fat and salt, just like the other ones?”

Well, yes. Yes they are. Because they’re sausages.

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According to Michael Ruhlman, author of ‘The Elements of Cooking’, ‘Ratio’, ‘Salumi’ and general stickler for percentages, the perfect sausage is 70% lean meat and 30% fat. This proportion allows the contents to remain juicy and flavoursome, whilst still holding its shape. It also helps to preserve the product for longer (think lard on the top of a rillette).

The other thing that helps a sausage hold its shape is salt, which binds with the proteins in the meat, acts as a natural preservative, not to mention, makes the sausage taste good. The optimum salt content is about 15-18g per kg of mince.

Now, as Dr. Jo mentions in the ACA “exposé”, a good sausage’s fat renders out pretty easily during cooking. It’s the other “additives” you need to be worried about. Same goes for the salt content – there’s more sodium in your Tomato Sauce than there is in your sausage.

The problem with such sensationalist journalism is that it often misses the point.

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When I first heard about the story, I was happy that finally there could be a focus on the demise of artisinal produce in favour of bottom-line “feed your family for less than the price of an overnight DVD rental” food products.

But instead, the story only served to legitimise the fears and paranoia of an already confused consumer, and muddied the waters of an issue that should be pretty cut and dry.

As my dad always said (when I brought home a dodgy test result, and tried to pass it off as being the class average), “don’t compare yourself to the lowest common denominator – because no matter the outcome, you will always lose”.

If you don’t know exactly what’s gone into your sausage, don’t buy it.

And if you still think it comes down to price, let’s put it this way:

When you compare a sausage that’s made up of fillers, preservatives and cereals, with maybe a 50% questionable meat content (if you’re lucky) for $9.99kg, versus a sausage that’s made of 70% lean meat for $19.99kg, the “choice” of what’s better value becomes clear.

Read the labels, know where your food is coming from, vote with your dollar.

*loose translation.