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In case you didn't know it, sausages are pretty popular. This evergreen meat item is a fixture in breakfast, lunch, and dinner dishes around the entire world, and its widespread appeal has led to seemingly endless variations and equally endless sales. In 2019, consumers in the United States spent just over 44 billion dollars on sausages (per Statista), with that amount set to size by several billion dollars by the end of 2023.
Sausages are one of the most adaptable meat sources out there. Not only do they fit into pretty much every dish going, from pastas to casseroles, to good old hot dogs, but they can act capably as a flavor base for a host of seasonings. You're as likely to find sausages flavored with apples, cheese, maple syrup, or hot sauce, as you are to find them with just their meat and a few choice seasonings. And as sausages are one of the easiest meat items for plant-based food producers to replicate, they've long been a favorite for vegetarians and vegans, meaning everyone can enjoy them.
But getting the right kind is crucial. Thanks to sausage's popularity around the world, there are dozens of sausage brands out there vying for your attention, and not all of them cut the mustard. Sausage brands can vary widely in the quality of their ingredients, nutritional goodness, and sheer taste, and we're here to separate the good from the bad.
Buy: Teton Waters Ranch
Teton Waters Ranch is a brand that seriously cares about its meat. A relatively new brand, it's been producing 100% grass-fed and grass-finished beef sausages since 2009, and it places the health of its animals and the humane treatment of them at the core of its operations. This results in sausage products that are ethically produced, and free of any hormones, antibiotics, and unnecessary additions. In each of its Teton Waters Ranch Original Grass-Fed Beef Breakfast Links, grass-fed beef and added water make up the vast majority of the product, with a small amount of natural additives like sea salt, vinegar, and rosemary extract for flavor.
This natural approach results in a sausage product that tastes extra meaty. The flavor of these links is somewhat comparable to hamburgers, with the added spices giving them an additional pop of flavor. The quality of the beef is also apparent in every bite, and the links don't have any of that weird artificial, plasticky taste that sausages can sometimes get. The texture of the sausages is also pleasing, with a plump, juicy interior that is distinctly meat-first and isn't pumped full of fillers that can give sausages a gummy, soft quality.
Smithfield sausage products are everywhere. The meat producer has more than a fifth of the share of the entire pork market (per Fitch Ratings), and as the world's largest pork processor, it's very used to people purchasing its items. It's a shame, then, that its sausages are far from top quality. While the price and availability of items like its Hometown Original Breakfast Sausage Links can't be faulted, they tend to taste salty and somewhat plain, when compared to other sausages that are produced in smaller batches. The spice blend of its sausages is also slightly unusual to some palettes, giving them a curious flavor.
The main reason that we would avoid this brand, though, is because of its tendency to include corn syrup solids in its products. Corn syrup solids are, as the name indicates, a solid form of the near-ubiquitous corn syrup, a super-sweet, fairly cheap additive that's found in both sweet and savory items. While corn syrup is highly popular because of its cost-effectiveness and consistency, it also raises the sugar content of some items significantly and calls into question exactly how much processing a product like these sausages has undergone.
Buy: Family Ranch
Owned by Tarantino Gourmet Sausages, the Family Ranch Organics brand is true to its name. Its products use purely organic ingredients, and display an impressive array of wholesome credits on its packaging for its Mild Italian Sausage. As well as being USDA and CCOF-certified, these sausages are also gluten-free and are produced from pigs that are 100% vegetarian fed, and which aren't given any antibiotics or hormones. Ingredients-wise, too, these sausages have minimal things added to them, with a small selection of spices and seasonings added to the organic pork used, and stuffed into a natural pork casing.
All of this adds up to a sausage that is wholesome, meaty, and tasty. Family Ranch Organics Mild Italian Sausages are especially noteworthy for their high protein amount, with 16 grams in every link. This is a welcome change from other sausage producers, which bulk out their products with cheap additives or binders to make them look bigger, but reduce their actual meat content. This does unfortunately mean that Family Ranch Organics Mild Italian Sausages are higher in other things like fat and saturated fat than other sausages, but they also only contain a single gram of carbohydrates, which again points to the fact that what you're getting is basically pure meat.
