If you’re looking for an incredible health food to add to your diet, look no further than pemmican. This one-of-a-kind food dates back hundreds of years to the Native Americans and is still around today. Pemmican is perfect for athletes, outdoor adventurers, and anyone looking for a nutrient-dense snack.
Despite its phenomenal health benefits, pemmican is a little-known superfood that few individuals take advantage of, and even fewer people know how to make on their own.
This article will go over what exactly pemmican is, describe its many nutritious qualities, and provide a fantastic pemmican recipe so you can whip some up right at home.
What is Pemmican?
Unfortunately, few people today know what pemmican is and therefore miss out on its many wonderful health benefits. Pemmican is a high-calorie, nutrient-dense concoction of dried, powdered meat and rendered fat.
This food dates back to the 1700s when Native Americans created pemmican as a shelf-stable, high-energy food that could sustain a person on long journeys or throughout brutal winters. The traditional meat to use in pemmican is bison, as Native Americans had access to buffalo and successfully hunted them.
However, deer, beef, elk, moose, caribou, or any other meat can also be used so long as it can be thoroughly dried. Berries can be added to pemmican for additional flavor and nutrients–cranberries, cherries, currants, chokeberries, blueberries, and juneberries are all possible options.
Today, people use all types of dried fruit in their pemmican and even add more untraditional ingredients, such as nuts, nut butters, seeds, honey, and maple syrup. Pemmican is dark in color with a dense texture and tough consistency. It has a strong, gamey flavor that is enjoyed by many, although may be an acquired taste for certain palettes.
The History of Pemmican
Pemmican originated from the Native Americans, but Europeans also came to consume the product and found it especially useful for long, Arctic expeditions. Pemmican became an important part of food trade in 1779 when Peter Pond, a British explorer, acquired it from the Chipewyans.
The ingenious food began getting shipped to fur trading posts in various regions, including Cumberland House, Norway House, and Fort Alexander. The Royal Navy brought along beef pemmican, which was made in England, on Arctic journeys.
Métis are largely responsible for the presence of pemmican at fur trading posts across several regions and along the Assiniboine, North Saskatchewan, and Red Rivers. Métis are a group of Aboriginal individuals in Canada that are of mixed European and Indigenous ancestry.
In the late 1700s and early 1800s, Métis would hunt buffalo, butcher the meat, and create pemmican. They would then ship it to fur trading posts, where it became a staple in the diets of travelers involved in the fur trade. Pemmican was an ideal food for explorers, as it was lightweight, nutrient-packed, and virtually nonperishable.
The original preparation of pemmican by American Indians dictates how this powerhouse food is prepared today. First, the Native Americans sliced the freshly butchered bison meat thinly and set it out to dry. The meat would be dried naturally with the sun and wind, and roughly 6 pounds of bison meat would yield only a single pound of dried bison meat.
The pemmican-making process would continue by pounding the dried meat to break it apart into smaller pieces. The meat would then be made into a powder with either a stone or wooden hammer upon a stone or wooden block.
Next, some form of liquid fat, (typically the rendered bison fat), was added to the powdered bison meat, sometimes along with some form of crushed berry. The mixture was kneaded until fully combined and stored in a rawhide bag, which was cut from the bison during the butchering process.
Health Benefits of Pemmican
Pemmican has several awesome qualities that can improve the lifestyle and well-being of all types of people. Incorporating this unique nutritional wonder into your regular diet will provide a major boost to your protein consumption and energy levels. Read below to learn the fantastic health benefits of pemmican and its components.
The combination of pure protein and fat in pemmican make it such a great survival food–so great, in fact, that the Inuit people of the Alaskan tundra were able to survive on a diet of nothing but pemmican for weeks on end. (Also see 7 best tasting protein powders here).
Pemmican can last for such a long time without refrigeration in part because the fat is rendered. Pure, unprocessed fat like the kind used for pemmican is healthy in moderation. In fact, consuming a small amount of fat with a meal helps with nutrient absorption.
Due to the high concentration of meat in pemmican, it’s extremely high in protein. Most types of pemmican contain over 20 grams of protein per serving, which is over one-third of the recommended daily amount.
Protein is an essential nutrient that many people don’t consume enough of. Bones, muscles, blood, cartilage, and skin are all made up at least in part by protein. Additionally, enzymes, hormones, and vitamins can’t be produced without protein.
Protein is essential for muscle recovery following any kind of physical activity. Exercise causes microscopic tears in muscle fiber, which must then be rebuilt.
