The Simple Ingredient That Makes Up About Half Of All Hot Dogs

Hot dogs are an American summer favorite, consumed en masse at ballparks and backyard cookouts. In truth, based on the best "ballpark figures" of the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC), Americans eat about 20 billion or so of them on an annual basis. That's a lot of frankfurters, even if you throw out the estimates of street corner and ballpark vendors and simply count the number of hot dogs sold in supermarkets and other retail outlets, which is a confirmed 9 billion, per the NHDSC.

Or perhaps the numbers seem so high because so few people actually seem to know what's in the hot dogs they're eating. A few years ago, organic meat company Applegate polled over 1000 Americans. The results, released via PR Newswire, were fascinating: 43% of Americans claimed to be frightened of finding the ingredients in their hot dogs. In truth, there's very little to be afraid of when it comes to hot dogs. Unless you're scared of water, that is. As it turns out, water is one of the main ingredients. According to a 2008 study published in the Annals of Diagnostic Pathology, water accounts for 57% of the median weight in hot dogs. Britannica quotes a similar number, noting that the nutritional breakdown for hot dogs is 55% water, with fats and proteins totaling 40 to 45%.

What are hot dogs made from?

According to the Annals of Diagnostics Pathology, the first listed ingredient in the hot dog brands they studied was meat; the second was water. The former, in this case, means meat trimmed away from choice cuts of beef, pork, or chicken, observes The Humane League. This meat is then finely ground before being stuffed into casings. Typically, hot dog casings are made from animal intestines or animal-sourced collagens, notes the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and if left on the finished product, will be listed among the ingredients. These ingredients, including binders and flavorings like celery and cherry powder, are commonly used in hot dogs — so too are nitrates and nitrites, per the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council (NHDSC).

Not all hot dogs are cured with artificial preservatives like nitrites or nitrates, per Britannica. However, these are commonly included to prevent harmful bacteria from forming that could cause botulism. These preservatives also help maintain hot dogs' distinctive red or pink color. But there is controversy over their health impact. It should be noted, as Healthline reports, that they have been linked to both positive and negative physical behaviors.