If you want to make excellent summer sausage or other dry cured sausage, there are plenty of spices, flavors, meat types, and preparation methods to try.
One of the more common ingredients is encapsulated citric acid (ECA). It delivers a flavor almost identical to traditional dry-aged summer sausages without the lengthy fermentation and drying process.
However, encapsulated citric acid doesn’t come without any downsides. If misused, the citric acid can dissolve some meat fibers and make the resulting sausage crumbly and dry. Since citric acid can be volatile and requires a learning curve to get the product just right, you might be wondering if you can use an encapsulated citric acid substitute.
Luckily, you can use a few things to make great summer sausages without using citric acid. You can use three things as encapsulated citric acid substitutes: buttermilk, ferment, and meat starter cultures. Read on to learn more.
What Makes a Good Encapsulated Citric Acid Substitute?
Encapsulated citric acid is excellent if you want a fast summer sausage reminiscent of traditional products that don’t sacrifice much on shelf life and texture.
Fermentation is essential during the curing process. While cold-drying pulls in lactic acid from the meat to provide this fermentation, the citric acid works similarly. It produces nearly the same results, making it an excellent choice for experienced and novice sausage makers.
The main problem with encapsulated citric acid is that it can be volatile to work with. Pure citric acid will begin tenderizing meat almost immediately. It breaks the natural tissue and bonds, removing color and changing its texture. The sausage may become white or greyish and crumbly, preventing it from solidifying into a recognizable shape.
Encapsulated citric acid substitute is used to remove some of that volatility. But, unfortunately, the only way to achieve that is to alter a part of the process or change the acid used during sausage-making.
If you want that recognizable tang in your sausage, citric acid isn’t the only solution. Naturally occurring lactic acid from other additives will provide a similar result, although it usually requires a bit more effort.
You can also use bacterial cultures to jumpstart the curing process and develop the necessary lactic acid concentration for proper curing.
However, if you don’t want to use an encapsulated citric acid substitute, you may have to make sacrifices. Typically, the curing or preparation process is slower or requires more stringent temperature or moisture control.
With that in mind, there are three leading contenders to try.
Encapsulated Citric Acid Alternatives to Try
One of the easiest ways to avoid ECA for sausages is to use a different binder. Most sausage recipes call for a binding product that will glue the meat together and prevent moisture loss during curing and smoking. This is often dried milk solids or regular milk, which is rich in fat and absorbs moisture well.
Buttermilk is a fermented milk product with similar binding properties to milk and contains lactic acid, the same acid produced in the meat fermentation process. Therefore, you can use powdered buttermilk to effectively replace both the binder and the fermenting agent (ECA) in one product.
I recommend starting with a pound and a half of dried buttermilk per 50 lbs. of meat. This amount should lower the meat’s pH level enough to ensure it cooks well and fast.
Buttermilk can be used similarly to ECA, mixing it into the meat and immediately stuff and smoke the sausages. Since lactic acid is weaker than citric acid, it won’t deteriorate the meat’s texture or color.
Fermento is a dairy-based product popular among curers. It is made from skim milk and whey protein, but the end result is incredibly similar to buttermilk.
In addition, the product contains similar bacteria, which jumpstart the lactic acid production and remove the lengthy fermentation periods associated with curing food.
When using Fermento as a curing agent, you can put 3-6% of the meat’s mass in Fermento into the mixture. You mustn’t go below or above these cutoff points.
A smaller amount of the product won’t have enough acidity to lower the meat’s pH enough to prevent bacterial growth. On the other hand, putting too much Fermetto will make the resulting sausage unusable and inedible.
The 3-6% guidelines should be optimal to keep you in healthy ranges, but you can adjust the recipe over time and with experience.
Meat Starter Cultures
Starter cultures are live microorganisms added to the meat to produce lactic acid or change its taste and texture. They include beneficial bacteria, yeasts, and molds, some of which have been used in curing for centuries.
These organisms also outcompete harmful species, effectively preventing the meat from going bad and curing it over time.
Due to scientific advancement, records, and experiments, several starter cultures have been proven to cure meat and are recommended for use. There are even catalogs of the cultures commercially available that will list all the benefits of a specific bacterium species over another.
New starter cultures are optimized for an expedited curing process. While traditional dry-curing can take months, using a starter culture can cut that period down to a few weeks or even days.
For example, the Pediococcus acidilactici and P. pentosaceus are most popular for rapid curing and can be found in several commercial products.
Using starter cultures typically requires more experience since they rely on specific climate- and temperature-controlled environments to cure meat effectively.
However, when you purchase a starter culture, you eliminate most guesswork and depend on a given number of microorganisms that will cure the meat and make it safe to eat.
One of the most popular meat starter culture brands is Bactoferm. Their products contain some of the most potent and secure microbial starter species, depending on what type of sausage you want to make or how fast and precise the curing process needs to be.
If you use an encapsulated citric acid substitute in the meat mixture, you can make a sausage without fear of it going greyish and crumbly from excess citric acid.
Just make sure you follow the guidelines in the product recipe, and you should be able to make a perfect summer or other dried sausage in no time.