Pemmican bar by Albert & James Cannery, New York

Word Smith: Pemmican

I came across the name of a snack eaten by Comanche warriors who could ride horses ferociously for hours and days at a time, switching horses, as their animals became too tired. The author of the story [1] told about pouches of Pemmican. I was not familiar with the food source, so I looked it up and found the topic full of history and use around the world and on all continents.

Starting close to home, pemmican is a food mixture important to the indigenous cuisine in many parts of North America. The basic recipe is a mixture of tallow, dried meat and dried berries. Rich is calories, it can be used as a key component in prepared meals or it can be eaten alone as a raw snack, food ration, or dietary supplement. The word Pemmican comes from the Cree word ᐱᒦᐦᑳᓐ(pimîhkân), which is derived from the word the Canadian Indian dialect meaning “animal fat and grease”. Many other tribes have a similar dietary supplement, particularly the the Lakota (Sioux), who use the word wasná, whose originally meaning was for food made with “grease derived from marrow bones with small pieces of meat attached to it.” From various sources is appears that the word and the recipe were invented by the Indigenous peoples of North America. [2]

Pemmican was widely adopted by Europeans as a high-energy food that derived from the fur trade. Left with the carcasses of the animals, the traders captured the animal fat, grease and bone marrow and added dried beef (jerky) and berries to the concoction for taste and preservatives. Europeans involved in both Arctic and Antarctic exploration used bars of pemmican as a vital supplement to the calories they had for their expeditions. Expeditions by Roald Amundsen, Ernest Shackleton, Richard Byrd, Robert Bartlett, George DeLong, Fridtjof Nansen, and Robert Scott are all known to have kitchens where pemmican was on the menu. The chefs prepared the pemmican for both the men and the dogs. The canines needed the energy to drag the sleds across the frozen landscape. [3]

Today, there are lots of versions of the food supplement for “survivalists” and rugged outdoorsmen. There is even a sweetened version of Pemmican made by Bear Valley that you can get from REI.

Bear Valley Fruit & Nut Pemmican

Below are some recipes that have found their way into the blogosphere [4] on the topic of pemmican. Note how similar these are to some of the ingredients to beef jerky, and some of the high energy bars on the market.


  • Red meat: Traditionally game meat is used, but now beef is most common. 5lbs of meat will make 1lb of dried meat
  • Fat (suet): You will need to render the fat into tallow. Instructions below. Use about a 1:6 ratio of fat and dried meat, but you can experiment.  The ratio doesn’t have to be exact!
  • Salt: 1tsp salt per pound of meat
  • Optional: dried berries, herbs, spices, honey


  1. Cut fat off of the meat: You should only dry the meat, not any fat on it!
  2. Salt the meat: This will help inhibit bacteria growth and make the pemmican taste better.
  3. Dry the meat: Instructions follow.
  4. Turn the dry meat into a powder: A meat grinder is best, but you can also use a blender or food processor. It needs to be almost a powder with no big chunks in it.
  5. Turn the berries into a powder: Same as with the meat.
  6. Mix the powdered meat and powdered berries together.
  7. Heat the fat so it liquefies.
  8. Pour the fat over the powdered meat/berry mixture. The ratio of fat to dried mixture is about 1:6, but you can experiment.
  9. Let cool and form into balls or bars.
  10. Wrap in wax paper or plastic bags and store!
Pemmican cut into squares of rolls


Follow instructions as above to make these alternative recipes:

Nutty Recipe

2 cups jerky
1 cup dried fruit
1 cup tallow
½ cup almond flour

Chicken-Coconut Recipe

2 cups chicken jerky
4-5 tbps coconut oil, melted
Herbs or spices like thyme or curry

Peanut Butter Recipe

2 cups jerky
1 cup dried blueberries
1 cup sunflower seeds or nuts, crushed
2 tsp honey
¼ cup peanut butter, melted

  • Prep Time: 2 Hours
  • Cook Time: 15 Hours (including drying meat)
  • Category: snack
  • Method: baked
  • Cuisine: American


  • Calories: 2930


[1] Gwynne, Empire of the Summer Moon, Scribner, New York, 2010.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pemmican/

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.primalsurvivor.net/how-to-make-pemmican/