Right now it is Baseball season, and you’ve likely eaten your share of ballpark dogs (9 percent of all hot dogs purchased are bought at baseball stadiums, after all), it’s the perfect time to delve into what’s really in one of America’s favorite foods: the hot dog.
It’s the subject of many urban legends, the object of may grade-schoolers double dares: do hot dogs contain pig snouts and chicken feathers, or are they really made from high-quality meat?
The debate certainly hasn’t put a damper on Americans enthusiam for the food. The U.S. population consumes about 20 billion hot dogs a year, according to the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council. That works out to about 70 hot dogs per person, per year. And, an estimated 95 percent of U.S. homes serve hot dogs at one meal or another.
Wondering how many hotdogs are sold each year? In 2005, retail stores sold 764 million packages of hot dogs (not including Wal-Mart), which adds up to more than $1.5 billion in retail sales.
What’s in a Hotdog?
On to the million-dollar question: what are hot dogs made of? According to the National Hot dog and Sausage Council:
“All hot dogs are cured and cooked sausages that consist of mainly pork, beef, chicken and turkey or a combination of meat and poultry. Meats used in hot dogs come from the muscle of the animal and looks much like what you buy in the grocer’s case. Other ingredients include water, curing agents and spices, such as garlic, salt, sugar, ground mustard, nutmeg, coriander and whiter pepper”
However, there are a couple of caveats. Variety meats, which include things like liver, kidneys and hearts, may be used in processed meats like hot dogs, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that they be disclosed on the ingredient label as “with variety meats” or “with meat by-products.”
Furthermore, watch out for statements like “made with mechanically separated meats (MSM).” Mechanically separated meat is a paste-like and batter-like meat product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible meat, under high pressure through a sieve or similar device to separate the bone from the edible meat tissue.
Although Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) maintains that MSM are safe to eat, mechanically separated beef is no longer allowed in hot dogs or other processed meats (as of 2004) because of fears of “Mad Cow Disease”. Hot dogs can contain no more than 20 percent mechanically separated pork, and any amount of mechanically separated chicken or turkey.
So if you’re looking for the purest franks, pick those that are labeled “All Beef”, “All Pork” or “All Chicken, All Turkey, etc.” Franks labeled in this way must be made with meat from a single species and do not include byproducts (but check the label anyway, just to be sure. Turkey and chicken franks, for instance, can include turkey or chicken meat and turkey or chicken skin and fat in proportion to a turkey or chicken carcass).
Are Hot Dogs Unhealthy?
Eating lots of processed meats like hot dogs has been linked to an increased risk of cancer. Part of that risk is probably due to the additives used in the meats, namely sodium nitrite and MSG.
Sodium nitrite (or sodium nitrate) is used as a preservative, coloring and flavoring in hot dogs (and other processed meats), and studies have found it can lead to the formation of cancer causing chemicals call nitrosamines.
If you love hot dogs and are looking for healthier alternative, opt for nitrate-free, organic varieties (available in health food stores and increasingly in regular supermarkets) that contain all meat, no byproducts and not artificial flavors, colors or preservatives.
-Renix Graham, III
“Water is the only drink for a wise man.” -Henry David Thoreau
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