Encapsulated Citric Acid: The Secret to Perfect Sausage Making

If you’re a sausage aficionado, you know that achieving the right balance of acidity in the meat and spices mixture is crucial for a flavorful and long-lasting product. 

But did you know that encapsulated citric acid (ECA) can help you achieve that tangy taste and extended shelf life in a fraction of the time?

What is Encapsulated Citric Acid?

Encapsulated citric acid is a type of citric acid that has been coated in either hydrogenated vegetable oil or maltodextrin. Citric acid is a naturally occurring substance that can be found in lemons, oranges, and limes. 

When used in sausage making, it acts as a powerful acidulant that lowers the meat’s pH level and breaks down connective and tissue fibers, subtly changing its texture.

The coating on encapsulated citric acid provides a barrier between the meat and the acid, ensuring that it doesn’t start working immediately and changing the texture of the sausage. 

Once the sausage is cooked and reaches a temperature of at least 135°F or 150°F (depending on the product), the coating melts, and the citric acid begins to work its magic, lowering the pH level, preserving the meat, and imparting flavor.

Why Use Encapsulated Citric Acid?

Encapsulated citric acid is a great option for sausages that are heat-processed rather than dry-aged. Its coating ensures that it doesn’t start working immediately upon mixing with meat and other spices, allowing for proper processing and portioning. 

Plus, it provides a barrier against bacteria, significantly impacting the meat’s shelf life and bacteria inhibition.

How Much Encapsulated Citric Acid Should You Use?

About 4 oz. of encapsulated citric acid is enough to process 25 lbs. of meat, making it a cost-effective option for sausage makers. 

Plus, since citric acid is one of the more powerful weak natural acids, it doesn’t take too much to make a noticeable change in the meat’s pH level and develop that familiar tangy taste associated with summer sausages.

How Does Encapsulated Citric Acid Compare to Lactic Acid?

While there are subtle differences between citric acid and lactic acid (the chemical released in the fermentation process), careful processing and portioning allow ECA to replicate the taste almost perfectly. 

This means you can achieve the same tangy flavor and extended shelf life as with traditional fermentation methods, without the added time and effort.

Is Encapsulated Citric Acid a Cure Accelerator?

Encapsulated citric acid is an invaluable tool for meat curing, but it cannot replace curing salts as a cure accelerator.

Encapsulated citric acid is widely used in the food industry as a preservative and flavoring agent. It is an excellent tool for enhancing the shelf life of cured foods and improving their texture and taste. 

Additionally, it can help to speed up the cooking process by increasing the acidity of the meat.

The Limitations of ECA as a Cure Accelerator

Despite its many benefits, ECA cannot replace curing salts (nitrates) as a cure accelerator. 

During the dry-curing process, the nitrates turn into nitric oxide below the ECA dissolution point, leaving the powder encased in the capsule and essentially inert.

The Importance of a Proper Curing Agent

If you want to cure meat effectively, it is essential to mix in a proper curing agent. Smoked meat stabilizers or Sodium erythorbate are excellent choices. 

Alternatively, you can add regular citric acid to the mixture. Encapsulated citric acid can be used to prevent spoilage, but it should never be relied upon as the sole curing agent.

Using Unencapsulated Citric Acid

If you don’t have unencapsulated citric acid and need to prevent spoilage while curing meat, you can dissolve it in hot water and mix it that way. This method can be useful, but it’s always best to use a proper curing agent.

The Benefits of ECA in Meat Curing

By itself, ECA won’t guarantee a stable shelf-life, but it can lower the meat’s pH level to the point where it’s effectively cured and can last much longer than regular, cooked meat. 

It can also add a unique, tangy flavor to cured meat that many people find appealing.

Why Use Encapsulated Citric Acid Instead of Regular Citric Acid?

If you were to sprinkle regular citric acid directly onto meat, it would immediately dissolve the connective and muscle tissue, resulting in a change in texture. This is where encapsulated citric acid comes in handy. 

By using ECA, the acid remains contained within the coating until it reaches the right temperature, allowing for a more controlled release.

When Should You Use Encapsulated Citric Acid? – Encapsulated citric acid should be used later in the preparation process after the meat has been adequately cured. 

If used too early or mixed with regular citric acid, it can have a drastic effect on taste and texture, potentially making the meat dry, white, and crumbly, which could prevent it from forming into a proper sausage shape.

However, ECA can still be mixed with water and used on fresh meat, typically game, to prevent bacterial growth and seal it in a layer of acidity that staves off rotting and decay.

Encapsulated citric acid only starts working at temperatures higher than 135-150° F, so it’s unsuitable as a first treatment. The capsules can be melted by using hot water instead of being mixed into the sausage mixture directly.

Both citric acid and encapsulated citric acid have their uses in meat preparation. However, if you’re looking for greater control over the release of the acid and the final texture of the meat, encapsulated citric acid is the way to go.

How Do I Use Encapsulated Citric Acid in Sausage?

Are you looking for a way to save time in your sausage-making process without compromising on taste? Look no further than encapsulated citric acid (ECA). 

By altering the pH level of the meat and making it more receptive to spices, ECA significantly reduces cooking time. But how do you use it correctly?

Mixing ECA with meat without proper preparation can lead to an unappetizing texture and appearance. Unencapsulated citric acid will react with the meat immediately, dissolving the tissue and altering the texture. 

That’s why it’s crucial to add encapsulated citric acid to the meat as the last step and with minimal mixing.

Here are the steps to make sausage with encapsulated citric acid:

– Grind the meat: Before adding any spices or ECA, grind the meat well.

– Mix in the spices: Thoroughly work the spices into the ground meat.

– Add ECA: Measure between 3-4 oz. of ECA for every 25 lbs. of meat being cured (12-16 oz. for 100 lbs.). Add encapsulated citric acid to the mixture and do not mix for more than a minute to avoid releasing the citric acid too early.

– Stuff and cook: Immediately stuff and cook all the mixed meat. The temperature should be maintained at 135-150° F for over an hour to ensure all the coating has melted off and the citric acid has bonded with the meat adequately.

Sausages prepared with encapsulated citric acid have an extended shelf life but aren’t always perfectly shelf-stable. To improve the sausage’s durability, add curing agents to the mixture. 

Using more ECA will also improve the sausage’s shelf life and stability. The recommended 4 oz. per 100 lbs. should provide the sausage with a low enough pH level to last on the shelf.

It’s worth noting that encapsulated citric acid is not suitable for sausages that aren’t prepared with heat, such as dry products. For these types of sausages, a starter culture or curing agent must be used to initiate the curing process.

When used correctly, sausage with ECA added is nearly indistinguishable from fermented and dry-aged summer sausages. The citric acid adds a tang remarkably similar to that of lactic acid and gives the final product a relatively stable shelf life. 

So go ahead and give it a try to elevate your sausage game.

In Conclusion

Encapsulated citric acid is a must-have ingredient for any sausage-making enthusiast or outdoor adventurer. With its tangy flavor, extended shelf life, and ease of use, it’s a game-changer that can help you prepare delicious and nutritious meals anywhere, anytime. 

So, go ahead and give it a try, and you’ll see why it’s becoming a go-to ingredient in the world of sausage making.

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