What’s Really Inside? The Anatomy of a Hot Dog

Children eating hotdogs

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Are there pig snouts and ears in your hot dog? Not unless they're listed, but some of the ingredients commonly used may still be surprising.

In 2016, shoppers spent more than $2.6 billion on hot dogs in U.S. supermarkets. In fact, the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council says that during peak hot dog season, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, Americans typically consume 7 billion hot dogs ... to the tune of 818 hot dogs eaten every second during that timespan. That is a lot of dogs.

The country’s most beloved tube of meat comes from the Sara Lee-owned Ball Park brand, which eclipsed sales of Oscar Mayer in 2010. Other media outlets have pulled back the curtain on various hot dog ingredients in the past – and since we’re smack dab in peak hot dog season, it seems as good a time as any to take a specific look at the who’s who of hot dog ingredients.

So without further ado, here's the skinny on America's winning wiener, the Original Ball Park frank:

1. Mechanically Separated Chicken

The USDA defines mechanically separated poultry (MSP) as “a paste-like and batter-like poultry product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible tissue, through a sieve or similar device under high pressure to separate bone from the edible tissue.” Hot dogs can contain any amount of mechanically separated chicken or turkey.

2. Pork

According to 1994 USDA rules, any meat labeled as the meat it is can be taken off the bone by advanced meat recovery (AMR) machinery that "separates meat from bone by scraping, shaving, or pressing the meat from the bone without breaking or grinding the bone."

3. Water

The USDA states that hot dogs must contain less than 10 percent water.

4. Corn Syrup

Corn syrup is made from the starch of corn and is used as a thickener and sweetener, it can also add volume and soften texture. It is not the same as its vilified cousin, high-fructose corn syrup, but it is still primarily just glucose and has little (if any) nutritive value.

5. Potassium Lactate

This hydroscopic, white, odorless solid is prepared commercially by the neutralization of lactic acid with potassium hydroxide. The FDA allows its use as as a flavor enhancer, flavoring agent, humectant, pH control agent, and for inhibiting the growth of certain pathogens.

6. Salt

Hot dogs are salty, that's part of their job. And in fact, each one has about 480 milligrams, the rough equivalent of 20 percent of your recommended daily allowance.

7. Sodium Phosphates

Any of three sodium salt of phosphoric acids that can be used as a food preservative or to add texture – because texture is important when you're eating a tube of meat paste.

8. Natural Flavor

It has flavor! Under current FDA guidelines, most flavoring agents allowed to be listed as "flavor" rather specified individually, so, this remains a bit of a mystery.

9. Beef Stock

You know the drill: Boiled water with pieces of muscle, bones, joints, connective tissue and other scraps of the carcass.

10. Sodium Diacetate

This is a molecular compound of acetic acid, sodium acetate, and water of hydration. The FDA allows its use as an antimicrobial agent, a flavoring agent and adjuvant, a pH control agent, and as an inhibitor of the growth of certain pathogens.

11. Sodium Erythorbate

A sodium salt of erythorbic acid, it is often used as a preservative and helps meat-based products keep their rosy hue. Side effects have been reported, such as dizziness, gastrointestinal issues, headaches and on occasion, kidney stones.

12. Maltodextrin

Basically, a filler and/or thickening agent used in processed foods, it's a compound made from cooked starch, corn, or wheat.

13. Sodium Nitrite

This common preservative helps preserve cured meat – studies have shown that consuming sodium nitrite may increase cancer risk and trigger migraines. Animal studies have linked sodium nitrates to an increased risk of cancer.

14. Paprika Extract

An oil-based extract from the paprika plant used for color and longer shelf life.

Hot Dog Alternatives

If you seek simpler hot dogs with a minimal ingredient list, look for those made by brands specializing in natural and organic products. Applegate Farms' organic uncured beef hot dogs, for example, are non-GMO certified and contain: Organic grass-fed Beef, water, and less than 2 percent of sea salt, paprika, dehydrated onion, spices, nutmeg oil, and celery powder.

Alternatively, plant-based hot dogs have come a long way since the tofu tubes of yesteryear. Beyond Meat and Field Roast are just two delicious examples of modern plant-based frankfurters that are a great option for your health and the planet.

And lastly, some fabulous DIY options, including the uncanny marinated carrot that tastes freakishly like a real hot dog, really!