So far, a mounting body of research has suggested that pigs can paint, understand how to play video games, recognize human faces, and express emotion. They can feel stress, pain, happiness, and sadness. In many respects, they are no different from companion animals, like dogs or cats. But unlike the latter, they are farmed in their millions to produce products like ham, bacon, and pork sausage. In fact, data shows that nearly 14 million Americans consumed five or more pounds of sausage in 2020.
Pig farming doesn’t just impact the animals, it’s also linked with environmental problems. Plus, processed meat is bad for our health. But there is some good news. Vegan sausages offer the same taste and texture as pork sausages, only they’re made from plant-based ingredients instead. If you want to give them a try, here, we’ve rounded up some of the best brands and recipes. But first, let’s take a closer look at the differences between conventional sausages and vegan versions.
What is sausage?
Around the world, sausages have been consumed for centuries. They were a favorite of the ancient Romans and the Greeks, but historians predict they first emerged around 5,000 years ago in Sumeria, which is now known as Iraq. Initially, they had an important purpose: meat preservation. Essentially, they were used as a vessel for offcuts and trimmings that otherwise wouldn’t be used, and for that reason, they were cheap and popular among the lower classes.
Now, sausages have no boundaries and are popular with people from all backgrounds. In the UK, one 2016 study estimated that the average British meat eater will consume around 2,700 sausages in their lifetime.
While they have a long history, sausages haven’t changed that much. Today, they are essentially ground meat, fat, and seasoning stuffed into a casing, which is either artificial (like cellulose, for example) or natural. The latter, which can often be bought from natural butcher shops, is usually made from submucosa, a layer of animal intestine. Sausage can be made from different types of meat, but pork is the most common.
Problems with the sausage industry
The world has a large appetite for sausage, there is no denying it. But this does come with a set of serious consequences. Most pigs raised for pork live on industrial factory farms, where the cramped, dirty conditions hurt not only the animals, but also us, wildlife, and the planet.
The intensive conditions on factory farms leave the door open for disease, which leads to antibiotic overuse, and this leaks into the environment. A new report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, for example, suggests that there is superbug and antibiotic residue in UK rivers near poultry, cattle, and pig farms.
Livestock is also a key contributor to greenhouse gasses, with the whole animal agriculture industry responsible for 14.5 percent of global emissions. But for communities that surround pig farms, like in North Carolina, for example, pollution also has another serious consequence. One 2018 study published in the North Carolina Medical Journal found that families living near industrialized hog farms had higher rates of infant mortality, as well as deaths from conditions like kidney disease and tuberculosis.
Plant-based diets, on the other hand, are widely considered to be better for the environment than meat-based ones. In 2018, a major food production study from the University of Oxford concluded that switching to a vegan diet is the single biggest change a person can make to reduce their impact on the environment. But eating more plant-based foods doesn’t equal sacrifice. The plant-based meat market is projected to hit nearly $16 billion by 2027, and it includes products like nuggets, mince, burgers, and, of course, sausages.
What is vegan sausage?
Vegan sausage can consist of a number of different ingredients, but, instead of animal-based meat, most plant-based brands on the market use pea or soy protein to get a similar texture. For the taste, just like regular sausage, seasoning, spices, and oils are often added to the mix. If you’re making a vegan sausage from home, you can use all manner of different ingredients, like tofu, mushroom, and wheat gluten, for example.
How is vegan sausage made?
Just like regular sausages, vegan sausages consist of blended ingredients stuffed into casing. Beyond Meat, for example, makes its vegan sausages by blending together peas, fava beans, rice, beet juice, and coconut oil, and then wrapping it in a casing. (Only instead of intestines, the latter is made from algae.)
British brand THIS has a similar process. Its new This Isn’t Pork Caramelised Onion Sausages, for example, consist of pea protein, vegetable fibers, red onion chutney, and onion chunks in a plant-based casing, its own Fat 2.0 ingredient is also added, to get that pork sausage-like juicy texture.
Homemade sausages are made in a similar way, although many recipes don’t call for a casing. Instead, the ingredients are pulsed together to form a dough and then molded into the correct shape.
Is vegan sausage healthy?
Vegan sausages can be healthy, but nutritional content can vary. Those made at home from scratch using whole foods, like mushrooms and kidney beans, are a good example of vitamin-rich vegan sausages. Most store-bought options, however, are more focused on recreating the taste and texture of pork sausages and so they are more processed.
But that said, most vegan sausage products are still high in protein, and they’re often lower in saturated fat than regular pork sausages, too. They also don’t come with the same health risks as processed animal meat, which, it’s worth noting, is classified as a Group 1 carcinogen by the World Health Organization.
Earlier this year, a review of 43 studies from the University of Bath concluded that plant-based meat, in general, is healthier than animal products. “This review demonstrates overwhelming evidence that, as well as being far more sustainable compared to animal products in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and land use, plant-based animal product alternatives also have a wide range of health benefits,” said Chris Bryant, PhD, the report’s author.
He also added that, as the plant-based meat market grows, there is “enormous potential to innovate with ingredients and processes to improve their nutritional properties.”
Vegan sausage brands
If you fancy sausages, but don’t want the health, environmental, or welfare impact of pork (and you also don’t fancy the hassle of making your own) then these plant-based brands are just what you need.
