If there is one product, Russians are most passionate about – it is “Kolbasa” – sausage. THIS is the food generations of Soviets grew up on. Kolbasa became the food symbol of the USSR and rumors are that it was a change in recipe that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Or at least it was the first sign that the empire is not sustainable.
Post October Revolution (1917) decades were extremely tough for the country. Young Soviet Republic struggled to produce enough food to feed the population. Meat was especially in demand and country’s production of meat was not sufficient. In addition to feeding people, Bolshevik government had political aspirations – to show the entire world that the Soviet Republic is prosperous and to keep the local population happy.
In 1936 Stalin invited Anastas Mikoyan, who was in charge of food industry and called for innovation and for purchasing technologies abroad. Anastas Mikoyan traveled to the US and visited many food plants. He was a progressive man, eager to learn and adopt the technologies. He liked many innovations, present in the US at that time, and among those was bologna sausage, which he had seen at the meat factory in Chicago.
Soon after his return to Moscow, a deal was signed and a first Russian – American sausage plant started to produce sausages of several types. Bologna-kind sausage became the most popular product.
The American recipe was altered though – bologna sausage had high fat content and this sausage was called ” Doktorskaya kolbasa” (Doctor sausage), since it had almost 99% of high quality meat. The idea was to provide Soviet consumers with high quality, nutritious, healthy and tasty every day food.
Here is the exact recipe of Doktorskaya kolbasa that was used as industry standard from 1936 till 1974:
Quantities of ingredients to produce 100 kg of Doktorskaya kolbasa:
25 kg of beef meat
70 kg of semi-lean pork meat
3 liters of milk
2 liters of eggs
2 kg of salt and 200 gr of sugar
30 gr of cardamom
50 gr of ascorbic acid (color stabilizer)
Manufacturing technology included dicing and mixing all ingredients in a homogenous paste, filling the tubes and later drying and boiling the sausage. Final product was incredibly tasty and quite healthy.
To ensure faster adoption, the State conducted full-scale promotional campaign. Sandwiches with kolbasa were sold from street stands and vending machines. There was print advertising and there was a lot of PR. Recipes which included kolbasa were added to the first edition of the Book About Tasty and Healthy Food (first national cookbook). There was even a plan to commission famous writers to write a novel about sausage, but that initiative did fail.
Soviet consumers loved the new product, and Mikoyan’s dream that every worker will have a sandwich with sausage for breakfast soon came true. It is interesting that the “ideal kolbasa sandwich” is different in Soviet time and in present. Now people prefer thin slices of sausage and no butter, before it was always a thick slice of sausage on a buttered bread. Btw, unlike sandwiches in the US, our sandwiches are usually open sandwiches, with one piece of bread.
In addition to sandwiches, which made perfect breakfast, snack or lunch, people started to use kolbasa in a variety of dishes, from the famous Russian (or Olivier) salad to fried eggs.
In addition to Doktorskaya kolbasa, there were other varieties, but Doktorskaya really won the hearts of consumers. However in the 60s and beginning of the 70s, USSR faced tough times again. Bad harvests led to decrease of livestock numbers. Kolbasa started to disappear from stores. People were very unhappy.
You may wonder – why bother? Couldn’t people just buy ham or lunch meat instead of kolbasa? The answer is – there was no ham either. People witnessed empty shelves and had to stay in lines for food. That was a disaster, because government propaganda said that USSR is ahead of the US in food production, but reality did not match TV reports.
In 1974 government made the worst decision – to adjust the recipe of kolbasa. Long gone were times when kolbasa consisted of pure meat. New standard allowed to add bone flour, starch, soya and other fillers. Needless to say – taste plummeted. However, kolbasa became available again and although consumers noticed the difference in taste – they did not boycott the product.
There were thousands jokes on the subject though. A very popular one was: “Why do I find strange inclusions in kolbasa, which costs 2 roubles 90 kopecks per kilo? And what do you think – we will take a dog out of a kennel for that money?”. New recipe was never publicized, people said that there are two top secrets in the USSR – composition of the nuclear bomb and kolbasa recipe. And many people still think that either change of kolbasa recipe led to the collapse of Soviet system or it had predicted it.
Now store counters are overflowing with sausages of thousand kinds. However, the taste of even the most expensive ones is mediocre. Manufacturers add stickers that say “does not contain soya”, claim that sausage is produced from the finest ingredients and heavily invest in marketing. But kolbasa still seems a bit soapy, has very long shelf life and is avoided by health concsious people.
Producing kolbasa according to the standard of 1936 may be a good marketing opportunity for one of the brands. I am pretty sure that it will be done sooner or later.
© 2016 Tatiana Golubeva. All rights reserved.