Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
22 May

How to Make Pemmican

Vihljamur Stefansson, eminent anthropologist and arctic explorer, went on three expeditions into the Alaskan tundra during the first quarter of the 20th century. His discoveries – including the “blond” Inuit and previously uncharted Arctic lands – brought him renown on the world stage. People were fascinated by his approach to travel and exploration, the way he thrust himself fully into the native Inuit cultures he encountered. Stefansson studied their language, adopted their ways, and ate the same food they ate. In fact, it was the diet of the Inuit – fish, marine mammals, and other animals, with almost no vegetables or carbohydrates – that most intrigued him. He noted that, though their diet would be considered nutritionally bereft by most “experts” (hey, nothing’s changed in a hundred years!), the Inuit seemed to be in excellent health, with strong teeth, bones, and muscles. He was particularly interested in a food called pemmican.

Pemmican consists of lean, dried meat (usually beef nowadays, but bison, deer, and elk were common then) which is crushed to a powder and mixed with an equal amount of hot, rendered fat (usually beef tallow). Sometimes crushed, dried berries are added as well. A man could subsist entirely on pemmican, drawing on the fat for energy and the protein for strength (and glucose, when needed). The Inuit, Stefansson noted, spent weeks away from camp with nothing but pemmican to eat and snow to drink to no ill effect. Stefansson, a Canadian of Icelandic origin, often accompanied them on these treks and also lived off of pemmican quite happily, so its sustaining powers weren’t due to some specific genetic adaptation unique to the Inuit. In fact, when Stefansson returned home, he and colleague adopted a meat-only diet for a year, interested in its long-term effects. A controlled examination of their experience confirmed that both men remained healthy throughout.

So, pemmican has a reputation as a sort of superfood. While I’m usually leery of such claims, the fact that the stuff is essentially pure fat and protein (plus Stefansson’s accounts) made me think that maybe there was something to it. I set out to make my own batch.

I got about a pound and a half of lean, grass-fed shoulder roast, let it firm up in the freezer, then sliced it thin. After adding liberal amounts of salt and pepper, I set the oven to the lowest possible temperature (around 150 degrees) and laid out the strips of meat directly onto the rack. I cracked the oven door to prevent moisture buildup. At this point, I also put a handful of frozen wild blueberries on a small oven pan to dry out with the meat.

I let the meat dry out for about fifteen hours, or until it was crispy jerky that broke apart easily. I tossed the jerky in the food processor until it was powder. After the meat, in went the blueberries to process. Again, you want a powder.

Now I was ready to render some fat. I used grass-fed bison kidney fat, which was already diced into tiny pieces. I put about half a pound of that into a cast iron pan and cooked it slowly over super-low heat.

I made sure to stir the fat as it rendered out, and watched closely so that it wouldn’t burn. When the fat stops bubbling, the rendering is done.

Use a strainer to avoid all the crispy bits; you just want the pure, liquid fat.

Mix the meat and berry powder together, then slowly add the hot liquid fat. Pour just enough so that the fat soaks into the powder.

I think I poured too much too quickly, so I added a bit of almond meal to firm it up. Let it firm up, then cut it into squares or roll it into a ball. I went with a ball.

Pemmican will keep almost forever. Pure, dried protein and rendered (mostly saturated) fat are highly stable, so I wouldn’t worry about it going rancid. If it does, you’ll know.

Now, my pemmican wasn’t exactly delicious. In fact, it tasted a bit like bland dog food. Maybe I’ll jazz it up next time with some more salt and spices, but I don’t think pemmican is meant to be eaten for pleasure. This is utilitarian food, perfect for long treks through the wilderness. It gets the job done, and I’ll probably make it again. It definitely doesn’t taste bad; in fact, the taste grows on you after awhile.

My dog certainly enjoyed cleaning up the bowl.

Has anyone else here tried pemmican? Let me know what you think in the comment board!

