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What is real pemmican?

What are the fundamental characteristics and properties of actual, authentic pemmican as prepared in North America for millennia?  There are many variations but what do they all have in common that they can be called pemmican as opposed to products that are similar but differ in one or more of the fundamentals?

There are generally 2 main distinctions to be made:

  1. Ingredients used.
  2. How those ingredients are processed.

Traditionally pemmican has been made with red meat and fat from the same animal.  Most commonly it was made with American bison but other wild red meat can be used as well as beef.

Other ingredients often included dried berries and sometimes nuts or honey.  Europeans started adding salt that was not used traditionally by native Americans in any of their cuisine whatsoever.  A little salt should not detract from the properties that make real pemmican such a valuable provision.

The meat used is dried completely, it’s not left soft like jerky.  It should not be heated to a high enough temperature to destroy the enzymes present in raw meat that help to make pemmican so nutritious. The meat is then ground into a powdery consistency, neither too coarse nor too fine.

The animal fat is rendered in such a way as to completely remove all trace of water.  The melted fat is then mixed with the dry ingredients and allowed to cool in pans, moulds or even buffalo hide bags as was done traditionally on the plains.  This is definitely a high fat food, high in saturated fat, and contrary to popular pseudo-science can be consumed in relatively high amounts to take advantage of it’s caloric density and time release energy. (“New Science Destroys the Saturated Fat Myth”)

Almost all water is removed from the ingredients in order to create an extremely shelf stable product, some say it would even last for years without refrigeration, though that refers mainly to pemmican made with only meat and fat.  The addition of other ingredients like dried fruit and nuts will greatly decrease the shelf life of pemmican kept at room temperature but it can still keep fresh for a number of weeks especially if it’s vacuum sealed.  If taken on expedition into cold environments then it’s not an issue and this kind of pemmican can be kept frozen for many months until you’re ready to take it on your next journey.

When made in the traditional way pemmican is a real super food.  There are historical accounts of people surviving on little to nothing else for years and still finding it tasty and satisfying after many months.  Again this may refer more to plain meat and fat pemmicans though a pemmican high in fruit and nuts is still a superior snack and meal replacement than any normal energy or protein bars.  Some newly invented bars with meat have come on to the market recently but they use cooked meat and none of them have the high saturated animal fat content of real, traditional pemmican.

Choose your food wisely!  There has been a monumental amount of research and writing in the field of nutrition over the last few decades, much of it misleading and even just plain wrong.  We think it’s time to focus more on traditional cuisine that has stood the test of time and kept people fed and healthy for millennia.

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