You have heard of Dasher and Dancer and Comet and Cupid and how faithful they were to Santa each year driving his sleigh? But have you ever thought of what happened after they grew old and served their time? They get served up, of course! It was likely that Santa enjoyed his tiny eight with some side dishes. The fact is that reindeer meat is really nutritious and as far back as 1923 the reindeer market was about to explode. Take this quote for instance:
"The day is coming when reindeer meat will be sold in our American markets just like beef and mutton. This reindeer meat will come from Alaska. It will be shipped in cold-storage steamers and trains to all towns of the United States..." That statement was written in 1923 by Frank G. Carpenter, (1855-1924) an author who published a series of books and photographs called Carpenter's World Travels which were very popular in the early 1900's.
Fast foreword 83 years later when all types of food products are exported across the continent in a matter of hours leaving a vapor trail; not a dense black puff of smoke. One of the products on board could very well be the legendary eight tiny reindeer but they are neatly packaged as steaks. If you are sentimental about Rudolph and his fellow companions, stop reading here. The story that follows may not suit your taste, so to speak.
The consumer demand for reindeer meat is on the rise and what you may not realize is that it's connected to Sweden and the furniture industry. Ever heard of IKEA Chances are you have because this popular international low cost home furnishings retailer is now in 30 countries and boasts an annual turnover of roughly 17 million Euros ($21USD). The aptly named "Swedish Food Market" located inside some but not all IKEA retail stores contain stocks of naturally low fat reindeer meat. Delicacies like smoked reindeer meat can be found on the shelves. This very product happens to be extremely popular in the European market, particularly, France. The French, known for their gastronomic love of meats, particularly hunted meats, are the number one consumers of reindeer meat. Germany is in second place, but more reindeer is flying off the shelves, (ha ha!), in places like Korea and Italy who are serving up reindeer roast all year long.
What is it about this meat that makes it so popular that you can forget the cute photos of Santa and his beloved friends and dream of sautéed reindeer instead? Taste, of course. The meat is naturally tender because the reindeer graze during the summer months and do not expend their fat stores keeping warm in the winter This translates to tender steaks and roasts perfect for dishes like marinated reindeer filet with sherry sauce. Sounds delicious and to keep us wanting more of the same, current research in the United States by professional tasters like Kristy Long, an Alaska Extension Food Science Specialist, is currently evaluating reindeer meat for consumer acceptability. According to Long, "Alaska is the first and so far the only state that has an approved food-product test kitchen to assess the flavor, juiciness and other attributes of reindeer meat. Placing a value on what test tasters find appetizing provides essential information the reindeer industry needs to better market their products."
The taste of reindeer meat resembles veal or antelope in flavor. So we now know more about the texture, taste and origins of reindeer meat but how good is it for us? This news is even better and you may feel less guilty about eating your furry Christmas icon with the big brown eyes. Nutritional data reveals that 100 grams (3.5 ounces) of raw meat contains approximately 127 calories, 22 grams of protein and 3 grams of fat. In comparison, lean beef has 221 calories, 19 grams of protein and 15 grams of fat. The inclusion of reindeer meat as part of a healthy diet is being researched by the University of Alaska located in Fairbanks. By studying the diet of Yup'ik Eskimos they hope to draw conclusions that ultimately prove that not only eating reindeer meat but actually hunting for the meat in the outdoors can be healthy practices. Reindeer have traditionally supported the local economies of populations throughout the Polar Regions and Alaska's native communities rely on the animals to fight heart disease and obesity.
Clearly, Mr. Carpenter, the geography writer of the 1900's had little problem promoting the attributes of reindeer meat as an exceptional food for any occasion. I don't think he was inclined to give much thought to the taboo of eating a meat associated with Father Christmas and Rudolph when he wrote, "With lower freight rates, I expect deer meat to compete with the present domestic and foreign meat supplies of the United States. It is delicious, and there will be a demand for it among the meat-eaters who like to have a change of diet now and then."
Perhaps he was right but he would never have never dreamed of it being sold next to a nice oak finished table! Merry Christmas!
By Valerie M Houghton Registered Dietitian
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