You want comments? We got comments:

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  1. They make something like Pemmican in the Middle East. They call it Qawerma. It’s made with lean meat (beef or lamb) that is boiled for a really long time in salt, pepper, and allspice. After cooking it until it comes apart into shreds, you drain it and then cook it again with a lot (and I mean A LOT) of clarified butter. This was made when meat was plentiful and kept in cold storage (in vats that were sealed with fat) for winter consumption. I wonder if the origin of salamis and other sausages are in Pemmican-like preserved meats. Sopressata is easily 1:1 meat to fat. I’m making some Qawerma as I write this.

    Magouch wrote on April 5th, 2010
  2. Hmmm I’m definitely going to try this with kangaroo. sounds delicious, thanks for the discussion.

    Nicole wrote on April 30th, 2010
  3. Mark, I wonder if it might work better to make it more like a confit; cook the meat in the fat in the oven at about 150-180 degrees for several hours. The water will be cooked out this way. The French make duck and pork confit this way, and this was a traditional way to preserve the meat. Usually they add spices like cinnamon and clove. This strikes me as potentially more delicious. I’m gonna have to try it to find out for sure…

    Nico wrote on May 30th, 2010
    • I have a beautiful chicken confit in the freezer waiting for a sort of cassoulet later. But that means I have a scary amount of leftover duck fat infused with chicken fat, rosemary, and garlic. You can only eat so many green beans. Chicken and duck flavors go well with pork. Hmm, I can see a possible rustic Old World sausage type thing going on with this.

      speedwell wrote on October 18th, 2011
  4. I’ve made pemmican a few times (and then subsequently lived off what I made for the next few days) and each time I made it I also ground up macadamia nuts and some type of dried berries. It doesn’t take many berries/nuts to add a LOT of flavor and cohesion to the bar, so you don’t need to worry about it having too much sugar. I salted the meat as well and added some cayenne pepper. The sweet/salty/spicy blend was amazing. The first batch I made was gone in two nights because my friends ate it all.

    Keenan wrote on June 15th, 2010
  5. I have made pemmican several times. Only with bison suet, never with tallow. I have write ups and pictures on the web. See:

    http://paleofood.com/suet.txt
    http://paleofood.com/jerky.htm
    http://paleofood.com/pemmican.htm

    http://donwiss.com/pictures/#food

    Don Wiss wrote on July 17th, 2010
  6. I live and work in Fiji where a carb-heavy diet is the norm. Though I have access to fresh fish and some greens in my diet, a lot of my meal options are based around fried cassava or dalo (carb heavy root vegetables) and Chinese imported, low quality white rice. Reason being I live on a remote island with no markets or shops available. Any suggestions on an exercise routine that caters for a heavy carb’ thogh natural diet? I don;t want to go chrocin cardio if I can help it. Pemmican sounds a winner, I’ll look for a butcher on the mainland to make some for me I think!

    Howard wrote on August 4th, 2010
  7. I make a cross between pemmican and jerky for my boys. I use grass-fed ground beef (with added ground liver and heart), mix it with pureed onion, prune and a few spices dry it for 2 days at 100 degrees (so it’s still raw). I tried blending this up so I could mix it with fat I’d rendered (in a crock pot – much easier to get a pale unbrowned fat) – but my food processor couldn’t handle it. So I make it in sheets, cut it up, slather with fat and make “pemmican sandwiches”. This is their favorite car snack, and I always carry some in my purse now as emergency food. One note – I find that rendered fat from grass-fed animals does go rancid after a month – probably because grass-fed animals have more mono-unsats in their fat. I make huge batches, break it into smaller batches and store them in the freezer.

    Nicole Allen wrote on August 5th, 2010
  8. Chinese meat floss and Malaysian serunding are primarily dehydrated meat with fat and spices. Very tasty, like meat stew, but in a fine, shredded form.

    Hui Koon wrote on August 17th, 2010
  9. Basically your process looks good.

    Iadd the following for flavor and carbohydrate enhancement.
    1 lb lean mean, i use hamburger for ease of use.
    ¼ tsp pepper
    1 tsp lemon juice
    1tsp salt
    1tsp honey
    1 tsp broun sugar
    1 tbsp liq smoke or soy sauce
    a friend of mine likes to soak the meat in Red wine over night in the fridge before proceesing

    this will taste better than yours and adding the carbo’s helps some.

