All About Horse Meat: History, Flavor, and Where It’s Eaten
History of Horse Meat
There is a lot of controversy over the consumption of horse meat. It is largely reviled in some nations, such as the UK and parts of the US, but it is a staple source of protein and even considered a delicacy in others.
The truth is that horse meat has been rooted for centuries in the cuisine of many countries. It gained wide acceptance in French cuisine during the Second French Empire, in the late 19th century, when it was a cheap alternative to beef, making it popular with inhabitants of the expensive city of Paris.
In America, it became popular during World War 2, when other meats became scarce. Horse meat was the perfect replacement, being cheap and also healthier than beef. In Japan, from the 6th century to the 1860s, consumption of all four-legged animals was banned. However, with the rapid advancement of technology in the 1960s, when horses were not needed for transport, work or agriculture, they became a source of food.
In Central Asia, horse meat is still one of the main sources of protein and commonly used to prepare a variety of dishes. In Uzbekistan, horse meat is used to prepare naryn, one of the most popular local foods, while in Kyrgyzstan it is used to make a popular sausage. There are, however, regional exceptions, such as Turkmenistan, where horse and pork meat are forbidden due to religious beliefs.
In recent decades, there has been more discussion about the moral issues around eating horse. This has led to it being banned and even being illegal in some countries. Due to this and several awareness campaigns, the demand for horse meat has fallen.
What does horse meat taste like?
Horse meat is lean and tastes very similar to beef and venison. This sweet gaminess makes it delicious when cooked or eaten raw, when it can be compared to tuna. Grilled horse tastes very similar to beef, with the fat rendering down, making it even sweeter. What is more, horse is lower in fat, calories, and cholesterol and is high in protein making it much healthier than you might expect.
Where Horse Meat is Eaten?
Although eating horse meat is frowned upon in many places throughout the world, it is eaten in many countries for example, in Asia, Europe, and South America. China is the world’s biggest consumer and producer of horse meat according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
2018 figures put the number of horses slaughtered in China at 1.6 million and the total amount of horse meat produced at approximately 220,100 US tons. Here, it is commonly used in sausages and, in southern Guangxi, rice noodle dishes .
The FAO also says Kazakhstan is number two in the world in horse consumption. It is typically used in sausages and a Kazakhstan dumpling called manti. Russia, Italy, Mexico, Mongolia, Argentina, and Japan are also top consumers of horse meat.
Different Cuts of Horse Meat
Horses are near identical to cattle when it comes to cuts of meat, so there’s sirloin, tenderloin and ribeye. They can be prepared in the same way as beef although horse has a unique flavor that makes for a great twist on some classic dishes.
How Horse Meat is Prepared
Different cuts of horse, similar to beef, are suited to different styles of cooking. Cuts with sinews of connective tissue and muscle are best suited for stews, where they can be cooked for longer to make them more tender. Cuts from the back and rear of the horse are more lean and tender so need less heat and can be eaten pink.
Raw horse meat is commonly consumed in Japan. Also known as sakuraniku, the blushing pink meat resembles that of sakura, or cherry blossoms.
Thin raw slices of horse meat are accompanied by ground ginger, garlic, spring onion, and a soy sauce dip in a dish called basashi. The cuts typical used are marbled belly, crunchy shoulder clod, and the surprisingly odorless liver and tongue. When consumed raw, the belly cuts are similar to tuna.
Hotpot, or nabe in Japanese, is a traditional dish eaten in winter. A variety of vegetables and meat is stewed in a flavored broth, making it the perfect dish on a cold winter’s night. Hotpot with horse meat is specifically called sakura nabe and is common in Akita, Nagano, and Hokkaido prefectures.
While horse meat is traditionally eaten raw in Japan, restaurants today serve it grilled, particularly the yakiniku (Korean BBQ) restaurants. When grilled, it tastes very much like beef and depending on the cut, it can be either quite chewy or irresistibly tender.
Kazy is a horse sausage that is commonly prepared in Central Asian countries such as Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The meat and fat from the ribs is ground and formed into a sausage, typically seasoned with garlic, salt, and pepper. Kazy sausages can either be smoked or unsmoked and are usually boiled.
In Europe, many countries use horse meat as steaks, burgers, and smoked meat. Smoked meat, such as sausages and salami, have been a staple in Germany, Hungary, and Finland. In Italy and Iceland horse meat replaces beef in stews.
Whilst horse meat can be found throughout the world, there are ongoing discussions about the morality of eating it. In some countries, there is a taboo and stigma to eating horse, but this controversial delicacy can be found in many areas.