Traditional method of drying meat for pemmican demonstrated at Calgary Stampede
Chokeberries (Aronia prunifolia), sometimes added to pemmican

Pemmican is a concentrated mixture of fat and protein used as a nutritious food. The word comes from the Cree word pimîhkân, which itself is derived from the word pimî, "fat, grease".[1] It was invented by the native peoples of North America.[citation needed] It was widely adopted as a high-energy food by Europeans involved in the fur trade and later by Arctic and Antarctic explorers, such as Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen.

The specific ingredients used were usually whatever was available; the meat was often bison, moose, elk, or deer. Fruits such as cranberries and saskatoon berries were sometimes added. Cherries, currants, chokeberries and blueberries were also used, but almost exclusively in ceremonial and wedding pemmican.[citation needed]

The highest quality pemmican is made from lean meat and bone marrow fat; the pemmican buyers of the fur trade era had strict specifications.[citation needed]


Traditional preparation

Traditionally, pemmican was prepared from the lean meat of large game such as buffalo, elk or deer. The meat was cut in thin slices and dried over a slow fire, or in the hot sun until it was hard and brittle. About 5 pounds of meat are required to make one pound of dried meat suitable for pemmican.[2] In some cases, dried fruits such as saskatoon berries, cranberries, blueberries, or choke cherries were pounded into powder and then added to the meat/fat mixture. The resulting mixture was then packed into rawhide pouches for storage.

Canadian fur trade

The voyageurs had no time to live off the land and had to carry their food with them. A north canoe with 6 men and 25 standard 90-pound packs required about 4 packs of food per 500 miles. Montreal-based canoemen could be supplied by sea or with locally grown food. Their main food was dried peas or beans, sea biscuit and salt pork. (Western canoemen called their Montreal-based fellows mangeurs de lard or 'pork-eaters'.) In the Great Lakes some maize and wild rice could be obtained locally. By the time trade reached the Winnipeg area the pemmican trade developed. Métis would go southwest onto the prairie in Red River carts, slaughter buffalo, convert it into pemmican and carry it north to trade at the North West Company posts. For these people on the edge of the prairie the pemmican trade was as important a source of trade goods as was the beaver trade for the Indians further north. This trade was a major factor in the emergence of a distinct Metis society. Packs of pemmican would be shipped north and stored at the major fur posts (Fort Alexander, Manitoba, Cumberland House, Saskatchewan, Île-à-la-Crosse, Saskatchewan, Fort Garry, Norway House and Edmonton House).

Dog pemmican

British Arctic expeditions fed a type of pemmican to their dogs as "sledging rations". Called "Bovril pemmican" or simply "dog pemmican", it was a beef product consisting of 2/3 protein and 1/3 fat, without carbohydrate. It was later ascertained that although the dogs survived on it, this was not a healthful diet for them, being too high in protein.[3]

Members of Ernest Shackleton's 1914-1916 expedition to the Antarctic resorted to eating dog pemmican when they were stranded on ice for the winter.[4]

Boer War

In Africa, biltong was commonly used in all of its forms. During the Second Boer War (1899–1902), British troops were given an iron ration made of four ounces of pemmican and four ounces of chocolate and sugar. The pemmican would keep in perfect condition for decades, even in sacks worn smooth by transportation. It was considered much superior to biltong. This iron ration was prepared in two small tins (soldered together) which were fastened inside the soldiers' belts. It was the last ration pulled and it was pulled only when ordered by the commanding officer. A man could march on this for 36 hours before he began to drop from hunger.[5]

The British Army Chief of Scouts,[clarification needed] the American Frederick Russell Burnham, required pemmican to be carried by every scout.[6]

Modern producers

  • US Wellness Meats in Missouri currently sells pemmican in bar and bulk form. Their pemmican contains 45% tallow and 55% dried jerky.
  • Native American Natural Foods, an Oglala Lakota business in Kyle, South Dakota manufactures and distributes the Tanka Bar – based upon traditional wasna (pemmican). It is made from a combination of buffalo meat and cranberries with a herbal preservative.
  • Canawa is the Canadian maker of pemmican that states that they use Vilhjalmur Stefansson's traditional jerk to tallow formulations of 1:1.

Modern commercial usage

The brand name Pemmican currently refers to at least two unrelated food products marketed primarily for outdoor enthusiasts in Canada and the United States.

