Fresh Italian sausage is a product that continues to increase in popularity. Italian sausage is often manufactured as; Mild Italian Sausage, Hot Italian Sausage or Sweet Italian Sausage. Every processed meat product has a traditional product characteristic.
Traditionally, Italian sausage contains fennel and black pepper. Typically the black pepper used in Italian sausage is a coarser particle size than you find in fresh pork sausage. Fennel is the spice that gives Italian sausage its Italian flavor. Often the fennel is a mixture of whole or cracked fennel seed and ground fennel. The whole or cracked fennel seed will help to give good visibility to the spice while the ground fennel will contribute a very distinctive fennel flavor. Visible spice is typically considered to be an important product characteristic in fresh Italian sausage.
Paprika is another traditional ingredient in Italian sausage, particularly Hot Italian Sausage. It may be added as either ground or crushed paprika. Paprika is not permitted in fresh pork sausage because of paprika’s ability to impart color. Paprika has a very low flavor and is used primarily to impart color. Think of the different ways paprika is often used such as sprinkling on deviled eggs or potato salad. However, paprika is allowed in fresh Italian sausage because it is part of the product’s traditional characteristics. Paprika is also allowed in fresh chorizo for the same reason.
Other spices often found in Italian sausage are coriander and caraway. For Hot Italian Sausage add crushed and/or ground red pepper.
For Sweet Italian Sausage increase the amount of sugar and/or dextrose. Dextrose very easily enters into the Malliard browning reaction. This reaction is a caramelization of the simple sugar present in dextrose. You can affect the outside appearance of a fresh sausage link or patty by adjusting the amount of dextrose in the formulation. Corn syrup solids also contain simple sugar that easily enter into the Maillard browning reaction while sugar (sucrose – a complex sugar) does not. Typical raw fat content of fresh Italian sausage is 30-35% fat. Fresh Italian sausage, by regulation does have a maximum allowable fat content of 35% on a raw basis.