    ART BELGE wrote on September 11th, 2010
  10. Hi Everyone!
    After being utterly fascinated by the research conducted by a true pioneer, Weston A. Price, I embarked on the journey of consuming pemmican and haven’t been let down since.

    It’s only been three weeks and I’m beginning to change from a 21 year old boy into a 21 year old man. It appears my hormone levels have spiked and my sugar cravings have drastically reduced. Overall my attitude has changed for the better, no longer irritable, anxious, or worrisome, my attitude is now calm, assertive and best of all happy. It is no surprise to me how our Native American ancestors and Eskimos endured such harsh conditions. As far as liquid is concerned, I began consuming mineral rich bone broths from organic beef bones and vegetables. Another significant improvement in my health was achieved. I feel very blessed to say the least.

    I’m also taking 1-2 teaspoons a day of cod liver oil.

    Mark I’m glad to see your diet has given you the drive to build this website and write a great book on the topic. Our bodies are truly ancient.

    The key when making pemmican is to dry the meat around 95 degrees Fahrenheit and render the fat at about 200 degrees Fahrenheit until all moisture has evaporated. The ability to store pemmican for over a year without refrigeration is truly amazing.

    God bless everyone looking to make a difference in their lives!

    Brian Cote

    Brian wrote on December 6th, 2010
  11. I just made a batch of venison pemmican with cranberries. Yummmmmm.

    I left the berries whole instead of blending them in just for texture and I added salt, garlic and cayenne pepper.

    Oh yes, the secret ingredient. Bacon drippings. I’m not sure if this is as rot-proof as pure rendered fat but it won’t matter because this stuff is too yummy to last that long.

    Paleobird wrote on December 27th, 2010
  12. Just came upon your web site. Thanks for all the good information. I was just wondering if you could use freeze dried meat for the pemmican? I have a #10 can of freeze dried ground beef in my emergency stores and it seems plausible. Anybody try it?

    Tony wrote on January 16th, 2011
  13. i have used your recipes and then did a couple modifications.. i put in several servings of Benifiber in as well as blueberries and my own dried peas..although peas are very hard to powder, the jerky turned out very good. i then vacuum pack it and toss it in the freezer to be ther whenever i get hte hungries for it.

    wendy wrote on February 1st, 2011
  14. My husband and I both being engineers, we never do anything unless we can over-engineer it. So we converted an old washing machine case into a dehydrator, using metal dowels to hang the meat from, using heating elements from an old toaster oven (with switches to turn them on and off, for controlling the temperature), some ducting to force fresh air into the case, and a vent pipe at the top. A 1.75 HP meat grinder from Cabela’s, along with a jerky slicer to fit onto it, help with the slicing. An alternate top for the dehydrator consists of ozone generators, and UV lights, to ensure that the surface of the meat is thoroughly sanitized prior to dehydration. I can process up to 25 pounds of fresh meat in my dehydrator, which yields about 7.5 pounds of jerky. The 1.75 HP meat grinder is then used to grind up the jerky (and does a beautiful job), and some beef tallow from Wellness Meats is used to create the pemmican. The jerky comes out very brown, and the pemmican looks like chunks of dark chocolate. I only add a little salt and fresh-ground pepper to my jerky and pemmican, being a bit of a purist. I deviate from the usual recipe for pemmican, by using 1/3 fat and 2/3 ground jerky.

    Janice wrote on March 16th, 2011
  15. Wish I’d known about this stuff when I was in the marines. This stuff would have been awesome for a 20 mile hump.

    Eddie wrote on May 14th, 2011
  16. I’m making a batch right now, and so far so good. I have the meat dried and ground up and the fat rendered, just waiting on the fruit. One thing I did was marinate the meat before drying. It gave the meat great flavor, and I’ve used less fat.

    Alexis wrote on June 17th, 2011
  17. So I was just sitting around and realizing that I’ve gone paleo and have no idea what I’m supposed to eat when I go backpacking this summer!

    Lo and behold I come across this post.

    Gonna make try making pemmican, biltong and jerky ASAP. Thanks for the ideas everybody!

