Facts About Horse Meat

Common Questions About Horse Meat

Raw horse meat on a plate.
Raw horse meat. Gettty Images

Like it or not, many people among the over seven million on the earth eat horse meat. This article is not an endorsement or criticism of the practice, but an exploration of horse meat eating. Our earliest relationship with the horse was as a dinner item. It's estimated that it was between 10,000 to 6500 years ago that the horse was domesticated. However, cave paintings depicting the hunting of horses have been estimated to be up to  25,000 years old.

Humans may have been eating horses for much longer than we've been using them for carrying or pulling our loads.


Who Eats Horse Meat?

Today horse meat is eaten in many countries, including Mexico, Belgium, Canada, Chili, Spain, Iceland, France, Russia, Kazakhstan and many Eastern European, South American, South East Asian, and Eastern countries such as China and Japan. Not all people within these countries will consume horse meat and often, there are only certain groups that enjoy it. At various times in history, such as during or after wartime, horse meat consumption has increased due to food shortages. Iceland, with its limited pasture land, must be conservative about the number of horses it supports, will cull excess horses and harvest them for meat.

The expense of horse meat means it’s rare that horses are slaughtered for pet food anymore. Most horses arriving at pet food plants or zoos do so on dead stock trucks after they’ve died from natural causes or accident.


What is Horse Meat Like?

Horse meat is lean. It is a deeper red than beef. The meat is described as somewhat more fibrous than beef, and slightly gamier tasting, although some people describe it as sweeter. Unlike beef or pork, horse meat is said to become tastier and more tender the older the animal is.

Like most meat,s the flavor and texture will depend greatly on the preparation. 

Why Do People Eat Horse Meat?

An interest in healthy eating has turned more people to horse meat as a leaner alternative to beef. After the 'mad cow disease' or bovine spongiform encephalopathy in Europe, many people turned to horse meat as a potentially safer alternative. For some, it is simply a part of their traditional diet.

Basic Nutritional Data Compared to Lean Beef 

3.5oz/100g Serving

Horse MeatFat Trimmed Bottom Sirloin
Total Fat:5g9g
Iron:3.8 mg1.5mg
B123.0 mcg1.1 mcg
Protein21.4 g20.6 g



How Is Horse Meat Prepared?

Horse meat can be prepared in much the same way beef is prepared. It can be served as steaks or ground. It's often smoked or processed into various sausages such as salami and often cut in with pork or other meat. It can be eaten marinated and raw. Stew, fondue, tartare, burgers, steaks, brochettes, roast, sauerbraten, rolade and many more dishes can be made with horse meat. Most advice warns against over-cooking the meat, only cooking it to the medium-rare stage. Horse meat can be found in canned and pre-packaged foods such as soups and stews.

In Japan, raw horse meat can be found in ice cream.


Where Do Horses Come From that Are Used for Meat?

Amongst the top horse meat exporting countries are Mexico, Argentina and Canada. Most of these horses were privately owned and for whatever reason, were unwanted. These, however, are just a few of the countries that export horse meat. France and other European countries farm horses specifically for meat, using breeds that would otherwise become extinct because they are no longer useful as draft animals. The Breton, Percheron, Ardennais and Boulonnais are some of the draft horse breeds that may be bred for meat production. According to France Trait, 88% of the draft horses bred there are used for meat production.


Why Do Most North Americans and Others Object to Eating Horse Meat?

Tell someone you like to eat horse meat, and you'll probably have to suffer the wrath of anyone within earshot. Suggesting that horses are 'good eating' is one way some people like to taunt horse lovers. Eating horse meat is taboo in North America for a few reasons. According to a 2012 study, horse meat was regarded as 'pagan' food by early Christians. So our distaste for horse meat has its roots in the teachings of the early Catholic church. The study suggests that the worship and eating of horses was frowned upon by the early church and rather than integrate the practice, as was done with so many other pagan practices, such as many Christmas and Easter traditions, it was condemned by Pope Gregory III. It was not respect for the animal that inspired this, but a desire to quell the rituals of horse worship.

Jewish tradition forbids the consumption of horse meat because they are not ruminants, and they do not have cloven hooves. Muslim tradition strongly discourages the consumption of horse meats.

Another reason horse meat is not more accepted is the cost of producing horse meat. Horse meat is a by-product of the horse industry in North America. Horses shipped for meat are sold for very low prices that don't reflect the cost it would take to actually raise them. Cattle grow faster and are easier and cheaper to feed. A 2002 study showed that horses require over 60% more feed than cattle.

Horse meat can also contain residuals of drugs that are potentially cancer causing.

Horses are considered by many as companion animals and pets. In North America, they are classified as livestock, even though they aren't kept for agricultural use or meat production. Many people object to a pet being eaten.