The Mystery of the Pink Chinese Sausage

Have you ever wondered why Chinese sausages have a beautiful reddish-pink color? It's all thanks to monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor enhancer commonly used in Chinese cuisine. This ingredient gives lap cheong, a type of Chinese pork sausage, its special flavor and hue. There are different types of lap cheong, ranging from those made with fresh pork to those made with pork livers, duck livers, and even turkey livers. A sausage made with liver will have a darker color than one made without liver.

In recent years, some countries have even started producing Chinese chicken sausages. Chinese sausage is a dry, dense, and hard sausage with a pink and white marbled exterior. It consists of lean pork and pork fat that is smoked, sweetened, and seasoned with rice wine such as Shaoxing wine, rose wine, and soy sauce. There is also a spicy variety from Sichuan that uses a local Sichuan pepper in addition to soy sauce, salt, and sugar.

The flavor is a spicy, sweet, and salty blend with a rich emulsified texture. The Chinese name for sausages is “Lap Cheong” which means “winter filled intestine” or “waxed intestine” because “cheong” not only means “intestine” but also “sausage”. Lap Cheong is traditionally classified into two main types and is sometimes rolled and steamed in dim sum. The easiest way to cook Chinese sausages is to put the links in the same pot (or rice cooker) in which you are cooking rice.

Ingredients such as starch, dye, or soy protein concentrate are generally not added to high-quality sausages. Food colorants are added to meat products such as ribs or ducks, however their use in sausages is not widespread. Sausages are consumed all year round but their consumption is highest in February during the Chinese New Year. It is accepted that the Maillard reaction contributes to the development of the flavor and aroma of Chinese sausages. On the other hand, in northern European countries such as Germany, Poland, Russia, and Lithuania almost all dry and fermented sausages are smoked.

There are premixed combinations available in stores; one of the most popular being five-spice powder which is a common combination of star anise, fennel seeds, cloves, Chinese cinnamon, and Sichuan pepper. Singapore produces innovative Chinese sausages that are healthier than the traditional variety or varieties produced in Malaysia. So next time you're enjoying some delicious lap cheong or other Chinese sausage dishes remember that it's MSG that gives it its unique flavor and beautiful pink color.

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