Have you heard about pemmican? It is called the “ultimate survival food” and rightly deserves its title as a “superfood.” Pemmican is basically a mixture of dried meat, fat, and sometimes dried berries. Pemmican is very easy to make yourself without any special ingredients or tools necessary.
History of Pemmican
Pemmican was likely first invented by the Inuit tribes living in Arctic areas and Alaskan tundras, but it was also eaten by many Native American tribes throughout the continents.
These tribes were nomadic, and would often go out on long hunts. They would need a lot of energy to sustain these hunts, but wouldn’t be able to carry a lot of food with them nor search for food along the way. Their solution was to make pemmican to carry with them.
Traditionally, pemmican is made by cutting pieces of game (elk, bison, moose, and deer were common) into thin strips and drying it into a jerky over a fire. The jerky was pounded with stones until it became a powder. Then liquid fat was added to the powdered jerky in a 1:1 ratio. Sometimes dried berries were also added.
When explorers came to the Americas, they realized the value of pemmican. It was particularly popular with Canadian fur traders. Many voyagers relied on pemmican during their expeditions. Notably, Robert Peary used pemmican on all of his North Pole expeditions and says that the journey would not have been possible without pemmican.
Why Pemmican Is the Ultimate Survival Food
Pemmican is made from just 2 ingredients: meat and fat, though berries or other ingredients are often added. The fat provides the energy needed for a strenuous journey. The meat provides the protein and strength for the journey. When berries are added, they provide additional energy (glucose) and also antioxidants, vitamins, and fiber.
You can literally survive for weeks or months on nothing but pemmican and water. Since it is so nutritionally-dense (lots of energy without a lot of weight), it is the perfect food to put in your survival backpack or Bug Out Bag.
Note that pemmican doesn’t taste very good – and this is another reason it is such a good survival food. Why would you want to pack something which isn’t tasty? Consider that the Canadian Arctic Rescue team recommends putting a can of dog food in your car as survival food. The idea is that dog food tastes bad, and you won’t be tempted to eat through it so quickly (as you might with yummy granola bars). The dog food idea is interesting, but I’d rather pack pemmican for my survival food!
How to Make Pemmican
Making pemmican is very easy, and you can adjust the recipe however you’d like, such as by adding spices, herbs, and honey. So long as everything you add is DRY, then the pemmican won’t go bad. This stuff can literally last for YEARS when stored in a dry place.
Here are the basic instructions on how to make pemmican, with pemmican recipes following.
- Red meat: Traditionally game meat is used, but now beef is most common. 5lbs of meat will make 1lb of dried meat. DO NOT USE PORK MEAT FOR PEMMICAN! There is too much of a risk of Trichinosis
- Fat (suet): You will need to render the fat into tallow. Instructions follow. Use about a 1:6 ratio of fat and dried meat, but you can experiment. The ratio doesn’t have to be exact!
- Salt: 1tsp salt per pound of meat
- Optional: dried berries, herbs, spices, honey
- Cut fat off of the meat: You should only dry the meat, not any fat on it!
- Salt the meat: This will help inhibit bacteria growth and make the pemmican taste better
- Dry the meat: Instructions follow
- Turn the dry meat into a powder: A meat grinder is best, but you can also use a blender or food processor. It needs to be almost a powder with no big chunks in it.
- Turn the berries into a powder: Same as with the meat
- Mix the powdered meat and powdered berries together
- Heat the fat so it liquefies
- Pour the fat over the powdered meat/berry mixture. The ratio of fat to dried mixture is about 1:6, but you can experiment.
- Let cool and form into balls or bars
- Wrap in wax paper or plastic bags and store!
How to Dry Meat for Pemmican
The easiest way to do this is to use a food dehydrator. You just cut the meat into thin strips and put them on your dehydrator rack. Follow the dehydrator instructions for drying time and temperature.
If you don’t have a dehydrator, you can dry meat for the pemmican in your oven. Turn on the oven and put it on its lowest setting (probably about 100 or 150 degrees F). Cut the meat into really thin strips and put them on a baking sheet. You can also put the strips directly onto the oven rack, but some drippings might get inside your oven. The meat will need to dry in the oven for about 15 hours. It is important that you occasionally open the oven door to release the moisture which builds up.
The meat is done when it is VERY CRISPY. It is very important that the meat is dry or else the pemmican will not last as long.
You can dry berries in the same way as the meat.
How to Render Fat into Tallow for Pemmican
Fat will eventually go rancid. But, if you render it first, then it can last virtually forever. Rendering fat into tallow sounds complicated, but it is actually really simple and has a lot of health benefits.
It is best to use beef fat for pemmican, but you can also use lamb fat. You can get these at your local butcher, and they might even give it to you for free. The fat is also known as suet.
- Remove any remaining meat which may be on the fat
- Cut the fat into chunks. You might also want to put it into your food processor to get it even smaller.
- Put the fat into a big pot.
- Cook on the lowest setting. For each pound of fat you render, you will need to cook it for about 1 hour. Yes, this will take a while! You don’t have to monitor the fat the entire time, but do occasionally check in so it doesn’t burn.
- The fat will melt, but you will see bits floating on the top.
- Once the bits on top are golden brown and the fat stops bubbling, then the rendering is done.
- Strain the fat through a sieve or cheese cloth into a jar. You just want the liquid parts and not those crispy bits. When the fat (now tallow) cools, it will be a pretty golden color.
*You can also use a slow cooker to render fat into tallow. Just put the fat into the slow cooker, put it on the Low temperature setting, and let it render for a few hours. You’ll know it is done when the fat is liquid with crispy chunks floating on top.
Basic Pemmican Recipe
- 2 cups beef jerky
- 1 cup dried red cherries
- 6 Tbsp tallow
Nutty Pemmican Recipe
- 2 cups jerky
- 1 cup dried fruit
- 1 cup tallow
- ½ cup almond flour
Chicken-Coconut Pemmican Recipe
- 2 cups chicken jerky
- 4-5 tbps coconut oil, melted
- Herbs or spices like thyme or curry
Peanut Butter Pemmican Recipe
- 2 cups jerky
- 1 cup dried blueberries
- 1 cup sunflower seeds or nuts, crushed
- 2 tsp honey
- ¼ cup peanut butter, melted
Have you tried pemmican? What survival foods are you stockpiling? Let us know in the comments or join the discussion on Facebook.