    Snowcreature wrote on July 16th, 2011
  18. Hey guys, I’m a type 1 diabetic and I’ve recently made the switch to a primal lifestyle. Does anyone know how I would gauge my insulin for this? Especially if I was camping?
    Thanks

    Nathalie wrote on July 20th, 2011
  19. While living along the Canadian border in the Northwest, I have made and eaten pemmican on numerous occasions. The secret to making it tasty is to include a generous portion of fruit. Native berries or dried purchased fruits. Apricots,apple, etc, all cut into small pieces. I added no salt, but used salt to season a portion upon consumption. You can coat the pemmican in flour and fry it like scrapple or make a soup with it. Is it as tasty as a home kitchen meal? no, but in moving from place to place in the North woods via canoe and backpack, it aint bad…Take a kid camping in the woods..Blessings to you all.

    Doc wrote on August 4th, 2011
  20. fyi….biltong is NEVER traditionally smoked..never ever ever and one makes perfectly wonderful biltong by just drying in a slightly dry room with it hanging from paperclips and having had it marinade in coriander s and p and a few tabs of vinegar.
    Do people just make stuff up ?? Don’t ask but do read Shermers wonderful The Believing Brain !

    SimonFellows wrote on August 10th, 2011
  21. I love this recipe. well balanced and accessible.
    I’ve made versions of pemmican before and have even subsided on it for an entire month once! Although the blueberries are not completely traditional (depending on the trbal recipe and season of preparation). I find the inclusion of berries takes off a “primal edge” temperment that tends to develop after long periods on the stuff. this is probably due to the fiber, antioxidants and chloragenic acid that help the system function more smoothly.

    Chris L wrote on September 4th, 2011
  22. If anyone wants a short cut oriental markets sell dried shredded meat inexpensively in the pantry section. It is usually pork, a product of Taiwan where they traditionally eat it with rice. It is pretty good stuff.

    ANYC wrote on September 17th, 2011
    • Nice tip, thanks!

      speedwell wrote on October 18th, 2011
  23. I rendered some nice black bear fat this fall, has anyone used bear fat to make pemmican? Shure works good on boots and saddles.

    George Goodwin wrote on October 29th, 2011
  24. as a young person( a very long time ago )i read of a type of pemmican made by pounding a large slice of fresh meat ( THE MORE FAT THE BETTER) thin and then using fresh berries etc spread on top next fold over pound thin again continue et al until you have a flat dry slab .
    the berry juice acts as a preservative/ chemical agent ,reportedly tastes pretty good and lasts quite a while.
    remember the old ones did not have electric grinders but they really liked there food

    cymru wrote on October 31st, 2011
  25. Mark

    Please to allow this lowly one to correct your history. Pemmican was NOT an Inuit invention. It was in fact an invention of the plains Indians, by which they developed an efficient way of converting excess buffalo hunted during prosperous years against lean times later. A food that would last damn near forever if properly prepared and stored.

    It became a staple of the Fur Trade, from sometime in the eighteenth-century onwards. The canoe brigades of the Canadian North West Fur Company (the legendary “voyageurs”) had to travel immense distances during the short Spring and Summer season between breakup and freezeup, from their Montreal headquarters out to distant trading posts scattered across the vast river networks of the North. Racing against the return of Winter, they endured a strenuous routine of backbreaking paddling and portaging, with no time left for hunting or elaborate cooking. They needed a compact, nutritious ration that left as much space as possible in their craft for their loads of trade goods going out and beaver pelts coming back.

    The early Victorian British Arctic explorers–in their overland expeditions–hired fur traders as their guides and assistants. It was from them that they learned of pemmican and adopted it as their standard sledging ration. THIS was how pemmican became indelibly associated with Polar exploits and used by all who traveled into the icy realms (and many other places besides).

    The one universal quality of pemmican is the uncomplimentary references to it. From Ye Olde times to the present, every explorer who has relied upon it has felt called upon to strain his literary creative powers to the utmost in making uncomplimentary references to its taste and consistency. In his book of his 1986 trans-arctic expedition Will Steger described it as resembling wet concrete and that it gave him alternately the runs and constipation.

    Evidently, the grass-fed part of the equation is extremely important here.

