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Kabanos: what’s inside the snappy thin smoked sausage from Poland | History and contested origins

ByDaria Malinowska

Jan 11, 2023

It is like a Slim Jim but of better quality. You can take it with you on trips, serve it for breakfast, and use it in dinner dishes. What am I talking about? Kabanos! It is undoubtedly one of the most popular as well as versatile types of sausage in Poland. But what is it exactly? And what’s with the name?

Kabanos is a thin, long, and dried sausage usually folded in half. Because of the smoking processes as well as spices, they are often dark red in color. Together with the spices, the taste consists of noticeable roasted cured meat notes.

History

Not much is known about the history of the sausage. All I could find are claims that the production of Kabanos in Poland goes back to the 1920s and 1930s when it became very popular. Although it was local, the production encompassed various regional varieties. How they came to be and who “discovered” Kabanos, we will never know. According to some historians, kabanos has been the “marching” food for decades. Travelers, hikers, and soldiers used to hang them around their necks like necklaces so as to eat them without stopping for a break.

It’s kind of hard to say what came first, the name or the product itself. The name, you see, stems from the term kaban, which was used in 19th-century Poland to denote a young male hog fed extensively with potatoes in order to fatten it specifically for making this style of sausage. Interestingly, the word originally came from Turkic languages where it refers to a boar. Ok, but what makes it stand out from all other types of meats? you may ask.

Ingredients and characteristic features

Since it is a sausage, it is of course primarily made of meat (but it doesn’t have to be, vegan options are also available). Although you can find versions made from chicken, venison, veal, or even horse or ostrich meat, the classic kabanos is made from pork. Remember that in kabanos, meat must be first on the ingredients list. Moreover, the amount of meat used to produce this sausage should be almost twice as big as the final product. Therefore, to produce around 100 grams of kabanos one should use up even between 150 and 200 grams of meat.

Bend… and snap!

Perhaps the most characteristic thing about Kabanos is the clear snapping sound produced when you brake off a part of the link. This effect is granted by the drying and smoking processes that make the meat this fragile. Moreover, the same processes also affect the color, taste, and smell of the product. The cross-section of kabanos should be red with spiced meat and dotted with small specks of fat.

When it comes to the spice mix used in the stuffing, it includes pepper, nutmeg, and cumin. Various additives can be also added to the mass, for instance, walnut, yellow cheese, garlic, or chili. Nevertheless, many perceive such ingredients as unnecessary frills. Fro this reason, the classic version remains the most popular.

Among the biggest advantages of kabanos are, apart from its convenient form, its original taste and extended shelf life. Moreover, it is very calorie-dense. Since it’s rich in proteins, even a few bites of this thin sausage can satisfy hunger.

Controversial origins, or Polish-German dispute

Polish people are not the only ones claiming that this meaty product originates from their country – German producers also argue the same. Who is right, nobody knows for sure. Some say that German cuisine is all about the different kinds of sausage. Nevertheless, the Polish may be closer to being regarded as such since the European Commission has entered “Polish kabanos” in their register of Guaranteed Traditional Specialties (TSG).

Of course, this does not mean that the product can be manufactured solely in Poland. In practice, this means that German producents are still able to produce kabanos, but without the possibility of sticking the EU logo on their packaging. This is the case, for instance, with mozzarella cheese produced not only in Italy but also in many other European countries.

Where to buy it?

Due to the fact that in Central and Eastern Europe, there exists a long tradition of taking similar products with you when traveling, you can buy various kinds of kabanos in different packs (for a single person or a family pack to share) available in supermarkets as well as smaller shops.

Have you ever tried this product? Or maybe you have something similar in your own country? Share with us in the comments!

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