The History of Sausage
The history of sausage is a difficult path to trace. Since sausage-making is essentially a technique used to preserve meat, it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint the exact time period when sausage emerged as a staple in the human diet because meat preservation started thousands of years ago.
The main complication of studying the history of food is that historians have to rely on a very small number written sources because food, and other topics related to the home, were not generally written down in recipe books.
One thing we can say for sure is that the origin of sausage is clearly connected to the butchering of animals and the desire to use the entire catch…meat, organs, blood and all. Although there is a very clear link between sausage and offal, the two are very much separated in mainstream media for obvious reasons. Never-the-less, if you can imagine the earliest humans hunting animals, killing them and trying to find ways to extend the usability of their meat, you’ll likely be able to imagine the intersection between this practice and the emergence of spices coming out of the Far East.
Building on this concept of spices leading to sausage-making, we can pinpoint the earliest evidence of spice use by humans to around 50,000 B.C. Although we have archaeological evidence from that time period, the spice trade didn’t develop throughout the Middle East until around 2000 BC with cinnamon and pepper leading the way. By 1000 BC, China and India had a medical system based upon herbs. Early uses were connected with magic, medicine, religion, tradition, and preservation.
Regardless of the lack of written resources and no clear connection between the origin of spices and the origin of sausage, I am attempting to consolidate all known references to sausage and sausage making in early history to uncover the evolution of a food staple so important to almost every culture on earth….the almighty sausage!
If you have any information that differs or adds to the information contained herein, please contact me through the about page. My intent is to create a living document that grows with the content and knowledge of our readers.
Most of ancient history begins with the Greeks so that’s where our research begins. Based on their early literature, we know the ancient Greeks made and ate sausages, mostly ones made of pork. They were bought and sold alongside offal at the food market in Athens. This is not to say that the Greeks invented sausage so much as it is clear that they had them. The Greek word for sausage was allas and the word for minced meat was isikion.
The Odyssey contains what might be the oldest reference to sausage. In book 18 a type of blood sausage is mentioned:
“there are some goats’ paunches down at the fire, which we have filled with blood and fat, and set aside for supper; he who is victorious and proves himself to be the better man shall have his pick of the lot” .
A sausage seller was also the hero of Aristophanes’ satirical play The Knights (424 BCE). The sausage seller, Agoracritus, was very lowly person yet was picked by an oracle to rule Athens. His trade is described by the slave Demosthenes as the perfect preparation for a politician:
“Mix and knead together all the state business as you do for your sausages. To win the people, always cook them some savory that pleases them. Besides, you possess all the attributes of a demagogue; a screeching, horrible voice, a perverse, cross-grained nature and the language of the market-place. In you all is united which is needful for governing.”
In common era Greek sources there are references to a smoked sausage called loukánikon. The word is first recorded in Greek in fourth century CE papyri and in Philogelos, the oldest recorded collection of jokes. At this point cooking terms were shared in Greek and Latin; loukánikon is derived from Lucania, a region in southern Italy, though it has been argued that the word instead is taken from a word in the traditional language of Lombardy, in northern Italy.
The practice of smoking sausage was brought to ancient Rome by soldiers who had served in southern Italy. Prior to that, we’re unsure of the origin of smoking sausages.
The Latin version, lucanica, reappears in modern Portugal and Brazil as linguiça, Spain as longaniza, and in other forms: Greek loukanika, Cosican lonzo, Italian luganega, the maqaniq of the Arab Levant. These sausages are spicy and smoked, and are left as single long casing rather than being separated into links.
A recipe for lucanicae appears in the Roman recipe text Apicius (4th or 5th century CE), in a whole chapter on forcemeats made with chicken, shellfish, fish, pork and peacock, as well as black puddings and sausages. The recipe for lucanicae contains pepper, cumin, savory, rue, parsley, bay berry spice, and liquamen (a fish sauce similar to Thai nam pla, and very common in Roman cooking). To this pounded meat and more liquamen is added along with whole peppercorns, “plenty of fat” and pine nuts. The mixture is stuffed it into intestines and hung to smoke.
Apicius also provides a recipe for blood sausages made with blood, leeks and onion, yolks of hard boiled eggs and pine nuts, and pepper, stuffed into casings and poached in liquamen and wine. There are also sausages made with eggs and brains, or wheat and chopped meat and pepper. Not to mention “forcemeat stuffing for womb” which is made with pepper, cumin, leeks, rue and liquamen, mixed with pounded meat, peppercorns, and pine nuts, stuffed into a well-washed womb and poached in water with oil, liquamen, leeks, and dill.