    Many of the more conscientious explorers took great pains to make their pemmican more palatable. Roald Amundsen added such things as rolled oats, honey and spices along with the berries. Ernest Shackleton added pea flour and spices. Admiral Peary preferred his straight.

    In his work, Vilhjalmur Stefansson said that this was all well-and-good but that such delectables should be packed separately, as extras, to be jettisoned in an emergency. He was even against the addition of salt, saying that pemmican was just as good a food in a pinch for sled dogs, but that dogs are much less tolerant of salt in their diet than humans.

    So there you have it. It looks like pemmican is highly versatile, in that you can heat it up and add just about anything to it to make it palatable or you can just nibble it cold.

    sinanju wrote on November 16th, 2011
  26. What’s this? A recipe of my favorite food!

    Bland? Nu uh…
    Not at all for me. I order mine from grasslandbeef.com and it is delicious, 1 entire bar with only 4 carbs!
    They use cherries and raw honey, instead of berries.

    Arty wrote on November 16th, 2011
  27. Well the only input I have is from the backwoods. My family makes pemmican and dry meat every year. Usually it includes meat from the latest hunting trip. My mother seems to be a master st makng it taste good. She utilizes ground deer or bison, the fresher the better. Adds pepper and salt as if she were seasoning burgers. You let those spices soak in and in another bowl grind up some fresh or frozen berries. Add them to the meat with about a quarter cup of berry syrup (we use huckleberry ) let that sit for a bit. When your ready to dry it roll half inch balls, flatten them and put them on a dehydrator rack for 12 hours. The fat is already in the ground meat and the syrup really adds flavor. It keeps well and packs easily for powwows and such.

    sherry wrote on November 26th, 2011
  28. I am interested in making Brick Chili which origionated with the Mexican and Indian women known a Chili Queens in Texas. They were familiar with Jerkey and Pemican, so it was a logical step to add dried chili, tomatoes, maza or cooked dried bean powder to the mixture and come up with bricks of material which would keep and be reconstituted into the basics of chili and chili beans. If you have ever come across a recipe for brick chili I would like to have a copy.
    Ernie H

    Ernest Harrison wrote on December 1st, 2011
  29. mark, i saw somebody recommend peanut butter for the fat. could that idea be tweeked wit almond butter or macadamia butter (my favorite)? as that sounds like it might bring more to the table in the taste department… just thinking!

    markbouvier wrote on December 3rd, 2011
  30. Now I may be mistaken. Isn’t rending tallow basically getting liquid fat?
    If so, go to the grocery store and back with the meats and such are the containers of ‘(snow) Lard) that a lot of folks like to cook with. I am thinking mainly of Hispanic cooking, that and Southern cooking.
    Correct me if I am wrong and I will have learned something new.
    Rending seems to be labor intensive and I seem to look for ways to make it easier and quicker.
    Also instead of a dehydrater, cut the meat about 1/16 th of an inch thick. (Meat cutter). Then smoke the meat with your favorite wood and seasoning. Being that thin it will get crisp,(keep an eye on it), and it will have been flavored. I can smoke up several pounds in a couple of hours. You can cut up some of the meat thicker to break up and eat as snack around the house,at work or play. What you do no use you can refrigerate for later, or share with friends.

    papa mule wrote on December 9th, 2011
  31. There are a lot of doom and gloom news articles and almost as many articles of the coming fabulous prosperity that will overtake the world. Who Knows and frankly Who Cares? Simple fact of the matter is there are many stories every year of people stranded for days in the snow, lost while hiking, falling over a cliff and surviving on a ledge for days and so on and so on. It would seem prudent that if ever you hike, climb, travel in semiremote areas or just on long road trips, it would be wise to have survival gear and include stable long lasting food stuffs even if not too tasty. I have done so for many years and on a couple of occasions have actually had to use them during my six decades of life.

    Terry wrote on January 17th, 2012
  32. Had a Lewis and Clark themed dinner last night with buffalo steak, berries and what I had thought (from distant memories of explorer accounts) was pemmican. Used honey instead of rendered fat, and added quite a bit of flour, cooking in cupcake tins as above. Not bad; the flour makes it (after baking) the consistency of cured epoxy. Keeps your teeth strong!

    erich grossman wrote on January 19th, 2012

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