Pemmican: The Native American Super Survival Food

What Is Pemmican?

The word pemmican is derived from the word pimî, meaning “fat or grease.” Pemmican itself is a concentrated combination of meat and fat that was created by Native Americans as a nutritious food that was used to boost energy.

Traditional pemmican was made by cutting meat (typically whatever was available) into thin slices and then drying it. The dried meat was pulverized into small pieces and then mixed with fat. Occasionally, dried fruits were included in the mixture.

The ratio of dried meat to fat is 1:1, and it takes about 5 pounds of raw meat to make 1 pound of pemmican. Due to this, pemmican is incredibly filling and will supply the consumer with energy for several hours.

Additionally, due to its preparation process and storage method, pemmican can last for many years and in many cases, decades.

Pemmican as a Survival Food

Its humble beginnings are a large part of the reason that pemmican is such a great survival food. It was used first by Native Americans and later by European fur traders, as well as explorers in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. When cold food storage was nonexistent and easy-to-carry, easy-to-store food was all the rage, pemmican was in its heyday.

Pemmican Nutrition

The meat that pemmican was and is made out of varies. Buffalo, moose, elk, or beef are the most common. The nutritional information will depend largely on who makes the pemmican and how it is made, including what meat and ratio of meat to fat is used. Additionally, adding dried fruit, nuts, honey, or other additives will alter the nutritional information.

The bottom line is that pemmican is incredibly rich in protein, and the rendered fat that is used in preparation will supply a great deal of calories in a small amount of food, which is excellent for survivalists, preppers, and those in emergency situations.

The average piece of pemmican (about 62 grams) has around 300 calories, including 11-15 grams of protein. It will give the consumer a great boost of energy without a sugar crash or unquenchable thirst that may come from other survival foods.

Why Is Pemmican a Great Survival Food?

Pemmican has been used for centuries as a survival food in both comfortable and extreme conditions, for both those who desperately require it and those who simply enjoy consuming it. It is an excellent survival food for many reasons:

  • Very Few Ingredients – At its simplest, pemmican is meat and fat.
  • Easy to Make – Pemmican was made back in the day with no electric appliances and with the most basic tools. Anyone with a little time and the right ingredients can make pemmican without a problem.
  • Full of Calories – Sustainability is key when you’re in a survival situation, and pemmican answers the call of high caloric foods. At around 300 calories per serving, pemmican can be used as snacks, meals, and complete sustenance in any and all situations.
  • Lightweight and Portable – Easily packed into pockets, pouches of bags, and the like, pemmican is lightweight enough for children to carry and portable enough to fit just about anywhere. You could make large batches of pemmican and store them in various places, or, if you’re seriously lacking in space, you could make smaller batches regularly since it is so simple to make.

Pemmican Shelf Life

One of the main reasons that pemmican is an excellent survival food is its shelf life. Pemmican doesn’t require any special equipment to make or store, and it can simply be stored in a plastic bag or other airtight container for several years. Off the Grid News names Pemmican as the number 2 food that can be stored for 100 years. They list its shelf life as “indefinite.”

Various sources note that the shelf life of pemmican is largely determined by how it is prepared and how it is stored.

If you add extras into your pemmican recipe (honey, peanut butter, dried fruit, etc.), the shelf life will be shortened. If the environment in which it is stored is very humid, the shelf life will also be reduced. If the fat is not rendered properly before making the pemmican, the shelf life will decrease. If you have the option of storing pemmican in the fridge or freezer, that will help extend the shelf life. In general, pemmican will last a solid ten years, if not fifty or more.

Commercial Versions of Pemmican

Even though Pemmican is very easy to make, you also have the option of buying commercial versions of pemmican to keep in food storage or to utilize on hikes or survival adventures. Several companies sell commercial versions of pemmican in various forms, including bars, sticks, and in pails.

History of Pemmican

The Métis Tribe of Canada is credited with inventing pemmican. They used mostly buffalo in preparing their pemmican, and their travelers and trappers used it as a regular source of food and nutrition. As more people discovered the genius behind pemmican, it became a valuable commodity. Tribes and individuals began trading pemmican, and a war was actually started over it!

