Pemmican Guide on Traditional Recipes & History

Pemmican stands the test of time as a proven survival food. This is a little known food that demands respect and has an important role in human history. Sourced from animal-based ingredients, namely lean muscle meat and rendered animal fat, pemmican is a literal lifesaver in many circumstances.

From long-distance hiking to air plane travel and camping to road trips, the modern age is full of opportunities where the benefits of healthy, shelf stable, nutrient dense food become advantageous. Take a few minutes right now to learn about this historical food and how you can use it in your life too.

How to make pemmican recipes

What is Pemmican?

Simply put, we are talking about a combination of dried, ground lean meat and animal fat. In some cases, taste and texture are enhanced with optional ingredients like dried berries, nuts, and honey.

Pressed together, these ingredients form something that resembles the original protein bar.

There is a long history of use. It had an essential role in the early American fur trade, so much so, there were multiple wars fought over it.

Various Native American tribes made pemmican as a way to preserve food so they have something to eat when hunting was sparse.

Ruminant meat and fat are combined in hides or pressed into bars or balls. Traditionally, bison, moose, caribou and venison were used. Beef, bison, and sheep are commonly used in modern times.

drying meat traditional pemmican
Drying buffalo meat, White Horse Plains, Red River, Canada (Painted in 1899 by William Armstrong (1822-1914) – Photo Source

Pemmican vs Jerky

Does it sound like these are two of the same? Let me clarify!

They are both made from dried lean meat. However, there are specific differences to note.

The former contains ground meat mixed in to a liquid fat in order to form a paste. The paste is pressed into a mold or formed into balls.

Jerky is only lean meat (no added fat) that is air-dried and cured, usually with a marinade and seasonings. Both fresh or smoked meat are suitable for jerky.

how long is pemmican good for
Emergency Ration, c. 1899, as carried by British soldiers in the Second Boer War, consisting of 4 ounces (c. 115 g) of pemmican and 4 ounces of cocoa paste.

The Ultimate Survival Food

Valued for its nutrient-density, pemmican is celebrated as a light weight, high energy food. This makes it ideal for backpacking, camping, hiking, and other on the go travel. Historically speaking, this is a staple food used by explorers, trappers, and fur traders as well as Native American tribes.

We know clients who take homemade pemmican with them on the Appalachian trail and during annual 2 week hunting trips in Alaska. Everyone reports back with their success!

The general consensus is that they feel satiated and energized throughout the whole trip and notice pemmican weighs significantly less than the MREs that they have used in the past.

How Long Does Pemmican Last?

In addition to being light weight and calorically dense, pemmican is shelf-stable and does not spoil easily.

Once pressed into a form, it doesn’t make a mess either, so it is very practical for taking on the go.

At home, store it at room temperature with your other pantry staples. While you’re out, pack it in your bag. No cooler necessary.

If prepared correctly, dry meat mixed with fat can have an indefinite shelf-life. There are stories from Vilhjalmur Stefansson, included in Not By Bread Alone that state the Arctic tribes he lived with regularly ate pemmican that was many years old.

Pemmican is often referred to as the ultimate survival food because:

  • It is light weight and good for travel
  • By weight, it is very calorically dense
  • There is no prep or clean up required

I include it in our list of Keto Emergency Foods precisely for the reasons listed here.

how to eat survival food
Depiction of European fur trader trying pemmican for the first time – Photo Source

Recipes for Keto and Carnivore Diets

Pemmican is a naturally low-carb, moderate protein, high fat food which makes it perfect for anyone following a keto diet.

You can also make a recipe solely from animal-based ingredients and therefore enjoy it on a carnivore diet.

To make this traditional food at home, you’ll need some recipes!

Regardless of which ones you follow, you will use rendered animal fat called tallow. Learn how to render beef tallow so you can get it ready ahead of time. If you prefer to buy it, I recommend tallow from US Wellness.

Here is my collection of homemade pemmican recipes, made from scratch.

Pemmican Recipes

What Does Pemmican Taste Like?

Depending on which recipe you make, yours will taste different. Some are simple, just meat, fat, and salt. Others include honey for sweetness. If you feel inclined, you can add dried berries or nuts.

I can’t compare it to jerky because the texture is so different. Pemmican is usually a brick-like shape and has a firm yet soft texture.

You have to chew it but it isn’t crunchy. I find it delicious added into a bowl of hot bone broth.

Usually, the flavor comes from whatever herbs and spices you choose. Herbs de Provence and Mesquite Seasoning are two of my favorites.

In general, the bar is greasy and meaty with a savory flavor.

This is a very unique food, you’ll just have to make some yourself and try it.

Nutrition Facts

Nutrition facts are notoriously difficult to pin down and there is usually some variation source to source.

On average, there is 80% fat, 20% protein and 0% carbohydrate.

As you calculate the nutrition facts for your recipes, keep in mind that it takes 6 pounds of raw, fresh meat to make 1 pound of dry meat.

How Many Calories are in Pemmican?

Pemmican contains 133 calories per 1 ounce. This comes from 6 grams of protein and 11 grams fat. There are 0 grams of carbohydrate unless you add berries or honey to the recipe.

dried meat

Pemmican Bars

Traditional pemmican bars are the original protein bar!

They provide a clean fuel for your body and are easy to take on-the-go which makes them extraordinarily practical.

It takes a bit of time to prep pemmican but once ready it will last a very long time. Plus, it is easy to make in bulk! It is always convenient to have ready made food on hand.

Where to Buy Pemmican

If you want to test pemmican before making it yourself, I recommend buying it online.

US Wellness sells pemmican made with grass-fed beef, it is a high-quality option. They offer a variety of flavors and sizes to choose from.

If you buy pemmican, it is ready to eat right away. You do not need to heat or cook it before consuming.