Low Salt Sausages
It is a fact that a large percentage of the western population develops high blood pressure in later years. Once when we get it there is no way back and at best we can only try to control. We control it by suddenly paying attention to the amount of salt a particular food contains. We develop high blood pressure not by eating sausages but by consuming ready to eat products which we warm up at home on a stove or in a microwave. Just look at the amount of salt a canned soup, canned vegetable, or fish contains. It is scary. Salt is added in such a high amount to prevent the growth of bacteria. We have no control over it unless we make our own chicken soup or other products ourselves. By cooking at home we will add only as much salt as is required for good flavor and this amount will be well below what is added by commercial producers. The problem is that we lead such a hurried life that we have no time to cook and less and less people even know how.
Contrary to a popular belief, the sausages do not contain as much salt as we normally like to think. A typical range is from 1.5% to 2% salt in relation to the weight of a sausage mass. An average figure will be between 1.5% and 1.8%. In some sausages such as liver sausages, head cheeses, and blood sausages one can lower the salt content even further without affecting the flavor of the sausage. You can go as low as 1% and the sausages will still be of acceptable quality.
When World War II ended in 1945, there was no refrigeration in heavily damaged countries like Poland, Germany or Russia. Sausages were produced with food preservation in mind and they contained about 2.3% of salt. Those countries lay at a similar latitude like Quebec in Canada, which provides good conditions for keeping food at room temperatures most of the year. Everybody had a storage unit in the common basement of a building or a designated pantry in the apartment. Those conditions plus the right amount of salt, Nitrate and manufacturing procedures such as curing and cold smoking allowed the creation of meat products with a very long shelf life.
We don’t need to go over 2% salt today as everybody owns a refrigerator. If a person is on a low sodium diet, 1.5% salt will be fine too. The only exception are slow fermented dry sausages (salami type) or cold smoked spreadable fermented sausages, which will not be submitted to heat treatment. Those sausages need 3% salt to protect meat from bacteria and there is no room for compromise here. For people on a low sodium diet, the only way to reduce those amounts further is to investigate the possibility for partial substitution of common sodium chloride salt (NaCl) with potassium chloride salt (KCl), which is bitter and more of it is required. No more than 30% of potassium chloride salt should be added otherwise there will be a noticeable difference in taste.
Potassium Chloride vs. Sodium Chloride
The salt we use for cooking is Sodium Chloride (NaCl) and sodium is what increases our blood pressure. Sea salt which is made by evaporating sea water includes traces of different minerals which were diluted in water and were too heavy to evaporate. But it is still sodium chloride salt which people on low sodium diets try to avoid. Potassium chloride does not contain sodium and is used by commercial manufacturers to make low sodium salts. It has a bitter metalic taste so it is mixed in varying proportions with regular sodium chloride salt.
Salt substitutes vary in their composition, but their main ingredient is always potassium chloride. For example, the listed contents of the NuSalt are: potassium chloride, cream of tartar, drier and natural flavor derived from yeast. Contains less than 20 mg of sodium per 100 grams. The contents of the NoSalt are: potassium chloride, potassium bitartrate, adipic acid, mineral oil, fumaric acid and silicon dioxide. A salt substitute does not taste exactly like sodium chloride, but it is similar enough, and it contains less or none of the sodium that some people are trying to avoid.
You can reduce the amount of sodium in your diet by following these guidelines:
- Read labels carefully and choose foods that have less salt. All commercially prepared foods such as fast food, canned vegetables, soups, commercially prepared meats, and other packaged convenience foods contain very large amounts of salt.
- Cook your own meals.
- Use salt substitutes.
Choosing salt substitute
The number one step is to pick up salt substitute which will be used and become familiar with it. Let’s assume that a sausage will contain 1% of salt and that calls for adding 10 g of salt to 1 kg (1000 g) of meat. Mix 10 g of salt substitute (about 1½ teaspoon) with 1 kg of meat, make a tiny hamburger, cook it and see how you like it. Let your palate be the judge. Read the label carefully to see how much regular salt (sodium chloride) a particular salt substitute contains and you will know exactly how much salt your sausage contains. There are different brands of salt substitutes and they contain varying proportions of sodium chloride. For this reason we can not choose one for you and you must do your own shopping either in a local supermarket or online.
Best quality smoked products incorporate meat which is cured with salt and sodium nitrite (Cure #1 in the USA or Peklosol in Europe). To cure 1 kg of meat, introducing 150 parts per million of sodium nitrite, only 2.4 g of Cure #1 is required (about 1/3 of teaspoon). As Cure #1 contains 6.25% sodium nitrite and 93.75% of sodium chloride, 2.25 g of salt will be introduced. This comes to 0.2% salt, which is of little concern for people on low sodium diets.
People in countries where Peklosol is prevalent have more of a problem. Peklosol contains only 0.6% sodium nitrite and 99.4% salt. To cure 1 kg of meat, introducing 150 parts per million of sodium nitrite, 25 g of Peklosol (4 teaspoons) is required. This introduces 24.85 g of salt and comes to 2% salt which is too much for people on low sodium diets. They may opt for curing with 75 ppm of sodium nitrite (the minimum amount for any meaningful curing) and that will come to 1% salt in the finished sausage OR they can switch to American Cure # 1 which contains a higher proportion of sodium nitrite.
Another solution is not to cure meat with sodium nitrite at all and smoke them at 180° F (82° C). This eliminates the danger of contracting botulism food poisoning but will not impart the pink color which is associated with smoked meats.
Some products are more suitable for salt substitution than others:
- Fresh sausages. These sausages are so simple to make that using salt substitution will bear little importance on the safety of the finished sausage. They are kept in a refrigerator and eaten within a few days.
- Liver and blood sausages. These products are usually made with less salt to begin with and salt substitute will work just fine.
- Head cheese and meat jellies can be made with little salt or even without it. In a head cheese meat binding is accomplished by the bonding properties of gelatin, not by protein extraction due to the action of salt.
- Emulsified sausages such as hot dogs, frankfurter or bologna require good emulsification which is dependent on protein extraction. Salt contributes largely to this process as many proteins are salt soluble, this means they mix with salt solutions. Using less salt will inhibit protein extraction and it will be harder to produce a good emulsified sausages. To make up for this, it is recommended to select very lean meat which contains more protein. A sharp knife and a small grinder plate 1/8” (3 mm) will aid in protein extraction.
- Hot smoked sausages can be successfully made with salt substitutes.
- Fermented sausages and cold smoked products should not be made with salt substitutes.
You should be able to modify any existing recipe or create your own. Keep in mind that increasing the amount of spices will make up for using less salt too. Making low sodium sausages simply requires less salt (or different salt type) and all necessary information is provided above.