Tree Hot Dogs Are a Real Thing

Could tree-sourced cellulose change the way hot dogs are made and make us healthier in the process? bhofack2/ Coldimages /iStockphoto

Baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet — all iconic pieces of American culture. Hot dogs, along with other popular processed foods, may not be the same ones today that you ate as a kid. And in the near future, they may contain less saturated fat (animal fats) and more ... wood.

Borregaard, a Norwegian biorefinery company, is turning a waste product of the logging industry into a saturated fat substitute marketed as SenseFi, a cellulose-based ingredient we consume in reconstituted meat, among other processed foods.


Americans annually spend about $2.5 billion just on hot dogs. (The buns, condiments and the franks we buy at ballparks are not included in that number.) The National Hot Dog & Sausage Council (NHDSC) estimates that, split equally among U.S. citizens, that figure comes out to be 70 hot dogs per person, give or take a bite. During the busy summer season, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, Americans collectively eat as many as 818 hots dogs every second. The majority, 60 percent, of the franks sold in the U.S. are all-beef hot dogs, although younger Americans are more likely to choose chicken- or pork-based hot dogs.

Hot dogs are regulated by the United Stated Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, which means that in order to be called a hot dog, the product must adhere to some specific rules. Before you start listing off all the gross things we like to joke are in our hot dogs, wieners are made from beef, pork or poultry (chicken or turkey), or a combination of those meats. You can assume it comes from skeletal muscle, unless the ingredient list includes "meat by-products" or "variety meats." And then you can assume those hot dogs are made with offal. That means organ meats, such as liver, heart and tongue, as well as feet and tail.

They also may contain binders and extenders, such as nonfat dry milk, as well as spices and curing ingredients. USDA guidelines also regulate the fat content in franks. Hot dogs may contain as much as 30 percent fat or as much as 10 percent water, or 40 percent fat and water combined. This is where SenseFi enters the ingredient list. According to guidelines, meat products may contain 1 to 4 percent cellulose.

Cellulose is derived from plants; it's the primary compound that makes up plant cell walls. What makes it a popular ingredient in processed foods is that depending on its form, it can play several roles. Small cellulose particles give salad dressings and ice cream a smooth texture with a creamy mouthfeel; bigger cellulose fibers provide structure, texture and moisture to baked goods — without adding fat. SenseFi, an odorless and tasteless white cream, is used as a binder and fat substitute in processed meat.

Humans can't digest cellulose, making it an easy choice for manufacturers looking to boost the dietary fiber content in products without changing the flavor and texture of those products. Its use in foods may also help to undercut the obesity epidemic, adding complex carbohydrates and replacing saturated fats from foods that fall short. And because it's derived from plants, cellulose is a renewable and recyclable resource. If replanted, it's also carbon neutral.

SenseFi, specifically, is manufactured from nanocellulose, a microcrystallized cellulose (MCC) food additive. It was developed after more than a decade of research under the NanoVisc project at Norway's Paper and Fiber Institute. It's not the only cellulose-based food additive we consume, and it's part of a larger nanocellulose market projected to hit nearly $2 billion by 2020.

SenseFi is manufactured in Rothschild, Wisconsin, and distributed in partnership with Socius, a nutritional company in Chicago.