They are a beloved food served at barbecues, birthday parties and ballparks. But deep down we all know that the basic hotdog is not a healthy thing to eat. Recently, food chemists got together to see if a healthier fat could be used in the hotdog-making process to make these processed treats healthier for those who love them. Here’s what they found.
It was an effort to replace animal fat (saturated fat) in hotdogs, sausages, hamburgers and other not-so-optimal foods as far as nutrition is concerned. Along the way, scientists reported an advance in solving the mystery of why hot dogs are troublesome when animal fat is substituted out. Their report is in the “Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.”
The problem has been that the healthier vegetable oils give hotdogs an unpleasant, tough texture.
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In the marketplace, some brands of sausage have been reformulated with an olive-oil-in-water emulsion as a source of more healthful fat. With consumers gobbling up tens of billions of hot dogs each year, and the typical frankfurter packing 80% of its calories from fat, hot dogs have become a prime candidate for reformulation.
Some hot dogs reformulated with vegetable oil develop an unpleasant, chewy texture. The researchers wanted to uncover the chemistry behind that change. so that they could help guide food companies toward a better version of a low-fat hotdog or sausage.
Let’s call it hotdog science! Using a lab instrument called an infrared spectrometer, the research group verified that sausages made with the heart-healthy olive oil emulsion stabilized with the protein casein were slightly tougher.
But when frankfurters were made with an emulsion stabilized with a combination of casein and the mouthful of an additive called “microbial transglutaminase,” the sausage become far tougher. Their lab study revealed a complicated-sounding process by which the healthier fats ended up making sausages tougher than those made with old-fashioned animal fat.
So, to answer the original question, so far, we can make healthier hotdogs, but they are not as soft and juicy and fun to eat. In spite of this result, there are many brands of “veggie dogs” on the market that contain a bounty of essential nutrients. Reading the health information on a package actually reveals surprisingly healthy, nutrient-dense hotdogs.
Until they can engineer a low-fat hotdog that’s palatable, switching out hotdogs for the non-meat version every so often is a very strong step toward better nutrition. And watch out for condiments, which are high in salt and low in nutrition.