There's nothing swaggering about these sausages. Tennessee-based "premium" sausage producer Swaggerty's has been making links since 1930, and boldly states on its website that it makes "quite possibly the best pork sausage you'll ever taste." We'd personally like to challenge that claim, by pointing to the reviews of its Breakfast Sausage Patties, and the ingredients it puts into them. "Many of the patties had those little hard balls of cartilage or bone that you can really chip your teeth on. Not to mention it's gross to bite into," said one disgruntled customer via Walmart, who complained about the product's decline in quality. "I'll be switching to another brand after this last bad batch."
These sausage patties are super-high in saturated fat, with just one patty (weighing only 45 grams) containing 4.5 grams, or 23% of your recommended saturated fat intake. Its ingredients list also raises a few eyebrows, especially with the inclusion of BHT. This additive, also known as butylated hydroxytoluene, is also fairly common in the cosmetics industry and has been found to have varying effects on the human body, with some research finding that it has tumor promotion effects, per the International Journal of Toxicology. Although BHT is generally considered safe when added to food, it's worth bearing in mind that a lot of producers out there do just fine without adding it to their sausages -- so it calls into question why Swaggerty's insists on putting it in its products.
It's always important to consider the ethos of the company you're buying your food from. And since 1987, Applegate has been doing things right. Applegate places animal welfare at the forefront of its mission, and insists on rearing its animals in environments without maltreatment or discomfort, with ample space, and without any chemicals.
This results in sausages that are ethically sound, like its Applegate Naturals Chicken and Maple Breakfast Sausage Patties. "These patties are made with Applegate humanely raised chickens that use zero antibiotics or hormones, boosting real, quality ingredients, with no chemical nitrates or nitrites. And, they're totally gluten and casein-free," explains registered dietitian nutritionist Lauren Manaker, per Eat This, Not That.
All of these plaudits don't just mean that you'll feel smug eating them -- they make up a sausage that tastes incredible. These patties come with just the right amount of spice, and while they have a hint of sweetness from the maple, it's not overpowering or too sugary. Their gentle flavor makes them totally versatile, slotting into any sandwich or breakfast muffin construction that you care to make. Their lack of unnecessary ingredients also means that they don't contain any of the nine major allergens, making them suitable for a wide range of people.
Avoid: Bob Evans
It's no secret that sausages can be on the fattier side. But while a moderate amount of fat can give a sausage next-level flavor and make it juicier, too much can just make it unappealing. Sadly, Bob Evans tips the balance the wrong way. Its Maple Sausage Patties are stuffed with saturated fat, and each patty (which is a mere 42.5 grams each) has six grams of the nutrient. That's roughly 30% of most adults' daily recommended intake in 1.5 ounces of meat.
Unfortunately, this is just way too high of a fat-to-meat ratio for our tastes, and leaves these patties with an unpleasant greasy texture and flavor, and not the smoothness that they're likely aiming for. But it also makes them pretty unhealthy. The more saturated fats you eat, the more risk of higher cholesterol you gain, which can clog up arteries and produce knock-on cardiovascular issues (via the British Heart Foundation). Remember that these tiny patties are far from the only thing you're going to eat all day, and if you have two alongside some bacon, that could be your whole saturated fat daily value in a few tiny portions of meat. Bob Evans Maple Sausage Patties are also super salty and have 430 milligrams of sodium in each portion. Yikes.
Buy: Field Roast
In this modern day and age, we're blessed to have a wide range of plant-based sausages on the market. But Field Roast is by far our favorite. Plant-based meat products can quickly become overstuffed with confusing ingredients in the pursuit of a meaty taste, but Field Roast's Apple & Maple sausages keep things pretty simple, with the bulk of the sausage coming from wheat protein. These sausages use natural flavorings like pure maple syrup, onion powder, nutmeg, and ground ginger, and it's a non-GMO verified product. We're also a big fan of Field Roast's commitment to being carbon-neutral, and therefore kinder to the environment.
