What are 'Fillers'?
When we talk about fillers, we are referring to any bulking agent in a sausage. Some common fillers include wheat flour, rice flour (for Gluten Free sausages), bread crumbs, rusk, milk powder, tapioca starch, pea fibre and water. There are also some other really nasty ones which I wont go into here (MDM, extenders etc).
Ultimately a sausage made with fillers will not taste as good as a sausage with no fillers. This is essentially because meat tastes a lot better than flour or bread.
Why are Fillers Used?
Food fillers help sausage manufacturer keep their cost down, so they make more profit. Meat is the most expensive ingredient in a sausage, where as 'fillers' are cheaper. By reducing the amount of meat in a sausage and substituting it with less expensive ingredients or fillers, the total cost of producing a sausage can decrease by as much as 10% to 30%.
Short History Lesson:
Sausages have been around for at least 4,000 years. Most traditional or authentic sausage recipes you will find do not contain any fillers. The exception to this is some of the 'modern' (we're talking 18th and 19th century here) British and Irish sausages, which contain breadcrumbs or rusk. These fillers were added to sausages in Britain during WWI and WWII, when meat rations were commonplace. They helped the meat go further during times of economic struggles. These recipes stuck and breadcrumbs or rusk are a now a mainstay of many British, English or Irish sausage recipes.
Fillers expand during cooking. The term 'Banger' originates from war time Britain when sausages would explode in the pan due to the high proportion of fillers in the sausage.
Don't I need 'fillers' to help my sausage bind?
No. Most people think that fillers are necessary to help the sausage bind but this is a myth. While some filler can help the binding process, what is far more important is how you make your sausages. If you have the right meat/fat/water ratio and make the sausage properly then your sausage will emulsifyand bind perfectly well. See our 'ultimate sausage making guide' here. Some of the most common mistakes people make are:
- Not grinding your meat/fat mix fine enough. We recommend grinding your mix twice, firstly through an 8mm griding plate and 2nd time through a 4mm plate. Grinding your meat will help the mix emulsify aka your meat bind (absorb the fat and water). Make sure your meat/fat mix is really cold (even slightly frozen) before you grind it or it will turn to sludge.
- Not forming a 'farce'. Farce is the term when you sausage mix goes sticky because it has emulsified and you have the right meat/fat/water ratio. Your sausage mix should stick the palm of your hand when you take a handful and turn it upside down. If it is not sticky, you normally just need to mix your sausage mix more (by hand or in a blender) until it starts to go sticky. However, if your mix is falling off your hand because your mixture is too wet/sloppy you might need to add some fillers to soak up the excess water.
While there is nothing 'wrong' with using fillers, the best sausages don't contain them. As Paul Greaney, winner of NZ's supreme sausage award in 2013 states, 'i've never won a sausage award with a sausage that had fillers in it'.