Equine meat is perceived differently from country to country. Some find it exotic or strange. Others believe that it is harmful and toxic. In the American West, many perceive it to be inhumane. California voters banned the sale of horsemeat in 1998 and made it a felony to slaughter a horse for human consumption.
Nonetheless, horsemeat is the core of my home country of Kazakhstan’s national cuisine. So please indulge me for a moment as I cast a light on this taboo meat.
Horsemeat is a type of red meat, but it’s different from beef; I find it to have a richer flavor and texture. First-timers might think that it tastes something closer to venison, although some say it is difficult to distinguish from beef.
Although the consumption of equine meat is condemned by many countries, its health benefits compared with other types of meat are worth considering.
Not only does horsemeat have more protein than beef, it also is lower in fat, cholesterol and calories. In addition, horsemeat has a better ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, which can be effective in preventing cardiovascular diseases. Horsemeat also has more iron than other meats such as beef or pork and contains a good amount of zinc, which has proven to be vital for bone growth and repair. This is perhaps why it’s so popular in children’s diets in some European countries such as Italy and Belgium.
It also has good amounts of the minerals selenium and phosphorus and of the B vitamins niacin, B6 and B12. Horsemeat has more than double the amount of iron than ground beef.
Given America’s taste for meat, supplanting much of the country’s beef consumption with horsemeat is arguably worthy of being given a chance on the merits of public health alone.
However, there are other benefits to horsemeat as well, including the fact that it is more affordable than many other types of meat.
The price of beef per ton on the global auction market is $5,300 whereas horsemeat is $1,200 per ton. In a time of extreme economic uncertainty due to COVID-19, pivoting to equine meat instead of, say, ground beef, could provide millions of Americans with an inexpensive source of protein.
Perhaps most importantly, however, supplanting more beef with horsemeat would contribute to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
Global meat production is responsible for roughly 18% of all human-produced greenhouse gas emissions, much of that from cows. Methane produced by cows as a result of enteric fermentation poses a risk of global warming 25 times higher than of carbon dioxide.
And cows create a lot of methane. A single cow can belch upward of 220 pounds of the greenhouse gas per year.
Unlike cows, horses digest differently. A horse has a single stomach, which makes it a fussy grazer. Therefore, it can only deal with easily digestible carbohydrates. Thus, horses produce less methane than cows.
Put simply, the planet would be a much safer place if the majority of meat eaters developed a taste for horsemeat instead of beef.
Many can and do argue that eating a horse is inappropriate due to the fact that horses are seen as companions and pets rather than food sources. As a Kazakh, I admit I find this mentality strange.
What’s the difference between a horse and a cow, a chicken or a sheep? All can be companionable. If you don’t gag at consuming beef, poultry or lamb, why do you single out horsemeat?
As an originally nomadic people, Kazakhs celebrate the horse as the most significant feature of our national identity. The horse has played a central role throughout Kazakh history as provider of transportation, labor, companionship and, yes, food.
It is therefore entirely unsurprising to find that horses feature heavily in the rituals, art and cuisine of the region. Equine meat has been a diet for the Kazakh people since our creation. We see no contradiction between loving to ride horses and loving to eat them.
In fact, our cuisine largely revolves around horsemeat. Almost all the restaurants and cafes in Kazakhstan serve it.
Traditional Kazakh palau is rice and vegetables accompanied with fried horsemeat. It is hard to imagine a Kazakh feast or a big family celebration without qazy and shujyq, smoked horsemeat sausages, which always command the center of the festive table.
Then there is quyrdaq, my personal favorite. It is horsemeat in gravy with potatoes and large rings of onions spiced with garlic and whole black pepper.
These are only my small personal selection of dishes made of horsemeat, which is so ingrained in our culture. There are many more.