1 Beyond Meat
Popular California-based brand Beyond Meat offers a wide range of realistic-tasting plant-based meat products, including pork-like sausages. The brand’s range includes Brat Original, Sweet Italian, and, if you like a bit of spice, Hot Italian Style, too. Each product contains around 16 grams of protein per serving, plus, according to the brand, they contain 35 percent less saturated fat than products from “leading pork sausage brands.”
2 Field Roast
Founded in the 1990s, Field Roast’s success all comes down to sausages. The brand’s co-founder, David Lee, started the brand after he experimented with European charcuterie sausage-making methods, only he replaced the animal meat with grains. And the rest is history. Today, the brand’s vegan sausage range includes flavors like Smoked Apple & Sage, Italian Garlic & Fennel, and Spicy Mexican Chipotle.
3 Impossible Foods
California-based Impossible Foods was founded back in 2011 and has predominantly focused on plant-based meat products like burgers and nuggets since then. But earlier this year, the brand announced the launch of its Impossible Sausage Links, which come in three different flavors: Bratwurst, Italian, and Spicy. They’re made with the brand’s own vegan ground sausage, which is then stuffed into a plant-based casing. According to Impossible Foods, its vegan sausage production releases 71-percent fewer greenhouse emissions than the pork alternative.
Similar to Field Roast, Lightlife was founded in the 1990s, and the humble sausage was key to its success. The brand’s veggie Smart Dog hit the market in 1993 and it’s still popular today. But as well as hot dog-style links, the brand also offers a range of sausage products, including Smart Sausage Italian and Smart Sausage Chorizo. Both have zero saturated fat content and 15 grams of protein per serving.
5 Future Farm
Brazil-based Future Farm has been excelling in plant-based food tech since it started just three years ago. Known for making plant-based products with an authentic and meaty texture and taste, the brand has participated in several successful funding rounds and is already reportedly worth more than $400 million. Right now, it offers six innovative vegan meat products, and one of them is the Future Sausage. The gluten-free, pork-like links are made with a blend of soy, peas, and chickpeas, and they sizzle just like the real deal.
THIS is known for its realistic vegan chicken products, but the brand has also branched out into red meat-style products, including mince, burgers, and sausages. It offers two different types of the latter, it’s This Isn’t Pork sausages and a caramelized onion variety. According to the brand, the sausages are a source of fiber, they’re packed with protein, and they have 75-percent less saturated fat than pork sausages.
7 MorningStar Farms
A division of Kellogg’s, MorningStar Farms offers a wide range of plant-based meaty goodies. In 2020, the brand launched new sausages as part of its line of Incogmeato products, which are sold next to real meat products in grocery stores in a bid to encourage meat-eaters to try more plant-based alternatives. As well as its Plant-Based Breakfast Sausage Links, the Incogmeato line offers other creative vegan sausage products, like Plant-Based Pancake and Sausage on a Stick.
Popular plant-based meat brand Gardein, which has been going since the early 2000s, divides its products into categories like fishless, beefless, and porkless, which, of course, includes a few different vegan sausage products, like Sliced Italian Saus’ge and Bratwurst Plant-Based Saus’ge. The latter, which is soy-free, is made with a “rich blend of warm spices” and contains 16 grams of protein.
Vegan sausage recipes
Vegan sausage products are ideal for days when you’re in a rush, or if you just don’t want to cook. But if you’re a whiz in the kitchen and you’ve got time on your hands, you might fancy giving one of these vegan sausage recipes a whirl.
1 Meaty vegan bangers
Gravy, mashed potatoes, and meaty sausages are the dream comfort food trio. With this recipe, you can make all three for the ultimate cozy night in. The meaty “bangers” feature vegetables, like onions, garlic, fennel, and red pepper flakes, as well as wheat gluten and tofu for that delicious meaty texture.
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2 Gluten-free vegan sausages
If you’re sensitive to gluten, you don’t have to miss out on the vegan sausage deliciousness. This totally gluten-free recipe makes tasty links using a mix of mushrooms, onions, garlic, oats, walnuts, and lentils. The result is not quite as meaty as some other recipes or products, but if you’re not a fan of a meat-like texture anyway, this one is for you.
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3 Nutty mushroom sausages
A blend of nuts, breadcrumbs, mushrooms, and flax meal is the key to this easy vegan sausage recipe. The result is versatile and can be enjoyed alongside tofu eggs for breakfast, or thick gravy for dinner. Top tip: make more than you need and then freeze the rest. Your future hungry self will thank you!
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4 Spicy Italian sausages
For those who like their meals with a little bit of an extra kick, these spicy vegan sausages are ideal. The secret to the punchy flavor is perfecting the chili paprika spice mix, which is, thankfully, super easy to make. If you only like a little bit of spice or you’re a heat lover, you can amend the mix to your personal preference, too.
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5 Soy-free BBQ sausages
Many of the vegan sausages on the market are made with soy protein, which, obviously, doesn’t suit those who are looking for a soy-free option. But luckily, these vegan BBQ sausages are incredibly easy to make with seitan, and that means they are 100-percent soy-free.
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For more on vegan meat, read:
- What Is Vegan Shrimp? Plus, All the Best Brands and Recipes
- Vegan Lunch Meat: A Deli Sandwich Lover’s Guide to Eating Plant-Based
- What Is Vegan Ham? Here’s Everything You Need to Know
Charlotte is a writer and editor based in sunny Southsea on England's southern coast.