Who Invented the Earliest Sausage Recipes?

5 grilled sausage links
Sausage is a processed meat but though probably less healthy than other meats remains very popular.

I love sausage. That tangy, herby, spicey flavor that comes out of these cured meats really satisfies my appetite during the summer months. And what is ironic about that is some countries developed sausage preparation as a way to store food for the winter?

What set me off on a journey of discovery about the history of sausage was this brief homage to the humble German bratwurst. A bratwurst is a type of sausage. The name bratwurst is purely German made from elements brat (“lean meat, finely chipped calf or swine meat”) and wurst (“sausage”). But the second element is believed to trace back to a word meaning “mixture”. The history of sausage is quite different, and it is traced back to a Latin word meaning “salted”. The ancient Romans may have called their sausage by the name salsica.

We derive the modern English word through a borrowing from French. It is interesting that the Romans and the Germans both invented words for sausage from different roots. And who, exactly, invented sausage anyway? I began my quest for knowledge by reading a history of bratwurst, which is after all a specific type of sausage that comes from Germany. The German brats are probably descended from ancient Celtic recipes, and there were once close linguistic and cultural ties between ancient Germans and Celts, who were Indo-European peoples who separated from each other in central Europe sometime in the early part of the 1st Millennium BCE, maybe in the year 1000 BCE – 800 BCE.

All sources mention an ancient Roman cookbook that includes a recipe for sausages, but the Apicus cookbook is not the earliest mention of sausages in Italy. Roman soldiers picked up the recipe for sausages from Lucania in southern Italy, according to most food historians. Lucania was originally settled by the Oenotrians, a possibly Greek people whose origins lay in the Heroic Age (1200 BCE – 800 BCE) of Greek antiquity. The Oenotrians were conquered by the central Italian Lucani around 500 BCE, so it is entirely possible that they inherited their famous taste for sausage from the Oenotrians, who definitely had ties to Greek civilization.

According to some sources, the ancient Greeks were eating sausage long before the Romans existed. Hence, the Oenotrian origin for Italian sausage recipes makes a lot of sense. But my search for sausage ends in ancient Greece. I cannot find references to more ancient sources.

What Greece and Germany share in common, though, are mountains. It may be that the mountain-dwelling peoples used sausages to preserve meats because they were easier to make in mountainous areas. The original Greek word for “sausage” was allas but the Greeks came to use the word loukaniko for “sausage”, obviously based on the fame of the Lucanian recipe.

One interesting detail about sausages is that early recipes used intestines to wrap the meat before it was smoked. The meat was mixed with spices, too. These ingredients were sometimes associated with animal sacrifices. It would be an interesting find if some archaeologist could show that sausages were invented by priests who prepared food from the remnants of their offerings to the gods.