Horse Meat

by Green Deane

in Critter Cuisine, Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Manti, steamed dumplings of horse, pumpkin, and hot pepper smothered in cheese, Kazakhstan

“I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.”

We’ve all heard the phrase, and it comes from when horse was on the menu. It was rather significant phrase to me as a kid because I grew up with horses, usually five occasionally six. They were my mother’s hobby and the main reason why I spent some 13 summers of my youth until I joined the army haying. I know horses, haying and ground hornets well. I also know it take one huge hole to bury a dead horse. It’s not a hole you dig by hand. Want a reference point? Dig a hold to bury a car. That’s about right except you have to make it deep or carnivores will dig down to it. Even getting a dead horse to the hole is a chore particularly if it dies in a stall in the barn.

Not only did my mother bring home live horses but horse meat as well. We bought it in the butcher store occasionally. It had to be separated from the beef — other side of the store — but there it was, several different cuts catering to the Canadian shoppers. In fact, horse meat was on the menu at the Harvard Faculty Club up until 1983. It was a common food in the U.S. during WWII and was consumed in quantity because it was not rationed. Archaeologists tell us early man hunted and ate horses. They became beasts of burden much later. Horses are called the noble beast because they will always try to do what you ask of them.

Equinonoid Henry Ford

Here’s a bit of trivia for you: Henry Ford loathed horses. He hated them.  He said he worked hard to develop the car to free man from the culture of horses. Ponder that. Here’s a man who helped change an entire society because he hated a particular animal. Then again, someone who loved horses, which were the main muscle of the day, could have developed the car because they wanted to save horses from all that work and suffering. Either way the internal combustion engine put an end to the horse culture.

Saint Boniface

The banning of horse meat goes back to the eighth century. Popes Zachary and Gregory III both told Saint Boniface to forbid his missionaries to eat horse meat, as it had a strong correlation to the Germanic pagan rituals which Christians were trying to eradicate. The Germans of old liked their horse meat, and still do and until five years ago the US was the major exporter of resturant grade horse meat.

Japan's Basashi

Buying horse meat and slaughtering horses for commercial meat was illegal in the United States from 2006 until Nov. 18th, 2011, though it was available in other countries during those times. Horse meat could be in US markets in early 2012 but it is sure to create public controversy. The only legal impediment nationally is funding federal meat inspectors. However, California and Illinois have banned the slaughter of horses for human consumption, and more than a dozen states tightly regulate the sale of horse meat. Not so elsewhere.

In Japan there’s a sashimi dish made of horse meat. It is very popular in France.  From a culinary point of view horse meat is lean, much along the taste and texture of moose or deer. It is a gray colored, dry, sweeter than beef, and improves in flavor greatly by the inclusion of fat when cooking or from a marinade. Fresh is far better than frozen.

As mentioned elsewhere most people would not eat their pets, regardless of what those pets are. When I meet someone who has a reptile for a pet I have to remind myself of that least I make a few misplaced iguana shoes or turtle soup jokes. Though we ate horse meat eating our horses when they died was not an option. We buried Ginger, Bonnie, Cheeko, Rusty, Mary and Sootie. And I am sure all these years later I would be bothered by the deed had we eaten those big, lovable pets. However, in hindsight all these years later, we also buried a lot of meat. Combined they weighted some 6,000 pounds. Even after dressing that would be three to four thousand pounds of meat, two tons of it. That’s a lot of food to put into the ground. If raising cattle that we eat is a waste of land resources then what is burying a pet horse?

Horses have cuts just as beef does, with more or less tender parts. We usually bought steaks but they ended up in stews more often than fried. Without some tenderizing and fat the frying pan does not treat horse meat well. The stews were excellent. Indeed, my mother loved New England Boiled Dinners. We had that virtually every Sunday for every Sunday I ever lived at home — without exception — and more than once there was a chunk of horse meat in there growing tender by the long, moist heat.

Foul-mouth chef Gordon Ramsay says horse is healthy, packed with half the fat of beef and has far more Omega 3 fatty acids than beef. He describes it as “slightly gamey” and “packed with protein.” I don’t remember it being gamey at all.

While there are legitimate reasons not to eat horse on the positive side, horses  don’t have mad cows disease.

Horse meat with mustard

  • 1 1/2 lb. (675 g) lean ground or cubes horse meat
  • 1 Tbsp. (15 mL) olive oil
  • Tomato Sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. (30 mL) olive oil
  • 1 cup (250 mL) tomato sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. (15 mL) brown sugar or honey
  • 1 Tbsp. (15 mL) mustard
  • 1 Tbsp. (15 mL) Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste


In a pan, sauté the horse meat in oil. Drain the meat and throw out the cooking fat. Put the meat back in the pan. In a glass bowl, mix all the sauce ingredients. Pour into the pan over the meat. Cover and simmer for one hour. Serve with pasta and sprinkle with Parmesan or Pecorino cheese.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

DaveB13 August 17, 2013 at 15:51

In the mid 1970’s for a long time previously and probably up to now, the urine and sometimes feces of winning and suspect race horses and dogs was tested by some ( PROBABLY ALL States that had racing programs ) States for drugs. For a while way back when, detection of some steroids was a challenge. With the equipment of today they might be able to tell where the oats the horse ate yesterday morning were grown. I do not know what if any drugs are allowed for treating race animals. I presume if a drug will impact a animals performance, it better have been metabolized or excreted to undetectable amounts before a race.


Kylie February 23, 2013 at 17:18

I’ve been a horse owner all my life, and so when faced with horse on the menu in Vietnam, I had a crisis of conscience, followed by a bottle of rice wine. In the end, I tried it, and it was delicious. It was simply marinaded and cooked on a stick, but it was lovely – like beef, but also had a taste similar to crispy chicken skin.
A normal riding horse or racehorse, in my opinion, is unsuitable for the table. Most riding horses, and I would assume all racehorses, have been given bute (an oral antiinflammatory) at least once. Racehorses would have it before and after most races to ensure they run past any injuries.
It clearly states on the packet that bute is not to be given to animals that will be used for human consumption.


eleanor January 14, 2013 at 22:55

The problem with horsemeat is that we are a culture of chemists. There are no horses that I am aware of that aren’t treated with all sorts of medications (most not suitable for animals intended for slaughter). If you raise horses for meat there would be strict regs associated with what they could be treated with. Not so the horse meat supply – particulately the racehorse meat supply. Not much they don’t use to make a horse run, or keep it on four legs long enough to ship to the butcher. Not for a sentimental reason, but for seriously real health threats, don’t eat horsemeat unless you personally know where it was raised and that its safe!


Green Deane January 15, 2013 at 09:44

Is this inferential or do you have evidence of said? I grew up with horses and they rarely had any medication except occassionally when ill. This was before west nile virus, however. But even now the schedule of shots for horses is very little, four or five at the most. Cattle however are routinely immunized and given antibiotics, eight to 10 shots annually, more if ill. I would think if any meat was likely to have medications et cetera it would be cattle not horses.


ladonna February 10, 2013 at 11:03

I worked in race horse industry for 13 years and can vouch that they are given all kinds of shots and drugs.


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