Sausage: The Labor of Small Organisms

It takes the work of very small organisms to produce the savory, colorful tastes of sausages. Traditionally, sausages were left out for organisms from the natural environment to find their way to the ground meat. Today, many industrial food manufacturers use a starter culture of bacteria which they add to the meat that yields more consistent and safer results.

But do the sausages produced with these starter cultures taste as good as the sausages which have been worked on by natural microbes? Not quite. After arranging for a local salami manufacturer to create two batches of salami, one using a starter culture and allowing one to set out to be worked on by naturally occurring microbes, researchers of the University of Turin found that salami made with the wild microbes were rated higher than those made with the starter culture.

The researchers proposed that salami produced using the starter culture was rated lower due to the acetic acid which the cultures produced during the fermentation process. Acetic acid is the key ingredient in vinegar...something which is not a part of the recipe for salami. The cultures also blossomed very quickly, cutting out any opportunity for other microbes to thrive; whereas the salami left to nature had many different types of microbes present (creating a better tasting and smelling sausage).

Even though the salami with the starter culture did not pass the taste test in this study, researchers suggest that the process may be improved by lowering the temperature of the room in which the salami with the culture starter is stored. This would slow the growth of the microbes from the culture, decrease the acetic acid produced, and allow more opportunity for other types of microbes to grow.