Field Roast Apple & Maple sausages are also pleasingly high in protein, which can sometimes be reduced in plant-based sausages. In each two sausages, there are 11 grams of protein, and only 4.5 grams of fat, with no saturated fat. And, most importantly, they taste good. "These are probably the best breakfast sausages I've ever had," says one happy customer via Target. "They are delicious, the flavor and consistency makes it taste like actual meat. The apple & maple is so prominent. I love them!"
Impossible Foods has made quite a stir in the plant-based food market, for its uncanny products that look just like the real thing (and, in the case of its burgers, bleed just like the real thing, too). But it takes a lot of ingredients to achieve that. The Impossible Sausage, for example, has a fairly baffling ingredients list and contains thickeners like methylcellulose, which is also used in higher quantities as a laxative, and modified starch, an additive that's devoid of any nutritional value.
But that's not the main thing you should be worried about. "The problem with Impossible [sausages] is they use coconut oil, and coconut oil is a saturated fat, and that increases the total cholesterol and LDL levels," warns "The Eating Disorder Trap" author and registered dietitian nutritionist Robyn Goldberg, per the AARP. Indeed, a single 45-gram patty contains a high 2.9 grams of saturated fat, nearly 30% of the amount you should eat daily. This coconut oil is partly what makes the Impossible Sausage taste good, and there's no denying that this item is a hit with customers. But when there are now scores of plant-based sausages out there, that contain no saturated fat at all and yet still manage to win big on flavor, it makes it difficult to justify going for this brand.
Buy: Al Fresco
People can get a little bit snooty about chicken sausages. As they're made from white meat, they can be seen as somehow inferior or lacking in taste compared to their pork or beef siblings. But Al Fresco gets it just right with its chicken sausages, producing a range of chicken links in unique flavors like Chicken Parm, Chicken Burrito, and Nashville Hot Chicken, which really hit the spot.
Its Nashville Hot Chicken sausage is particularly loaded with flavor, and is the perfect addition to a breakfast skillet, or as a spicy piece of meat inside a hot dog bun. Loaded with seasonings like dried cucumber, vinegar, red pepper, and brown sugar, these taste-packed sausages are also awesome on a nutritional level. Alongside its recognizable ingredients list, Al Fresco keeps its chicken sausages low in fat and saturated fat, low in sugar, and high in protein.
Al Fresco also produces chicken sausages that are less spicy, but no less flavorful. Its Sweet Apple Chicken Sausages made with Vermont maple syrup, for example, are a hit, taste-wise and health-wise. "These are so, so delicious! They have a sweet, almost maple syrup taste to them so they are delicious for breakfast. They are also low in calories, making it a healthy choice," said one customer, per Walmart.
Avoid: Good & Gather
Target's Good & Gather line will be familiar to anyone who shops at the store regularly, and its products are generally pretty solid. But you should give its chicken sausages a wide berth. Its Apple & Gouda Chicken Sausages have a serious problem with their casings, which multiple customers have taken issue with. The casing that Good & Gather uses is so plasticky that some people who have bought the sausages simply can't eat them. "Horrid. Unless you like eating plastic. I boiled. I grilled. Didn't matter, still had to spit out plastic casing. Worst ever," said one customer, per Target.
Interestingly, though, these casings aren't plastic at all. According to the ingredients list, the casing of the Good & Gather Apple & Gouda Chicken Sausages is, in fact, made of pork. While this doesn't entirely explain why the casings are so rubbery, it throws up an entirely new issue. Many people opt for chicken sausages because they're unable to eat pork, either due to an allergy, a dietary restriction, or due to religious observance. While the pork casing is clearly listed on the ingredients, it's fair to say that some people will assume that this is a pork-free product, and will get a nasty shock when they get the sausages home.
Aidell's has a lot to be proud of. As the company that championed the chicken and apple sausage, you'd think it'd be enough for Aidell's to rest on the laurels of one successful recipe, but it's continued to add more products to its line -- and all of them are high-quality. Its 100% Beef Hickory Hardwood Smoked Beef Sausage stays in line with Aidell's pursuit of excellent flavor without compromising ingredients. Each sausage contains only natural ingredients, with minimal processing and high protein content, and its combo of smoked paprika, garlic, onions, and smoked beef gives it a punchy, balanced taste.