It the late 1800s and early 1900s, pemmican also became a major food source for those exploring the Arctic and Antarctic. Scottish explorer Alexander Mackenzie traveled west across Canada to the Pacific Ocean in 1793 and relied heavily on pemmican throughout his entire journey.

Robert Peary, a North Pole explorer, went on three long journeys in the late 1800s and early 1900s on which he used pemmican as a source of food for himself, his men, and his dogs. He said of pemmican, “It is an absolute sine qua non,” meaning that it is indispensable and essential.

British troops who fought in the Second Boer War received pemmican as part of their rations and could supposedly go 36 hours without additional sustenance on just 4 ounces of pemmican.

Native American’s Pemmican

The earliest instances of pemmican are found in the history of the Native North Americans. These groups generally used buffalo to create pemmican, cutting the meat into thin strips and drying it for days (or sometimes weeks) over a fire until it became incredibly hard and would crack when bent.

The Native Americans then would place the dried meat on a hide and pounded with stones or mallets until it became almost a powder-like consistency.

The fat from the buffalo was melted down over fire, added to the “beat meat,” and placed in a rawhide bag whose seams had been greased and sealed. This rawhide bag would be moved and turned regularly to encourage the fat to infiltrate all of the meat, and the newly made pemmican would last for years in this type of storage.

It is interesting to note that one 90 pound bag of pemmican was made from one or two entire buffalo!

Métis Tribe’s Pemmican Trading

The Métis people initially developed as a mixed race created by the indigenous people of North America and British or French colonial-era settlers. As they established themselves as a people group, they began also establishing themselves economically, primarily by beginning the pemmican trade throughout modern-day Canada.

Traders from the Métis tribe would kill buffalo, convert it into pemmican, and use it as tradeable goods all across the area at several important fur posts.

Pemmican Recipes

As previously stated, pemmican recipes are as simple as you want them to be. A 1:1 ratio of meat to fat will create a basic pemmican that will last for decades. But in case you’re looking for something more adventurous or want the break down on how to make pemmican, see below for our favorite pemmican recipes.

How to Make Pemmican

Standard Meat + Fat Recipe

Start with the best quality meat you can find. Beef, buffalo, elk, or deer will do. Grass-fed is preferable. Cut off the fat, and then cut the meat into thin pieces and dry it in a dehydrator, in the sun, or in the oven on the lowest temperature possible. When fully dried, the meat should be hard and brittle and should crack when you bend it.

Next, you need to pulverize the meat. A food processor, blender, or mallet should do. Make sure it is in tiny pieces and almost a powder-like consistency.

Next, you should render the fat. Cut the fat into small pieces and cook it in a crock pot, on the stovetop, or in the oven on low. Cook until you are left with mostly clear liquid with just small bits of fat remaining. Strain the chunks out.

Next, mix the liquid fat and ground meat together until it is saturated and can be formed together without falling apart. Remember you are going for about a 1:1 ratio.

Finally, you should form the mixture into balls, blocks, or any other shape you would like. Store in an airtight container in cool, dry place.

Additives Recipe

You can use the standard meat and fat recipe and make some simple replacements or additives to spice up the taste.

  • Consider substituting the fat for honey, peanut butter, or a combination of both.
  • Dry some fruit (blueberries, chokeberries, pitless cherries, etc.) and grind them up and add them into the recipe.
  • Start with already made beef jerky to speed up the process. Try various flavors of jerky to change the taste of the final product.

Vegetarian Recipe

While traditional pemmican is obviously made with meat, there are a few vegetarian variations available. This particular recipe uses tofu-jerky in place of meat.

Grind together 2 cups of dates, 4 cups of powdered tofu-jerky, 2 cups of unsalted peanuts, and 2 cups of raisins. Then slowly mix honey in, a little bit at a time, making sure it is fully incorporated each time. Add only enough honey to make the mixture stick together without crumbling, and then form into balls, squares, or whatever shape you like.

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