  • A brand of beef jerky, based in Taylor, Michigan and owned by Marfood USA, Inc..
  • High-energy food bars sold under the brand names MealPack and Bear Valley Pemmican by Intermountain Trading Co. Ltd. in Albany, California. These bars are baked from malted corn and barley (with no meat). Bear Valley Foods was threatened with a lawsuit over the use of the Pemmican name, by ConAgra; however, they were ultimately allowed to keep the name.[7]

References in Literature

The children in the literary series Swallows and Amazons frequently refer to corned beef as pemmican as it seems more adventurous to them.

See also


  1. ^ Sinclair, J.M. (ed) English Dictionary Harper Collins: 2001.
  2. ^ Then it was pounded into very small pieces, almost powder-like in consistency, using stones. The pounded meat was mixed with melted fat in an approximate 1:1 ratio. </ref name = Angier1-107> Angier, Bradford How to Stay Alive in the Woods (originally published as Living off the Country 1956) ISBN13#: 978-1-57912-221-8 Black Dog & Levanthal Publishers, Inc. Page 107
  3. ^ Taylor R.J.F. "The physiology of sledge dogs", Polar Record 8 (55): 317-321 (January 1957), reprinted The Fan Hitch, Volume 5, Number 2 (March 2003)
  4. ^ Alfred Lansing, Endurance, (New York: McGraw Hill, 1969) Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 58-59666
  5. ^ Stefansson, Vilhjalmur (1946). Not by Bread Alone. New York: MacMillan Company. pp. 263–4, 270. OCLC 989807. 
  6. ^ Burnham, Frederick Russell (1926). Scouting on Two Continents. New York: Doubleday, Page & company. OCLC 407686. 
  7. ^ Intermountain Trading Co. Ltd. web site

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • pemmican — [ pemikɑ̃; pɛmmikɑ̃ ] n. m. • 1832; mot angl., de l algonquin pimikkân, de pimü « graisse » ♦ Préparation de viande concentrée et séchée (utilisée notamment par les explorateurs, les chasseurs, etc.). ● pemmican nom masculin (anglais pemmican, de …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Pemmican — Saltar a navegación, búsqueda El pemmican o pemmikan es una comida concentrada, consistente en una masa de carne seca pulverizada, bayas desecadas y grasas; las grasas sirven como aglutinante además de aportar calorías, la carne seca (tipo tasajo …   Wikipedia Español

  • pemmican — [pem′i kən] n. [Cree pimihkaan < pimihkeew, makes pemmican, makes grease < pimiy, grease] 1. dried lean meat, pounded into a paste with fat and preserved in the form of pressed cakes 2. dried beef, suet, dried fruit, etc., prepared as a… …   English World dictionary

  • Pemmican — Pem mi*can, n. [Written also pemican.] 1. Among the North American Indians, meat cut in thin slices, divested of fat, and dried in the sun. [1913 Webster] Then on pemican they feasted. Longfellow. [1913 Webster] 2. Meat, without the fat, cut in… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • pemmican — 1791, from Cree (Algonquian) /pimihka:n/ from /pimihke:w/ he makes grease, from pimiy grease, fat. Lean meat, dried, pounded and mixed with congealed fat and ground berries and formed into cakes used on long journeys. Also used figuratively for… …   Etymology dictionary

  • Pemmican — Le pemmican est une recette typiquement amérindienne constituée de graisse animale, de moelle animale, de viande séchée et réduite en poudre, ainsi que de petits fruits. En mélangeant ces ingrédients, on obtient une espèce de pain ou un pâté qui… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Pemmican — Pemmikan (aus der Sprache der Cree: pimikan, zu pimii, „Fett“) ist eine nahrhafte und haltbare Mischung aus zerstoßenem Dörrfleisch und Fett, die die Indianer Nordamerikas als Reiseproviant und Notration mit sich führten. Hergestellt wird… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • pemmican — (pèm mi kan) s. m. Préparation de viande très nutritive sous un petit volume, qu on emporte dans les longues traversées. Le pemmican dont on s est servi dans les expéditions vers le pôle arctique avait été fabriqué en Angleterre avec du boeuf de… …   Dictionnaire de la Langue Française d'Émile Littré

  • pemmican — /pem i keuhn/, n. dried meat pounded into a powder and mixed with hot fat and dried fruits or berries, pressed into a loaf or into small cakes, originally prepared by North American Indians. Also, pemican. [1735 45; < Cree pimihka·n, deriv. of… …   Universalium

  • pemmican — pem•mi•can or pem•i•can [[t]ˈpɛm ɪ kən[/t]] n. coo dried meat pounded into a powder and mixed with fat and dried berries: a traditional food of American Indians in parts of Canada and the U.S • Etymology: 1735–45; < Cree pimihka·n, der. of… …   From formal English to slang

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