Friday Flashback: Ever wanted to know what’s really in hotdogs?

By Seriously Science | August 16, 2013 12:00 pm

Photo: flickr/sarae

Of the 1000+ papers we have blogged about, this one is probably my  favorite. Not only is it technically surprising (the scientists were able to identify which tissues and organs are present in the “meat” of different brands of supermarket-bought hotdogs by staining thin sections of the weiners), but it’s also supremely disgusting (nerve tissue and blood vessels…ugh). A winning combo, if there ever was one! Be sure to check out the awesome figure after the jump!

Applying morphologic techniques to evaluate hotdogs: what is in the hotdogs we eat?

“Americans consume billions of hotdogs per year resulting in more than a billion dollars in retail sales. Package labels typically list some type of meat as the primary ingredient. The purpose of this study is to assess the meat and water content of several hotdog brands to determine if the package labels are accurate. Eight brands of hotdogs were evaluated for water content by weight. A variety of routine techniques in surgical pathology including routine light microscopy with hematoxylin-eosin-stained sections, special staining, immunohistochemistry, and electron microscopy were used to assess for meat content and for other recognizable components. Package labels indicated that the top-listed ingredient in all 8 brands was meat; the second listed ingredient was water (n = 6) and another type of meat (n = 2). Water comprised 44% to 69% (median, 57%) of the total weight. Meat content determined by microscopic cross-section analysis ranged from 2.9% to 21.2% (median, 5.7%). The cost per hotdog ($0.12-$0.42) roughly correlated with meat content. A variety of tissues were observed besides skeletal muscle including bone (n = 8), collagen (n = 8), blood vessels (n = 8), plant material (n = 8), peripheral nerve (n = 7), adipose (n = 5), cartilage (n = 4), and skin (n = 1). Glial fibrillary acidic protein immunostaining was not observed in any of the hotdogs. Lipid content on oil red O staining was graded as moderate in 3 hotdogs and marked in 5 hotdogs. Electron microscopy showed recognizable skeletal muscle with evidence of degenerative changes. In conclusion, hotdog ingredient labels are misleading; most brands are more than 50% water by weight. The amount of meat (skeletal muscle) in most brands comprised less than 10% of the cross-sectional surface area. More expensive brands generally had more meat. All hotdogs contained other tissue types (bone and cartilage) not related to skeletal muscle; brain tissue was not present.”

Bonus figure from the full text:

Fig. 1. (A) Brand C. Low-magnification view of cross section showing scattered fragments of skeletal muscle. Many of the vacuoles stain for lipid. The amorphous eosinophilic material represents filler material. (B) Brand B. High-magnification appearance of skeletal muscle (meat) in cross section. Ghosts of subsarcolemmal nuclei are visible. (C) Brand B. High magnification of a band of connective tissue resembling a tendon. (D) Brand A. Fragment of bone tissue at high magnification. (E) Brand B. Fragment of soft tissue containing several blood vessels at high magnification. (F) Brand G. Plant material used as a filler in many hotdogs at high magnification. (G) Brand C. Cross section of a peripheral nerve fascicle at high magnification. (H) Brand E. High-magnification appearance of a fragment of articular cartilage tissue. (I) Brand D. High-magnification appearance showing marked lipid and fat highlighted on oil red O staining. (J) Brand D. Ultrastructural appearance of skeletal muscle showing still visible Z bands and discohesion of the myofilaments resulting in obscuring of the normal banding pattern of the sarcomere (original magnification ×22000).”






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  • Jim Nelson

    Only one real surprise. Plant material. Just for grins, check out instant potatoes.

  • Frank Navas

    Everyone knows this, but, what are governments doing to regulate false and misleading products and advertising.

  • robynozz

    Got half a human molar in a sausage once.

    • Mahesh Sabharwal

      ughh. that means someone must have been murdered and mixed in with the cattle! read about such a thing in a robin cook novel once. never believed it would be possible.

      • Christel Platt

        Now you have me wanting to read this book! :)

        • Mahesh Sabharwal

          Toxin by Robin Cook

    • Christel Platt

      I hope you are a millionaire now!?

  • Oliver Holz

    this article is bunk, soylent green is delicious

  • Dee Stonewall

    OMG, what yummy stuff . . . !! Give me seconds, puleeeze!

  • Keith Weiland

    Who ever said meat means “Skeletal Muscle”? Even skeletal muscle is 75% water so if nothing else was added there would still only be 25% meat if you analyse the hotdog in this way but meat != Skeletal Muscle, Meat = Muscle, Veins and Arteries, Fat, Nerves, Tendons Etc. Exactly what was found in this “study”. Try the same thing with an Apple and see what you get, 80% water, 5% core, 2% Peel and only 14% actual pulp, Shocking!!!!

  • Monswine

    Why do we glorify native americans for supposedly using every part of the buffalo but when we make things with the leftovers like sausage and gelatin we feel all icky about it? False advertising sometimes, mostly delicious.

    • Say what

      They dont eat the whole animal, they use the whole animal. Huge difference.

      • Monswine

        eating is a use. What else would you have us do with it?

        • Say what

          Sure, it is a use. I strongly doubt native Americans would need to scrap off grisle or crack bones for marrow to eat when there Is probably 1k pounds of meat to be eaten, that is all.

          • Monswine

            folks have been eating bone marrow since prehistory but I understand where you’re coming from where non-edible use is concerned.

  • shooter2009

    If you really want to get grossed out, read the filth limit standards put out by the USDA for different food products. For example, apple butter – I guarantee you won’t eat apple butter ever again.

  • Sanjosemike

    When you eat meat, you are eating muscle, veins, arterioles, fat, nerves, fragments of tendons, joint capsules, synovial tissue, bone, etc.. When ground down, those are indistinguishable from, well…ground meat.
    The fat content is very high, so you might only eat a couple/month. Try not to burn them because it leaves nitrosamines. You can also eat soy hotdogs. Much lower in fat. You have to get kind of used to them.
    Heck, you ain’t going to live forever. A couple of real hotdogs a month never killed anyone.

  • Jack

    Have a hankering for a hot dog. Look at this article and visuals first.

  • Virtuous2012

    Are these stats true for kosher meat as well?

  • Shon JFrds

    Hotdogs are why we have the term, “Ignorance is bliss.”


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