Aidell's is also a company that's continued to innovate flavor-wise, offering up more and more unique twists on sausages to keep an adventurous customer base happy. Its Cotija Cheese & Poblano Beef Smoked Sausage Links, for example, are the perfect combination of salty and smokey, with just a little bit of spice without becoming overpowering. Add to this the fact that these sausages are made without any MSG and have no nitrates or nitrites added, and you're on to a winner.
As Hempler's has been around since 1934, it's had a lot of time to build up a faithful fanbase and has amassed an extensive product selection of sausages and franks. But you'd think that it might resort to making its patties and links with slightly more traditional, natural ingredients. Instead, Hempler's uses a few modern cooking shortcuts to keep its sausages tasty and long-lasting, with its Andouille Smoked Sausage containing both the preservative sodium nitrite and the sweetener and preservative dextrose.
And although we're not a massive fan of either, it's the dextrose that we want to talk about. Dextrose is commonly added as an ingredient to balance overly-spicy or salty flavors, but this can mean that food manufacturers, like Hempler's, can amp up their salt content to incredibly high levels without us really tasting it. And in its Andouille Smoked Sausage, there's a whopping 640 milligrams of sodium in each serving. That's well over a quarter of the amount you should be consuming daily. Additionally, as dextrose is a type of sugar, it can be broken down rapidly, and when eaten in elevated quantities it can lead to weight gain, strain on the liver and kidneys, and a higher risk of type 2 diabetes (via WebMD). Although there isn't an enormous amount of dextrose in these sausages, plenty of other manufacturers get by just fine without adding it to their products -- so why can't Hempler's?
Amylu Foods was inspired by the founder's sausage-maker grandfather, and it's clear that attention to detail when it comes to links runs in the family. Since starting in 1994, Amylu has been creating a range of chicken sausages that offer an alternative to the heavier flavors of beef and pork on the market.
Its products, most notably its Tomatillo, Peppers & White Cheddar Chicken Sausage, have won fans amongst customers and nutritionists alike. "As a dietitian, I am always excited to discover sausage brands that offer a perfect balance of taste and nutrition, and Amylu Tomatillo, Peppers & White Cheddar Chicken Sausage is a standout choice. Made with lean chicken meat and without any added nitrites or nitrates, this sausage offers a lean protein source without compromising on taste," says registered dietitian Jessie Hulsey, per Eat This, Not That.
Amylu's Tomatillo, Peppers & White Cheddar Chicken Sausage is packed with natural ingredients and flavorings. With just 120 calories per link, this is a light option, and its use of antibiotic-free meat leaves you secure in the knowledge that you've made a safe, ethical choice. Amylu also has a range of other unique flavors to choose from, including roasted garlic and asiago, Caprese chicken, and Michigan cherry.
Avoid: Hillshire Farms
You'll have likely seen Hillshire Farms sausages in the store at some point. The brand is one of the most prominent on the market, and it has a dizzying amount of sausage products. But its market dominance has come at a cost, and that cost is a reliance on industrial production methods that leave you questioning just how your food is made.
Take its Smoked Sausage, for instance. "Hillshire Farms Smoked Sausage includes ingredients like mechanically separated turkey, which can be a concern due to its high processing and potential loss of nutritional value," says registered dietitian Jessie Hulsey, via Eat This, Not That. This "mechanical separation" involves forcing the meat through a sieve-like structure at high pressure, to essentially turn it into a kind of meat paste. While this makes the meat smooth, it's far from an appetizing thought.
It's also worth noting that this product has three different types of meat in it, and is made of pork, turkey, and beef. Again, while this may improve its flavor, it doesn't exactly make you feel as though the animals that made it have been treated well. For her part, Hulsey would recommend steering clear of eating too much of this sausage. Although it's perfectly fine to do so in small quantities, there are far more nutritious and lean options out there, that aren't made with such aggressive methods.
Read the original article on Daily Meal.