Germans eat about 1.5 million metric tons of sausages and meat products every year. Two thirds of these are hot or cold boiled sausages. But these varieties usually contain a great deal of fat to ensure that they have the right consistency and flavor. “Low-fat types of sausage do exist, of course, but they usually contain a certain amount of poultry meat. Or consumers simply stick to ham. But low-fat products for varieties such as ham sausage, Leberkäse (a German meat loaf specialty) or salami have never been available until now,” explains master butcher Joseph Pointner from Mindelheim. He hit on the idea of making low-fat sausage, and experimented with various parameters to do so. “But I was only partially successful,” Pointner says. The trick is to replace more and more of the fat in the sausage by a protein gel. For that to work, the proteins in the meat need to become more closely cross-linked – in other words, they must unfold their structure in such a way as to bind as much water as possible. “The chopping process in the cutter releases the meat proteins actin and myosin. Our task was to release more proteins than in conventional sausage-making, and to influence their properties to make them bind more water. This makes it possible to reduce the proportion of fat,” says Dr. Peter Eisner of the Fraunhofer Institute for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV. Everything depends on the cutter, a bowl that revolves around a set of sharp rotating knives. All the ingredients are combined in this bowl: lean meat, spices and ice. In conventional cutters, the knives can reach peak temperatures of up to 75 degrees Celsius. This causes denaturation of the proteins, which then form unwanted small lumps in the sausage-meat and partly lose their ability to bind water. A series of tests were carried out at the Institute’s sausage plant to achieve the ideal fat content and the right texture or consistency of the sausage-meat. The secret is to monitor the temperature and to keep on cooling the cutter knives and the sausage-meat. Perfect timing is the crucial factor here: one moment too late, and the knives will get hot. Fraunhofer and Joseph Pointner hold the patent for this manufacturing process. Dr.-Ing. Peter Eisner, Dr.-Ing. Klaus Müller and Dipl.-Ing. Christian Zacherl have been awarded the prize for human-centered technology, endowed by former executive board members and institute directors of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, in recognition of their efforts to help develop the healthy sausage. The jury emphasized that this project is a prime example of the way in which small craft businesses can profit from cooperation with Fraunhofer. What is more, the sausage is a contribution towards health-conscious and varied nutrition.
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