Pemmican is an amazing product made from lard, meat and berries. Indians of North America have been making it for five thousand years, and in some regions of the country it is still made today. In this article we will tell you about the history of this product, the main ingredients and give you the recipe, what is pemmican and how to make it.

What is pemmican and when did it come into existence

The name “pemmican” comes from the Cree Indian word ᐱᒦᐦᑳᓐ (pimîhkân), where ᐱᒥ (pimî) means “fat”. Pemmican is made from dried meat, fat and dried berries or berry juice. It keeps for a very long time, is lightweight and has a high energy value (up to 700 kcal per 100 g), which has made it an ideal food for camping and traveling. Pemmican can be eaten raw or added to other dishes, as is still done in some Amerindian communities today.

Some archaeological evidence suggests that as early as 2800 B.C., people were hunting bison that roamed the Great Plains of North America and mixing their meat, fat and marrow into high-energy, long-lasting cutlets. But the first written description of pemmican is considered to be Francisco Vazquez de Coronado’s 1541 records of the Querecho and Tejas tribes, who sun-dried and ground bison meat and then made a stew of it with bison fat. The first written use of the word itself in English is attributed to James Isham, who wrote in 1743 that “pimmegan” was a mixture of finely ground dried meat, fat, and cranberries.

Researchers’ names

For its qualities, pemmican was widely adopted as a source of energy by Europeans involved in the fur trade in the Americas and later by Arctic and Antarctic explorers such as Robert Bartlett, Ernest Shackleton, Richard E. Bird, Fridtjof Nansen, Robert Falcon Scott, George W. DeLong, Robert Peary, Matthew Henson and Roald Amundsen.

In his book Secrets of Polar Travel, explorer Robert Peary devoted several pages to recounting the virtues of the supplies he took on his expeditions to the Arctic between 1886 and 1909. In addition to ranking pemmican first among other foods, he genuinely enjoyed it, writing that it was the only food that “a man can eat twice a day for three hundred and sixty-five days, and the last piece will be as delicious as the first.”

Members of polar expeditions not only ate pemmican themselves, but also fed it to their sled dogs. “Dog pemmican” was prepared from 2/3 of meat (according to different data from beef, or seal and whale meat) and 1/3 of fat. It was later found that although the dogs survived on this diet, it was not healthy for them because it was too high in protein. Journalist and writer Alfred Mark Lansing in his book “Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage” wrote that members of Ernest Shackleton’s 1914-1916 expedition to Antarctica themselves ate “dog pemmican” when they were stuck in the ice for a long time.

What pemmican was made of and how it was prepared

The main ingredients of pemmican were meat and fat. Any meat that was available was used: bison, venison or elk meat; meat from smaller game such as duck. It could also be made from salmon and other fish if meat could not be found.

Traditionally, the meat was cut into thin slices and dried over low heat or in the sun until it became hard and brittle. The dried meat was then placed on a tanned hide and beaten with chains or rubbed between two large stones. The ground meat was mixed with clarified fat in about a 1:1 ratio.

Often powdered dried berries and fruits were added to the pemmican as an additional source of vitamins:

  • cranberries, irga, blueberries;
  • less commonly blueberries, cherries, blackberries and currants – although in some regions these berries were used almost exclusively for ceremonial and wedding pemmican.

The resulting mixture was packed in rawhide bags where it was cooled and hardened. The shelf life varied depending on the ingredients and storage conditions. At room temperature, pemmican can usually be stored for one to five years.

How to make pemmican at home

what is pemmican and how do you make it - How to make pemmican at home
what is pemmican and how do you make it – How to make pemmican at home

Today, people in many indigenous communities in North America continue to prepare pemmican for personal or ceremonial use. There are Native American-owned companies that produce and sell pemmican.

It requires lard, meat, berries and patience to wait for the ingredients to dry. Of course, pemmican is not a delicacy, after all, it is a product designed for survival, not for pleasure. But you can feel like a real Indian, a member of a polar expedition (or even a sled dog).


First you need to dry the meat: beef or venison, if you don’t have bison meat on hand. The meat should be fat-free, cleaned of veins and films. Cut 1 kg of meat against the fibers into strips (pre-cooling the meat in the freezer for an hour will provide a cleaner cut), lay out on a tray covered with baking paper and place in the oven, preheated to the lowest temperature (preferably degrees 75-80). Depending on the thickness, it may take up to 12 hours to dry completely. You will realize the meat is ready when it becomes dry but still pliable. From 1 pound of raw meat, you should get about a cup of dried meat.

Next, take 1/3 cup of dried berries or dry fresh berries in a dehydrator.

Heat lard or buy ready-made ghee, just do not use confectioner’s fat, margarine or butter – the feeling will not be the same.

Grind the dried meat in a food processor or, if you want to get closer to the traditional method, get your hands on a mortar and pestle. Repeat the same with the berries and mix the powders in a bowl. Melt 2 tablespoons of lard, then add to the bowl and mix until the mixture is sticky enough to form patties. Add a little more lard if the mixture is still too dry. If you want to add sugar, as some Indians and explorers did, use about one tablespoon. Form the cutlets and let dry.

Pemmican is quite peculiar in taste and appearance, but what a curious thing to eat

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