More appetizingly, Apicius mentions stuffing a sausage casing with forcemeat and shaping it into a ring. It is smoked, and when it is dark red in color it is roasted lightly.
The English word “sausage” French saucisse, and Spanish salchichón come from the Greek salsa isicia or “salted forcemeat.” A string of sausages was seira salsikion, a term that does not appear in ancient Greek. The first mention of it is in the book Life of St. Simeon Salos, written by the 7th century CE Cypriot Bishop Leontios of Neapolis. St. Simeon, the patron saint of holy fools, wore a string of sausages around his neck like a wreath.
I did not find all that many references to sausage in the major non-European cuisines. Taboos against pork probably stymied the widespread enjoyment of sausage in the Muslim world, though they eat preserved sausages made of lamb and beef and serve a wide variety of kabobs. Buddhist and Hindu prohibitions on meat consumption might account for the fact that sausage did not develop as part of traditional Indian cuisine. Europe seems to be the center of sausage making, at least in its early incarnations.
However, the Chinese eat a lot of pork, and correspondingly a wide variety of preserved meat products are eaten there, including sausage. Murals dating to the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) depict a method of preserving meats: a high pole with two horizontal rods near the top, from which meat strips, intestines (which could be sausages), stomachs, and other items were hung. To this day Yunnan province is known for its hams and cured meats. Also notable are Cantonese sausages called laap ch’eung (“cured intestines”) made with rose-flavored vodka.
Due to the fact that sausage-making is a technique and not a single dish, different methods of preparing sausage were developed to accommodate local tastes and climates. For example, dry, windy places such as Spain and Italy have a stronger tradition of cured sausages as the dry air helps preserve the meat. Damp and cold climates, such as Germany and Britain, eat more fresh sausages.
ORIGINS OF BLOOD SAUSAGE:
In Europe sausages vary widely by region. Blood sausage is a good example. Making French boudin noir, Spanish morcilla, or German blutwurst is an economical way to use up blood left over from slaughtering an animal. The technique stretches at least back to the time of the Odyssey, as per above. French boudin de Lyon is made with herbs and brandy, while boudin noir alsacien contains apples.
The medieval guide for housewives Le Menagier de Paris (circa 1393) suggests making boudin noir by mixing blood left over from butchering a pig with the fat found around the intestines, minced onions, salt, ginger, clove, and pepper, then stuffing the mixture into the well-washed small intestines. The book suggests a similar boudin made with lungs and liver as well as andouille sausages made in a similar fashion with viscera: stomach, as well as the meat between the ribs.
A more familiar take on sausage is from the classic 18th century British cookbook The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. The author, Hannah Glasse, offers a recipe for “fine sausages” made with lean, ground pork and beef suet, “sweet herbs,” lemon zest, egg, and spices. These are to be cooked without a casing, but “you may clean some guts and fill them,” Glasse writes. She also offers recipes for common sausage, with fewer spices and no egg or suet, “Oxford sausages,” bologna, and smoked “hamburgh sausages.”
0. ^ a b A Busy Cook’s Guide to Spices by Linda Murdock (p.14)
1. Dalby, Andrew. Food in the Ancient World from A-Z. London: Routledge, 2003. p. 294-5
2. The Odyssey. Trans. Samuel Butler. The Internet Classics Archive: http://classics.mit.edu/Homer/odyssey.18.xviii.html
3. Aristophanes, The Knights. The Internet Classics Archive: http://classics.mit.edu/Aristophanes/knights.html
4. Wright, Clifford A. A Mediterranean Feast. New York: William Morrow and Co., 1999 p. 67
5. Dalby, Andrew. Siren Feasts: A History of Food and Gastronomy in Greece. London: Routledge, 1996 p. 181
6. Grocock, Christopher and Grainger, Sally. A Critical Edition with an Introduction and an English
7. Translation of the Latin Recipe Text Apicius. Prospect Books: 2006
8. Dalby, Food in the Ancient World from A-Z.
9. Food in Chinese Culture: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives. Ed. K.C. Chang New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977. p. 61
10. Simoons, Fredrick J. Food in China: A Cultural and Historical Inquiry. Boca Raton: CRC Press. p. 297
11. Anderson, E.N. The Food of China. New Haven: Yale University Press 1988 p. 175
12. Davidson, Alan, et al. The Oxford Companion to Food, Second Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006
13. ibid p. 84
14. The Good Wife’s Guide Le Menagier de Paris, a Medieval Household Book, Trans. Gina L. Greco and Christine M. Rose. Ithaca: Cornell University Press 2009 pp. 271-273
15. Glasse, Hannah. The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy. Hamden, Conn: Archon Books 1971 p. 280-281