Protein is needed to rebuild muscle, and you should always consume some following a workout to ensure a fast recovery. This in part why pemmican is popular with certain groups of athletes, like long-distance bikers and runners. After your next workout, chow down on some pemmican to give your body the protein it needs to recover.
Antioxidants and Vitamin C
As mentioned previously in this article, pemmican is often made with crushed berries. Historically, Native Americans occasionally added cranberries to their pemmican. The cranberries contributed a high level of vitamin C to the food and with it a variety of health benefits.
Vitamin C is necessary for the maintenance of tissues and bones in the body. This vitamin also helps boost the immune system, heal wounds, and prevent a number of diseases and conditions including the common cold. It was thanks to the cranberries in pemmican than many colonists survived scurvy.
Another berry known to have been incorporated into pemmican by the Native Americans is the juneberry. Juneberries, which are also called saskatoons, are proven to have greater levels of antioxidants than more popular berries including strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries.
When compared directly to blueberries, juneberries are notably higher in protein, calcium, fiber, and vitamins C and A. Miraculously, when juneberries are combined with meat and fat to make pemmican, the antioxidant level is heightened. What’s more, the antioxidants help to preserve the meat so that it can stay fresh over exceptionally long periods of time.
It’s recommended by medical professionals to consume antioxidants in food sources, instead of taking antioxidant supplements. So, pemmican made with juneberries is an excellent way to follow that nutritional recommendation.
If you decide to make homemade pemmican, be sure to add a dried berry that’s rich in antioxidants and vitamin C. You have many options of berry to choose from, and they’ll add a bright flavor to your pemmican.
Bison: A Superior Meat Choice
Bison, which is the meat of buffalo, is the traditional meat used in pemmican and has many health benefits of its own. It contains very high levels of essential vitamins and minerals, including protein, iron, zinc, and vitamin B12. Like all meat, bison is also very high in protein.
Bison stands apart from other types of meat, however, because it’s a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Although omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for the body to function properly, they can’t be produced by the human body and must be consumed.
Omega-3 fatty acids are known to promote healthy brain function, as well as reduce the risk for a number of ailments including cancer, arthritis, and heart disease.
Industry regulations prohibit the use of hormones or routine antibiotics with bison production. Contrastingly, cattle are often raised with hormones or antibiotics, making bison a more natural and sustainable choice than beef.
If you make your own pemmican with bison, be sure to purchase grass-fed bison, as grass feeding is a more eco- and animal-friendly method of meat production than traditional grain feeding. Pemmican is an awesome excuse to incorporate bison into your diet and reap the nutritional benefits it offers.
As has been made clear in this section, pemmican packs an incredible amount of nutritional value into a small amount of food. Protein and fat come together with antioxidants and other nutrients from berries to create the ultimate survival food.
The Secret to the Shelf Life of Pemmican
Pemmican is considered the ultimate survival food partially because it can last for years without refrigeration. It would be difficult to find another natural, protein-dense food with as long of a shelf life as pemmican.
How is this possible? The secret is in the rendering of the fat included in pemmican, as well as the drying of the meat. Rendering separates pure fat from impurities, which is why rendered fat lasts for so long. Dried meat can last for extended periods of time without refrigeration, unlike fresh meat, because the drying process thwarts the production of bacteria.
Adding salt to pemmican can extend its longevity even further, since sodium is a highly effective preservative. When the meat is dried completely and the fat is properly rendered, the shelf life of pemmican is virtually indefinite.
Pemmican vs. Jerky
Pemmican can be compared to jerky, as both are dried, portable meat products. However, the preparation of these two foods differ and make for separate nutritional benefits. To make jerky, cured meat is dried in strips for shelf-stability and a chewy texture.
Although pemmican is also made using dried meat, an extra step is required; once the meat is dried, it’s made into a powder before being combined with fat and berries.
The powdering of the meat in pemmican results in a higher caloric value per serving when compared to jerky, making it a better choice for long camping or backpacking trips and extended periods of physical activity.
Pemmican for Camping and Outdoor Recreation
Pemmican is ideal for a variety of outdoor recreational activities, such as biking, hiking, camping, and backpacking. When you’re out for a long hike, you don’t want too many heavy snacks weighing you down, but calorie consumption is essential for all types of physical activity.
Pemmican allows you to cut down on bulk without sacrificing the fuel your body needs. Pemmican stays fresh for years without refrigeration, making it the perfect food to take along on camping trips, when you need nutritious food that won’t spoil without refrigeration. Packing in around 800 calories per serving, pemmican is even dense enough to pass for a meal.
