Pemmican – Bird or Magical Food?

I used to think a pemmican was a kind of bird. Seriously, when I read The Call of the Wild, I’m pretty sure they talked about giving their sled dogs pemmican and I thought they were just tossing the dogs birds. I finally found out what it was the other day when I came across this website for U.S. Wellness Meats.

It turns out that pemmican is a highly nutritious, life-sustaining food that Native Americans of the U.S. originated (who knows if they actually originated the recipe – seems like people have probably been doing this for millenia). It’s a combo of dried, lean meat, rendered animal fat and berries (optional). Sometimes they would add maple syrup, salt or other herbs to the mix, too.

They’d dry the meat out or slow cook it over a fire until it was brittle, then pound it into a powder with rocks. They’d then add the rendered fat in a 1:1 ratio to make it all stick together. Often they’d throw some dried, powdered berries, currants, cherries or other fruit into the mix, which presumably helped stave off scurvy.

It’s like a power bar but actually Paleo. It’s like the magical, delicious and satisfying lemba the elves bestowed upon the Fellowship of the Ring. If I were a traveling fur trader in the 1800’s, I would’ve felt just like Frodo if a Native American had gifted me some pemmican. That’s actually exactly what happened – pemmican became a hot commodity back in the day, after European explorers realized you can’t live on purely lean meat: you get scurvy and rabbit starvation.

In fact, one polar explorer, Admiral Peary, said this about it: “Of all foods I am acquainted with, pemmican is the only one that a man can eat twice a day for 365 days and have the last mouthful taste as good as the first.”

Quite an endorsement.

Now, like me you might be itching to try some. Be aware that it’s not exactly a low calorie food, so eat it with some discretion.

Here’s a recipe if you want to make your own. Or you can find Tanka Bars, made from bison in South Dakota, at a store near you or buy them online. U.S. Wellness Meats also sells bars and pails of pemmican online, but there’s a strange minimum of $75 or 7 lbs you must meet if you want to buy anything from them.

I’m going to get some at Vitamin Cottage today. Let me know your own experiences with pemmican – I’m so excited to try it!

Share it

Subscribe to the blog


  1. bhalrich

    I found the Tanka products yesterday. The bars are VERY good, nothing like other jerky things. Not a strong over powering taste, very eatable!!! These will help me as snacks! will try the hot variety this week. Will be taking these on upcoming trip to S. Korea in case the food choices are not to my liking, I will at least survive :)

    • Neely

      I actually got them, too, and realized they aren’t pemmican, but really good jerky. I still want to try real pemmican made with the fat, too. In the meantime, this will do :)


  2. Dave

    The Tanka bars aren’t pemmican. They are a 1 oz bar of buffalo, cranberry (dried), an some spices (the hot variety). A very tasty, but expensive, treat or jerky. The pemmican that US Wellness sales is more a “lard” bar then much else. As it consists of tallow (fat), meat and some cranberries but more fat then anything else. Personally don’t find the fat all that “tasty”.

    • Neely

      Thanks – I realized (with disappointment) that the Tanka bars were just jerky, albeit delicious jerky, the other day. Good to have your opinion on the US Wellness pemmican. I’d really like to try some.

  3. Helane Wahbeh

    Bummer…the Tanka bars have sugar in them. :(

  4. quantsuff

    “strange minimum of $75 or 7 lbs” the requirement is not strange once you have tasted the product. They are a business. They would sell none of this product if you could buy it in smaller qty.

    • Neely

      @quantsuff – Actually, they would have sold at least a pound of it to me if not for the minimum. But I see what you’re saying. I talked to them at the Ancestral Health Symposium and they said I could have called to make a smaller order if I wanted. Should’ve called I guess.

  5. ANNA


  6. Fraser

    I wanted to buy pemmican online but remembered that to be legal to sell, the meat has to be cooked. So anything you find online will not be true pemmican as it has been cooked, like store beef jerkey (not real jerkey because it is actually cooked first and not dried). You lose the majority of nutrients cooking it and will become nutrient deprived very quickly, unlike true pemmican. U.S.Wellness says the pemmican will last 7 days in the fridge, true pemmican will last up to a year in a cool dark place in ziplock bags, no freezer needed. Pemmican ingredients should only be, meat, fat and maybe dried fruit. Spices and other ingredients lead to bacteria growth.

    True pemmican is home made, not store bought (atleast not yet).

  7. John

    I made my own pemmican last year. You can get real beef jerky (strangely enough, at from a company called robertson’s. I cut a rib roast into ribeyes, and kept the fat trimmings. I powdered the jerky in the blender, and rendered the fat. I then mixed it together in a muffin tin and let it set up.
    The taste was great – tasted like robertson’s beef jerky (my favorite). The texture and consistency were…strange. the fat content keeps it from being something you would want to eat very often (and I didn’t have enough tallow, as they got crumbly after a few months – but still ok to eat).
    Still, I would make and eat it again. Next time I’m going to add berries, and experiment with dehydrated and pulverized sweet potatoes.

  8. Amy

    @Dave – This at least 2 years too late, but real pemmican *is* lard, or more correctly tallow bars. Pure protein is not nearly the helpful energy source as fat. The goal of pemmican is compact energy with enough protein to rebuild worn out tissues. Not a gourmet meal or necessarily super tasty, but efficient on the road nutrition. :)

  9. Jason O

    Anyone tasted real pemmican? Does it just taste like meaty fat? I might make a small amount, but if it’s palatable then that’d be great.

Leave a Comment