Plant-based sausages: Ingredients, benefits and more

Plant-based sausage is a meat alternative made from plant-based ingredients and typically processed to resemble the texture, flavor, and appearance of traditional meat sausage.

Plant-based sausages come in a variety of flavors and styles, including breakfast sausage, Italian sausage, and chorizo. 

Savoury snappy plant-based sausages

In this article, we'll delve deep into the plant-based sausages as we uncover the ingredients, explore the health benefits, and take a closer look at any chemicals involved in the plant-based sausage-making process.  

Let’s start where the process does: pulling out the basic ingredients. 

Plant-based sausage ingredients:
what goes into a plant-based sausage?

Plant-based sausage is crafted from an array of plant-based sausage ingredients to mimic the texture, flavor, and appearance of traditional meat sausages. The ingredients include:

  • Plant-based proteins: Extracted from peas, soybeans, fava, chickpeas, lentils, or mushrooms, plant-based proteins are the building blocks of these sausages. They provide the essential structure and texture that give the sausages their meaty mouthfeel.
  • Oils and fats: To enhance flavor and mouthfeel, oils and fats are key to plant-based sausages. Commonly used options include coconut oil, sunflower and rapeseed oil, and avocado oil to add a rich, savory taste 
  • Spices and seasonings: Ingredients like salt, pepper, garlic, onion, and paprika and other natural flavors lend their distinct character to create a sensory appeal in plant-based sausages.
  • Color: To get the color right of plant-based sausages, producers use coloring ingredients derived from natural sources.

Beyond the basics, plant-based sausages often include other ingredients like binders, gums, and stabilizers, all carefully selected to elevate the sausage's texture and extend its shelf life.

Consumers sometimes consider these plant-based sausage ingredients as chemicals – even if they technically might not be.

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So which chemicals are in plant-based sausage meat?

A sentence like “there are chemicals in plant-based sausages” can sound alarming at first.

But it's crucial to understand that not all chemicals are harmful, even if they do add some complex E-numbers or words to your ingredient list.

Here are the most common suspects used in plant-based sausages: 

Binders or texturizers: Binders help to hold the ingredients together and give the sausage its shape. Common binders used in plant-based sausages include methylcellulose, carrageenan, and modified starches. You can learn more about their pros and cons here.

Protein isolate: Extracted from different beans and legumes, protein isolates give plant-based sausage it’s protein structure. It's a natural component, not a chemical additive. But it is highly processed.

Gums: Gums are thickeners that help to improve the texture and mouthfeel of plant-based sausages. Common gums used in plant-based sausages include xanthan gum, pectin, and sodium or calcium alginate.

Stabilizers: Stabilizers help to prevent plant-based sausages from separating or becoming watery. Common stabilizers used in plant-based sausages include sodium lactate and potassium phosphate.

Flavorings: Flavorings are added to plant-based sausages to give them a meat-like flavor. Common flavorings used in plant-based sausages include yeast extract, natural smoke flavors, and vegetable juice concentrates.

Colorings: Colorings are added to plant-based sausages to give them a meat-like appearance. Common colorings used in plant-based sausages include beet juice powder and paprika extract.

Leghemoglobin: This molecule, derived from plants, is responsible for the savory and meaty flavor and color in plant-based sausages. It's created using fermentation techniques, not synthetic chemicals.

Preservatives: Some plant-based sausages may contain natural preservatives like rosemary extract or vitamin E to maintain freshness. Alternatively, producers can use synthetic preservatives like propyl gallate or sodium erythorbate.

It is important to note that not all plant-based meats contain all these additives. The specific ingredients used will vary depending on the brand and product

In plant-based sausages, all these ingredients, including chemical or synthetic ones, are entirely safe for consumption. The challenge is that consumers don’t find them familiar, and a long ingredient list with ingredients that consumers don’t understand may deter them from trying your plant-based sausage. Producers who would like a shorter ingredient list often opt for another natural alternative to getting taste and texture right – one that in most cases doesn’t need to go on your label: enzymes.

Plant-based enzymes:
The natural science behind taste and texture

Plant-based sausage enzymes are used to improve sausage texture and flavor.

Enzymes are proteins that catalyze (speed up) chemical reactions, and in the context of plant-based sausages enzymes are used for many purposes and are often the secret to achieving the perfect texture.

Enzymes are not chemicals, although they are sometimes perceived as such. Enzymes are natural catalysts, used mainly as processing aids that help bring out more goodness in plant-based sausages without demanding a spot on the ingredient list.  

Enzyme used in Plant-based sausages to increase texture and flavor

Here's how enzymes work in plant-based sausages

Transglutaminases

Transglutaminases bind proteins together, creating a cohesive and meat-like texture in plant-based sausages [interlink to Vertera landing page], which gives the plant-based sausage a better bite and appealing appearance from when it’s in the package to when it’s cooked and consumed.

Proteases

Proteases are plant-based sausage enzymes that break down protein materials from soy, pea and wheat gluten. They work well in combinations with glutaminase, another enzyme, which helps create umami tastes naturally.

Lipases

Lipases break down fats into smaller fatty acids, enhancing the sausage's flavor and juiciness.

Plant-based sausage benefits:
Health and sustainability

If you love a good sausage, it’s worth considering plant-based sausages for its health benefits.

Meat sausages are often full of saturated fat, but plant-based sausages are typically lower in saturated fat which is great if you’re wanting to prevent high cholesterol levels. Similarly, if you're watching your calorie intake, plant-based sausages are often a lighter option, making them more suitable for weight management.

The fiber content of plant-based sausages also tends to be higher than traditional meat sausages, which helps promote digestive health and, again, helps to reduce cholesterol levels.

And then there’s sustainability. The production of plant-based sausages requires fewer resources, including less land, water, and energy, making them a more sustainable choice for conscious consumers – including the ones who are concerned about animal welfare.

Consumers discover the health benefits of indulging in plant-based sausages

Take your pick of plant-based sausages

Plant-based sausages have quickly evolved from being mere alternatives to an appealing sensorial experience.

With carefully selected ingredients, various health benefits compared to meat sausages, and not least thanks to the use of enzymes, plant-based sausages have become a delight on plates worldwide.

As more variations are put on the shelves every year, there’s only more goodness to come from the world of plant-based sausages in the future.

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