The lightweight yet high-energy quality of pemmican makes it fantastic for competitive athletes and endurance sports. Bonking simply isn’t an option during, for example, a bike race that lasts for several hours.
To stay competitive, you need to keep up your strength, energy, and focus, which requires a considerable number of calories. Pemmican is so light that you’ll hardly notice it in your pack, and a mere four-ounce portion contains quadruple the calories of a typical energy bar.
Pemmican allows you to achieve optimal physical performance without all those expensive sports drinks, chews, and bars.
It’s Your Turn to Make Pemmican at Home
After reading all about the fascinating history of pemmican and the broad scope of benefits it offers, you’re undoubtedly wondering how to get your hands on some.
Well, in that case, you’re in luck. You can make pemmican right at home by following the fantastic recipes below–no genuine rawhide bag required. You’ll be enjoying some nutrient-rich, ultra-satisfying pemmican in no time.
This recipe is from the Alderleaf Wilderness College. It makes for a basic, traditional pemmican and an authentic flavor. This recipe also gives you some freedom to personalize by choosing your favorite type of lean meat, fat, and berry.
- 4 cups of a lean ground meat of your choice. You can use bison to be traditional, but deer, caribou, moose, or even beef would work well. Make sure to purchase the meat double ground from your butcher.
- 3 cups of dried fruit. Use your favorite dried berry–any variety will work well. Consider using juneberries for their exceptional nutritional value.
- 2 cups of rendered fat. To purchase the fat, talk to a local butcher. Also called suet, you can purchase many different types of fat. Beef suet is the most common.
- Take the ground meat and spread it very thinly on a baking sheet. Place the meat in a 180 degree F oven to dry out for at least 8 hours. When it’s done, the meat should have a crisp, leathery texture with no moisture left.
- Transfer the dried meat to a blender or food processor. Process the meat until it reaches a powder consistency, and remove.
- Place the dried fruit in the blender or food processor. Grind the fruit, but leave small lumps; it shouldn’t be as fine-textured as the meat.
- In a small saucepan over medium heat, warm up the rendered fat until it becomes a liquid.
- In a large bowl, combine the meat and the berries. Then slowly add the fat to the mixture and combine it by hand. There should only be enough fat to make the meat and berries come together. You’ll need less fat when making pemmican in a warmer climate and more fat when making it in a colder climate.
This next recipe was originally published by the University of Minnesota, and it makes three and a half pounds of pemmican. The process of making pemmican in this recipe is quite similar to the one listed above. However, this recipe includes honey and unsalted nuts, making it less traditional, but also giving it more sweetness and depth of flavor.
- 4 cups of dried meat, either deer, moose, caribou, or beef
- 3 cups of dried fruit, such as currents, dates, apricots, or apples
- 2 cups of rendered beef fat
- 1 cup of unsalted nuts
- 1 Tablespoon of honey
- Spread the meat on a cookie sheet in a thin layer. Place it in a 180 degree F oven overnight. When the meat is done, it should be sinewy and crispy.
- Using a mortar and pestle, grind up the dried meat so that it becomes a powder.
- Add the dried fruit. Grind to break up the fruit, keeping some in larger pieces. Having some bigger pieces of fruit in the mixture will help with binding.
- Cube the beef fat and cook in a saucepan over medium heat until fully rendered.
- Pour the fat into the mixture of meat and fruit, then stir to combine.
- Add the nuts and honey and thoroughly combine.
- Mold the pemmican into balls or spread into a shallow pan and cut into bars.
Storing your homemade pemmican is easy since you’ll likely eat it all long, long before it goes rancid. You can place the pemmican in an airtight container and keep in a dry, cool, and dark cupboard for many years.
Pemmican has been reported to last half of a century or more. If you don’t fully dry the meat in your pemmican or add a perishable ingredient, store it in the freezer to ensure freshness.
Pemmican may not be the most popular snack around, but it’s not one to ignore. Packed with protein and nutrients, this Native American survival food gives your body the strength and energy it needs to do just above anything.
Carry some pemmican with you whenever you go out so that you always have a filling, energy-boosting snack on hand. Pemmican is so calorie-dense that it can even pass for a meal replacement when you’re in a pinch.
You have the ability to cook up some amazing pemmican right in your own kitchen with the recipes provided in this article, so what are you waiting for? Add pemmican to your diet for the ultimate boost of energy in any situation, whether you’re hitting the gym, climbing a mountain, or just plain hungry.THIS POST MAY CONTAIN AFFILIATE LINKS. PLEASE READ MY DISCLOSURE FOR MORE INFO.