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HOT FAT! Great Pemmican secret #2

I mentioned that there are a couple of tricks to making great pemmican. One well known online guide cautions against using melted tallow that is too hot as it might cook your dried meat that you have taken pains to keep raw as the heat can activate and denature the enzymes found in raw meat that help you to digest it and derive maximum nutritional value. This is not really a problem though if the meat is completely dry because the enzymes require water in order to be activated. According to the amazing historical pemmican resource that I cannot recommend more highly: The Fat of the Land by Vilhjalmur Stefansson, Native Americans would sometimes use fat that was hot enough to fry donuts which is like 350 degrees Fahrenheit!

One good reason to use fat that’s pretty hot and not just melted is to make sure that the ground meat fibers get completely saturated with hot fat. If not then your pemmican will have a weird mouth feel as described in the first secret to great pemmican post. The fat doesn’t have to be super hot when you combine it with the meat as long as you keep the mixture hot until the meat is completely saturated. I will usually mix the ingredients in a double boiler to make sure they stay warm until they are fully saturated and the mixture takes on a much darker hue. You can even cook the mixture a little until it gets even darker. It seems that the darker the pemmican the better. Pemmican that looks very light and pale in color is bound to be unpalatable.

Using a double boiler can also keep the mixture soft enough while you fill molds or pans for making pemmican bars. If you want to get really traditional you can fill a buffalo hide bag with pulverized meat which you then pour hot fat into. This technique would require fat that is very hot, well over 300F as mentioned above.

It’s also worth noting that the temperature required to kill pathogenic microbes on meat is the same temperature that will denature, or “kill”, the enzymes, and that meat has to be wet in order for the microbes to be killed otherwise they can go into a dormant, heat resistant state ready to resume their biological process, which include their own enzymes, at a later date when conditions are favorable again. Of course we want to use meat produced by operations that should be free of pathogens or use other methods besides heat to make sure we are not ingesting these harmful agents.

I’m not sure how much you can fry and brown the dried meat before it reduces the nutritional value and/or how much that would improve the taste of the final product. That’s why I’m sharing this information here so people have a good point from which to start experimenting and then hopefully share their experiences.

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The BIG SECRET you need to know in order to make GREAT PEMMICAN!

Good stuff but hard to chew.

Ok everyone, this is it, time to spill the beans! This information needs to get out there so we can finally dispel the myth that pemmican is nasty stuff that you would only eat if you had nothing else just to avoid starvation.

The problem with the way we usually try to make pemmican is that we’re trying to use about 50% tallow by weight in the recipe. 50%-60% are traditional and so we just use that much tallow, as in rendered organ fat (or suet). The problem is that tallow has a melting point of about 120F so when you try to chew pemmican made with only tallow and meat it will never melt in your mouth. You just keep chewing and chewing and nothing happens until you just have to swallow it whole and it just feel really weird in your mouth the whole time. Apparently mouth feel makes a huge difference in how you experience flavor, way more than I could have ever imagined. Pemmican that would otherwise taste great, especially when made with sun dried meat that tastes amazing on it own, tastes really God awful when it doesn’t feel right and doesn’t melt in your mouth after a few chews like any normal energy/protein bar would do.

I solved this issue without really understanding it by producing pemmican that contained a lot of dried fruit, nuts and raw honey. The inclusion of those other ingredients with only 30% tallow ultimately produced a normal enough mouth feel that the flavors of the quality ingredients used could shine through in a pemmican product that wasn’t really that traditional.

So what if you don’t want to use fruits, nuts and honey in your pemmican? A real traditional pemmican with only meat and fat should have much better shelf life and is also perfect for a ketogenic diet where about 80% of your caloric intake comes from fat and the other 20% from protein. Obviously then some other fat could be included. Something with a much lower melting point should solve the mouth feel problem by lowering the over all melting point of the pemmican. I believe that Native Americans had already solved this issue a long time ago by using a combination of tallow and rendered bone marrow fat. According to the amazing historical pemmican resource that I cannot recommend more highly: The Fat of the Land by Vilhjalmur Stefansson, the best pemmican always included marrow fat. Marrow fat has a much softer texture than hard, waxy tallow and substituting enough of it for tallow in the standard pemmican recipe ought to be a huge improvement. Marrow fat is also supposed to have nutritional benefits beyond the very healthy fats already supplied by tallow.

The problem with marrow fat is that it may take a lot of bones to make enough to be able to produce an appreciable quantity of pemmican for you and your family. Also I’ve never tried it myself so I don’t know how much to use. I’m not really in a position to render fat from bones myself right now and I haven’t had any luck getting anyone to do it for me yet. I’m certainly willing to pay a fair price for a small quantity to experiment with (hint, hint…;)). I have tried using pork lard instead, replacing half the tallow with it and it’s definitely easier to chew and swallow but I’m not sure that’s the best solution yet. There are a number of other things you could try though. Coconut oil immediately comes to mind but it changes from solid to liquid so easily in summer heat that I’m not sure that would be such a good option either. A relatively small amount of oil that is liquid through a normal room temperature range might be just the thing, or not, I don’t know, that’s why I’m putting these ideas out there so different people can experiment and together we can build a knowledge base to work from.

I think that marrow fat is probably the best solution as tried and true traditional methods always are but again it might not be that easy to implement so no harm in experimenting with alternatives. As I can attest the fruit/nut/honey alternative worked pretty well. Other alternative might work just as well if not better. If you give it a go please post some kind of short summary of your experience here in the comments, thanks!

Feel free to quote any part or all of this post on any site as long as you provide a prominent link back to the original here on this site. Thanks!

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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.