Bratwurst, mortadella, chorizo, sujuk, chipolata, saveloy, and merguez are a few examples of sausages from different regions around the world. Sausage is among the most universally recognized foods. And according to data from the US, their popularity keeps increasing.
But have you ever thought about how this wonder came about? The term sausage derives from salsicus, meaning “seasoned with salt” in Latin. Salting meat was a way to preserve meat in the absence of refrigerators. But sausages were eaten long before the Roman Empire and the Latin language that gave birth to its current name.
Uncovering the World’s Oldest Sausage
The first step to making any sausage is to fill animal intestines with forcemeat. And that process is described on an Akkadian clay tablet. But intestines weren’t only used for food purposes in Mesopotamia. Babylonian temple priests would read the signs of sheep entrails to see if they resembled the face of Humbaba (the monster of the cedar forest in the Epic of Gilgamesh) – which would have been a bad omen.
But in our attempt on uncovering a dish, simply knowing that the intestines were stuffed with forcemeat isn’t that helpful. Although we can be sure the people in Mesopotamia didn’t stuff intestines for fun – or to hang as curtains – we don’t know anything about how they were cooked. But in one of the world's oldest recipes there is a clue.
Making It Into a Recipe
Also written in Akkadian cuneiform some 4,000 years ago – 35 recipes give us an insight into how food was cooked in Mesopotamia. With most of them (25 recipes) being meat broths, we have resolved our first clue. The sausages were likely cooked in a broth and not grilled on fire.
And out of the 25 meat broths, all have one ingredient in common. Onions. In various shapes and forms. And that’s our second piece of the puzzle. So far, our recipe would be: forcemeat stuffed into intestines and cooked in an onion broth.
But one question remains unsolved. What did the sausages look like? The brief answer is that we’ll never know. But I guess they didn’t make the sausages short like the contemporary ones. Why would they add the additional labor of tying a knot on each side of every cut? Especially since the sausages wouldn’t be grilled but boiled in a big kettle.
And finally, if they filled the whole intestine – which would be around 85 feet (25 m) in the case of a sheep – they could compete on who could eat the longest. Have you ever measured your record?
Our Attempt at Recreating the World’s Oldest Sausage
Statista (2022). U.S. population: Amount of sausage consumed from 2011 to 2020. [2022-09-14]
Online Etymology Dictionary (no date). Sausage. [2022-09-14]
Bottéro, J. (1985). The Cuisine of Ancient Mesopotamia. The Biblical Archaeologist, Vol. 48, No. 1, pp. 36-47
The oriental institute (2010). Divination and interpretation of signs in the ancient world. ISBN-13: 978-1-885923-68-4