AskDefine | Define pemmican

Dictionary Definition

pemmican n : lean dried meat pounded fine and mixed with melted fat; used especially by North American Indians [syn: pemican]

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


From Cree pimihkaam


  • /ˈpɛmɪkən/


  1. A food made from meat which has been dried and beaten into a paste, mixed with berries and rendered fat, and shaped into little patties.
  2. An emergency ration of meat and fruit.


food mixture

See also

Extensive Definition

Pemmican is a concentrated mixture of fat and protein used as a nutritious emergency foodstuff. The word comes from the Cree word pimîhkân "pemmican", which itself is derived from the word pimî "fat, grease". It was invented by the native peoples of North America, and widely used during the fur trade and later by Arctic and Antarctic explorers such as Robert Falcon Scott and Roald Amundsen as a high-energy food. Pemmican was among the supplies taken by the disastrous Burke and Wills expedition across central Australia. The supply was spoilt and presumably not eaten, a factor leading to the occurrence of scurvy and death among expedition members. Properly packaged, it can be stored for long periods of time.
The specific ingredients used in it were usually whatever was available; the meat was often bison, moose, elk, or deer. Fruits such as cranberries and saskatoon berries were common, though cherries, currants, chokeberries and blueberries were also used, but almost exclusively in ceremonial and wedding pemmican.
The highest quality pemmican is made from lean meat and bone marrow fat; the pemmican buyers of the fur trade era had strict specifications.

Traditional preparation

Traditionally pemmican was prepared from the lean meat of large game animals 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. Then it was pounded into very small pieces, almost powder-like in consistency, using stones. The pounded meat was mixed with melted fat with a ratio of approximately 50% pounded meat and 50% melted fat. 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 "green" rawhide pouches for storage.

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 healthy diet for them, being too high in protein.
Ernest Shackleton's 1914-1916 expedition to the antarctic resorted to eating dog pemmican when they were stranded on ice for the winter.

Boer War

In Africa, biltong was commonly used in all of its forms, but 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, and thus 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. On this a man could march thirty-six hours before he began to drop from hunger. The British Army Chief of Scouts, the American Frederick Russell Burnham, made pemmican a mandatory item carried by every scout.

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 Omaha, Nebraska and owned by ConAgra.
  • 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 a multinational corporation (presumed to be ConAgra); however, they were ultimately allowed to keep the name.


See also

pemmican in Czech: Pemikan
pemmican in German: Pemmikan
pemmican in Spanish: Pemmican
pemmican in French: Pemmican
pemmican in Dutch: Pemmikan
pemmican in Japanese: ペミカン
pemmican in Norwegian: Pemmikan
pemmican in Polish: Pemikan
pemmican in Russian: Пеммикан
pemmican in Finnish: Pemmikaani
pemmican in Cree: Pimîhkân
pemmican in Italian: Pemmican
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