Ultimate Guide to Pemmican - Background, History, Recipes

What do Lewis & Clark, Ernest Shackelton, the Hudson Bay Company, and Kevin Costner’s character in Dances With Wolves have in common?


All utilized this nutrient dense staple as a key tool in their survival during harsh conditions. None would recognize the creature comforts we have today, yet for busy individuals, anyone seeking nutritional convenience, and campers & hikers alike, Pemmican is a versatile weapon to have in the arsenal.

Anyone can make Pemmican at home. The secret? People's Choice Shredded Beef Jerky (aka Machaca) makes the process of making Pemmican super easy and fun.

This article will detail history, benefits, and recipes for Pemmican, after I discovered a remarkably easy and tasty Pemmican recipe using People’s Choice Machaca and jarred tallow.

Pemmican being prepared.

What is Pemmican?

Pemmican consists of two fundamental ingredients — dried meat and tallow — and is used as a highly nutritious, on-the-go food staple. Spices can be and usually are added, while dried berries are sometimes a feature. It can be formed into any shape convenient for storage and consumption. This article will go deeper into what exactly tallow and dried meat are and how you can source them.

Pemmican by its very purpose is non-perishable. Consisting of zero-water (or as little as can feasibly be constructed), it does not include any ingredients which can easily break down, spoil, or go bad with time.

As a result, when made and stored properly, Pemmican can be confidently stored for up to a year. Believe it or not there are documented cases of Pemmican being stored for several decades (although I wouldn’t recommend it).
While jerky and biltong—which are other types of dried meats—are also popular in the non-perishable food world, what makes Pemmican unique is the inclusion of tallow, a rendered animal fat. Tallow exponentially enhances the food’s caloric and nutrient density.

Pemmican is treasured for this robustness and portability in combination with unparalleled nutrient density.

History of Pemmican

Pemmican has been used throughout history for many of the reasons it is beloved today.

While alternative versions can be found globally, Pemmican as we know it was created by indigenous peoples of North and Central America. The modern term is derived from the Cree pimîhkân.

It was key in nomadic times, where the food was ideal for long hunts and as an easily stored available food with no preparation required. Tribes such as the Lakota, Cree, and Metis would turn wild game or bison into Pemmican and store it in rawhide bags or stash it in depots. This made sure they had access to nutritional resources at given sites along their journeys.

European arrivals made this one of their first pickups from the local cultures, and it is seen as of equal significance to the horse and gun in shaping the history of the Americans.

Fur Traders in the Great Lakes region relied heavily on it, especially during winter. Further north, the Hudson Bay companies actually fought a small war over Pemmican trade and regulation. Lewis & Clark wrote that the Mandan tribe of the Great Plains gifted their expedition a large amount of Pemmican. They credited this highly nutritious snack as a key contributor to them reaching the West Coast!
The first crossing of Greenland’s interior by Fridtjof Nansen, the infamous Arctic and Antarctic expeditions of Ernest Shackelton and Robert Falcon Scott; all relied heavily on Pemmican for survival.

The US Army conducted a study on the food in the 1960s and found that even on only 1000 calories per day, men eating only Pemmican not only survived for months on end but actually had reduced psychological disturbances.
Today, campers, crossfitters, hikers and busy folks alike enjoy pemmican for the same reasons as our ancestors: it tastes great, is incredibly nutrient-dense, is portable and lasts forever.

What are the benefits of Pemmican?

Pemmican contains no inflammatory elements of any kind. As simply a meat and tallow item, there is only highly potent nutrition involved.
Pemmican can be eaten ad libitum, though its caloric density is likely to fill you up faster than most anything else imaginable. For those taking a ketogenic, paleo, carnivore, or otherwise low-carb eating approach, Pemmican is a phenomenal tool.

It’s portability and ideal nutrient profile eliminate compliance excuses and ensure you’ll always stay well-fed.

What are the key ingredients of Pemmican?

Tallow and Machaca ready for Pemmican.

Searches for how to make pemmican and pemmican recipes are typically dominated by descriptions of drying meat and rendering tallow from fat chunks. This article will instead detail how to create your very own easy pemmican recipe (i.e. lazy millennial, easy-prep) featuring two ready-made ingredients:

1. Tallow

Tallow is rendered animal fat.

The storage organ of nutrients, especially key fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, fat is essential to life and key for a near-endless number of hormonal and metabolic processes. Consisting mostly of palmitic and oleic acids, tallow is a shelf-stable substance historically used for food and in the production of shaving cream and other beauty products, soap, and even airplane fuel.
Popular and broadly-available brands which can be used for this Pemmican recipe include Epic, MD.Life, and Fatworks.

2. Shredded Beef Jerky

Machaca is dehydrated shredded beef. It is essentially beef dust, and is amazingly versatile in that it can be sprinkled on eggs or used for tacos. The only limit is your imagination. Typically a few spices are included for flavor. Machaca is a great protein source for Pemmican recipes because it is already in the physical state which you need, so there is no processing involved.

People's Choice has both 2.5 ounce bags as well as 1 LB bags with resealable packaging, making it a perfect pantry ingredient.

My Story with Pemmican

As a 30-year-old bachelor finishing up a PhD and launching a startup, convenient and robust ways of eating well are of high priority for me. A few months after transitioning from a general paleo-ish approach to a mostly carnivorous diet, I discovered pemmican and decided I wanted to make this for myself as a regular go-to.

Unfortunately, all of the recipes I found online revolved around extensive fat-rendering and meat-dehydrating processes, which is fine if you have plenty of spare time or patience.

I’ve got neither.

I happened to be on the website of People’s Choice Beef Jerky and noticed the Machaca product, so I ordered a large bag and some tallow from Amazon.
A few days later, I combined the two to make the easiest Pemmican recipe our ancestors would have dreamed of. If you want to make your own pemmican, this is the recipe for you. It’s the perfect blend of beef jerky and pemmican, you might even call it pemmican beef jerky.

About the Author

Jake Schuster is a Sports Scientist and Strength and Conditioning Coach based in Miami, Florida. He has worked with pro and Olympic athletes in 7 countries and is currently working towards a PhD in Biomechanics. A former college Wrestler armed with an MSc in Sports Nutrition & Physiology, Jake has taken a journey from being a decade-long vegetarian, through paleo, all the way to a carnivore-style eating approach. You can find him and his Paul Newman fandom at @CoolHandJakeGS on Instagram and Twitter.