Natural casings have been used in many different ways for 5000 years. The Sumerians, who lived in the territory of today’s Iraq, already knew about meat products 4000 years ago, which, similar to our current sausage, were stuffed in goat stomachs. The Chinese sausage Làcháng was first mentioned in 589 BC. It consists of goat and lamb meat. In his odyssey, written around 720 BC, the Greek poet Homer also mentioned a kind of blood sausage. In Persia sheep’s casings have been produced since 3000 BC and used as a cooking aid. Around 1000 years ago, they were used by the Persian army as a swimming aid for elite soldiers.
Today they are used to string tennis rackets and make musical instruments with them. William Shakespeare has one of his characters in “Much Ado About Nothing” say: “Isn’t it strange that sheep intestines can pull the soul out of a person?” This refers to the playing of stringed musical instruments, which evidently aroused strong emotions in contemporaries. Sheep intestines were also used in perfumery to close the vials with the most precious fragrances.
In the middle of the 17th century, an English court doctor recommended condoms made of sheep intestines, for which he was knighted. He went down in history as “Dr. Condom.” These condoms were only replaced by rubber models 200 years later.
In the 20th century, catgut (sheep intestines) was used as a natural material in medicine because it has the advantage of being able to dissolve without leaving any residue. They are still used in veterinary medicine today.
In addition, natural casings are one of the oldest packaging materials in the world. They are used as sausage casings. In addition, they have no taste of their own. These are mainly the intestines of cattle, pigs and sheep. Small intestines are by their nature collagen (fibrous albuminoid component of bone, cartilage and connective tissue). That is why they have many of the same properties that are common to all types of collagen, especially the unique property of variable permeability, which allows the sausage’s aroma to develop particularly well.
Sausage in natural casing has enriched the menu for over 2000 years. Its history is as old as the history of man and civilization. It is known as the oldest form of processed meat and can even be considered the first real convenience food in the world. In the medieval monasteries, sausage was already filled into sheep, cattle or pork intestines for storage purposes. Many of today’s sausage recipes go back to it.
During the past thousand years, sausage making has become a venerable and sophisticated craft. A great tradition emerged. Many families passed on their particular art over dozens of generations and dozen nations, and each sausage maker contributed his or her own taste and legacy to this art, which was also influenced by market demand and the ingredients available. The German word “Wurst” means something like “turn, mix, roll, turn something”. This word did not appear in writing until the 11th century.
With the advent of the industrial revolution, the 20th century was bursting with new technology and the world population grew by billions. Mass production was initially only geared towards “quantity” and “speed”. Over time, “quality” became more and more important within the new technology. This was only possible because natural casings are very hard-wearing and therefore enable good results in sausage production.
Thanks to advanced hygiene and quality management systems, natural casings have made the leap into the modern food industry, away from the waste products of the past. The challenges of “efficiency and quality” were met and quality products were developed that met food safety standards.
Today in the 21st century, literally thousands of variations of traditional and designer sausage are being produced around the world. And while there are now three basic types of sausage casings (natural, collagen, and cellulose – collagen and cellulose casings are relatively new to the field of artificial casings, created out of necessity due to the ever-increasing demand during the 20th century), natural casings are still the preferred choice of sausage chefs everywhere.
More than half (56%) of the German sausage range is now encased in this natural product. According to the manufacturer, around 80% of this is in pig or sheep intestines (Saitlinge). With around 1500 different types of sausage, Germany offers a variety that is unique in the world.
With a total turnover of 1.1 billion marks (1998) and 6,100 employees, the casing trade has become an important economic factor in Germany. According to a 1997 ENSCA survey, sales of DM 2.2 billion were achieved in the European natural casing trade. 13,000 employees were registered.
The turnover achieved by the German natural casing industry accounts for around half of the total turnover in the European casing market. The share of the German export market is around 40% across Europe, and 43% for imports.
With around a third of world sales, Germany is even the most important international transshipment point for natural casings. If you were to string together all the natural casings processed in Germany each year, you would get a string of 1.4 million kilometers in length. This corresponds to 38 times the circumference of the equator.
Source: Federal Statistical Office, Wiesbaden