There are many different types of sausage casing on the market. Originally, all sausages used natural casing, but in recent decades, we’ve seen many new types of casings.
One of them is collagen casing; great for breakfast sausages, frankfurters, link sausages and more. In this post, we explore collagen casing more deeply, describing what it is, what it is good for and when you might use it.
What Is Collagen Sausage Casing?
Collagen sausage casing is made of collagen derived from animal hides. In most cases, it is edible, however, there are also inedible versions.
Meat processors consider collagen to be one of the best sausage casings on the market because it is safe to eat, it’s digestible and is easy to use. There’s no soaking required or bundles to untangle before use. Because it’s synthetic, casing manufacturers can extrude it to the exact size needed, for excellent portion control and and reduced waste.
Edible Versus Non-Edible Sausage Collagen: Which Do You Need?
Edible collagen casings are generally made with collagen from the inside layer of beef hides. Manufacturers have been making them for more than fifty years, and because of their positive qualities, their market size is growing. Cost of sausage production is also lower because of higher stuffing speeds on the production line and minimal labor requirements.
To make edible collagen casing, manufacturers first turn the collagen into a thick, extrudable liquid, pump it into a forming die (nozzle) then coagulate it back into a solid, forming a continuous tube. The reels of casing are then put through a shirring process, where the inflated tube is pleated and compressed to create a ‘stick’ of casing having as much as 75 feet (23 meters) of casing. The casing ‘sticks’ can then be used on automatic or semi-automatic stuffing machines to fill and link the sausages.
In a more recent innovation, processors extrude a collagen dough to encircle the raw meat blend. The outer coating is then cured into place by applying a calcium solution to the sausage’s exterior. These more recent casings improve productivity, however often produce a less desirable “snap” as consumers bite into them.
Edible casings are used for smoked or grilled sausages as well as dried snack sticks. Because of their strength and homogeneity, you can hang them in a smoker or drying chamber for many hours without risking degradation and breakage.
While all collagen casings have a small amount of cellulose added for strength, non-edible collagen sausage casings incorporate a larger quantity of cellulose for added strength and size control. Non-edible collagen is suitable for cured sausages hung in a smoker, summer sausages, salami and pepperoni. Processors also have the option of using collagen ‘middles’ for straight sausages or collagen ‘rounds’ for curved, ring sausages. Collagen rounds can be used as a substitute for natural beef casings.
Why Use Collagen Casing
Ever since its invention over fifty years ago, collagen casing has been growing in popularity. There are many reasons for this, including:
- Nice appearance, imparting very little taste
- Tender texture with good bite properties
- Quick and easy to use on commercial stuffing equipment
- Offer good portion control to reduce give-away
- Made from a safe, edible materials
- Available in several varieties for different kinds of sausages
- Permeable to water and smoke
Types Of Collagen Casings and Their Product Applications
There are four types of collagen casings available at Oversea Casing Company, suitable for a wide range of applications.
Fresh Sausage Collagen Casings
Fresh sausage collagen casings are suitable for both retail and food service applications. On the retail side, collagen casings provide the ideal tint or transparency to make products look good in retail packaging. In food service applications, collagen is sufficiently strong to withstand most cooking processes without breaking or bursting, while also providing a pleasant mouth-feel for customers.
Processed Sausage Collagen Casings
Processed collagen casings are slightly thinner than fresh collagen casings, making them suitable for various dinner sausages, including pepperoni, wieners, frankfurters and specialty foods. While still strong enough to resist breakage during processing, they offer a tender bite, making the finished product appealing to the consumer.
Snack Stick Collagen Casings.
Collagen casings are used extensively in snack sausages and are available in a variety of colors to enhance product appearance. Colors include clear, mahogany and red. High permeability means that many of these casings are great for smoking and drying, reducing processing times to increase through-put and productivity.
Inedible Collagen For Processed Sausages
Lastly, inedible collagen is suitable for certain types of processed sausages. Collagen rounds for ring sausages, for instance, are a suitable alternative for natural beef rounds. Their high strength is ideal for high-volume production runs and they are available as cut or clipped pieces as well as shirred sticks.
Inedible collagen middles are for both cooked and dried deli products. They are available in larger diameters than edible collagen, making them ideal for dried salami and even lunchmeat items
How Do You Prepare Collagen Casings?
How you prepare collagen casings depends on whether you are using edible or inedible casings.
Stuffing Edible Collagen
Preparing edible collagen is relatively easy. Manufacturers finish (called shirring) edible collagen casings using precise moisture content, so the casings are ready to use from the carton. Therefore, casings do NOT require soaking prior to using on stuffing equipment. Soaking these casings will result in poor size control and high give away.
Some edible collagen casing sticks have a close-end or knot closure. These do not require the stuffing operator to tie a knot in the collagen casing prior to stuffing. It should be noted that filling should always occur in the direction stated on the box.
Stuffing Inedible Collagen
Inedible collagen requires slightly different preparation. Before stuffing, the casings must be soaked in a 10-15% brine solution at 72 - 77F for 20-30 minutes. The salt in the brine increases strength but also reduces the adhesion of casing to meat which can affect curing quality. The performance of the casing varies according to salt concentrations, temperature and time spent soaking in brine. For tougher, less adhesive casings, soak in a higher concentrated brine (15%) for a little longer.
Inedible collagen casings can be cut to specific lengths and then clipped or tied at one end depending on the type of product being made and the smoke house or drying room configuration.
Synthetic collagen casing is a versatile product that offers some of the characteristics of traditional natural casings, but for a more uniform product. They are of made of food safe materials, are scalable and have consumer acceptance, making it ideal for mass production applications.