Pemmican: Recipe, Definition, Shelf Life, and Taste

Fact-checked and medically reviewed article

Pemmican | Ingredients | History | Shelf Life | Benefits | Recipe | FAQ

For many, pemmican is the ultimate survival food and hunter’s snack.

Due to its energizing effect, conformity with the ketogenic diet, and long shelf life, North American Indians’ traditional food is enjoying great popularity again.

What Is Pemmican?

Pemmican is a high-calorie snack made from dried meat and beef fat.

It is a traditional indigenous food in certain parts of North America. Also, the explorers of the Antarctic used it.

Accordingly, pemmican was used as a survival food when driving away from the main camp and camping at temperatures below zero.

It also has a reputation as a superfood among so-called preppers and survivalists.

Since it only consists of dried meat and fat, I can understand this reputation and must look closely at it in this article.

Therefore, you can make pemmican with only two ingredients without sophisticated processes or equipment.


Pemmican consists of lean, dried meat – once bison or elk – ground into a powder and mixed with equal liquid fat, usually beef tallow.

Some recipes also include dried blueberries, cranberries, or spices.

Since it is a source of both essential macronutrients in a highly compressed and calorie-dense form, people can feed themselves ultimately on pemmican as survival food for long periods.

History of Pemmican

North American Indians invented pemmican.

For this reason, the word comes from the Cree word pimîhkân, derived from pimî, which means “grease or goo.”

Also, the Cree are the most widespread indigenous people in North America.

Their territory stretched from the USA’s Rocky Mountains over large parts of Canada to Quebec and the Atlantic Ocean, and even today, there are still about 135 tribes.

Pemmican used to be a survival food in Antarctica

In the Western world, the anthropologist, Arctic researcher, and nutritionist Vihljamur Stefansson spread the word and made pemmican famous (*).

Since Stefansson lived with the North American Inuit and ate like them.

And the zero-carb diet of the Inuit, which consisted almost exclusively of animal products like fish, meat, and offal, particularly fascinated him.

Although Western nutrition experts thought this was impossible, the Inuit enjoyed excellent health with solid muscles and energy.

When the Inuits remained outside the camp, they could get by for weeks with nothing but pemmican to eat and snow to drink.

Since Stefansson could also exclusively live on pemmican, he could rule out genetic causes for the Inuit energy.

For this reason, he adopted the meat-only carnivore diet for a year after the expedition to study the long-term effects. According to the research reports, he remained in perfect health.

How Long Will Pemmican Last Without Refrigeration?

Pemmican can last for a decade in a dry and cool cellar.

For a long shelf-life, the ingredients must be dry (except the fat) when combined.

The fat can become rancid when stored incorrectly. The fat can oxidize if stored incorrectly, e.g., when exposed to air, heat, or sunlight.

Also, high humidity during storage can cause moisture from the air to penetrate the bars. And as soon as it gets damp, pemmican can spoil.

Hence, it’s essential to protect it from oxygen and moisture.

So, if you store it in a cool and dry place, you can expect it to last for years or even decades. However, to ensure it is still in good condition, I would inspect the stock annually and replenish it if necessary.

Is Pemmican Healthy?

Pemmican is healthy and easily digestible.

The traditional recipe combines the two most easily digestible ingredients for our health: fat and animal proteins.

Therefore, traditional pemmican is a historical food today more than ever of health importance.

Because the traditional recipe does not contain carbohydrates, it is ideal for ketogenic diets.

Moreover, it is keto-friendly, and you can even have it on a strict carnivore diet, often used to treat psychological problems based on intolerances.

Furthermore, homemade pemmican, made according to a traditional recipe, is an option for backpacking, hiking, trekking, or camping, as it does not spoil, crush or spill.

How to Make Pemmican

Making pemmican at home takes time, but you usually wait for the ingredients to dry or cook. You can prepare the dish when the ingredients are ready in a few minutes.

Furthermore, the traditional pemmican recipe below is a base you can customize. Accordingly, you can use other types of meat, such as venison or wild boar, and add extra spices.

You can use dried meat, unsweetened beef jerky, or dry the meat yourself.

How to Dry Meat for Pemmican

The traditional pemmican recipe uses lean buffalo meat. Also, caribou or venison have been used by the Indians of North America for the recipe.

However, beef is also suitable for the survival snack because it is affordable, widely available, and easy to make into powder. Any lean piece of meat is convenient, such as loin.

The meat should ideally be very lean, with little fat in the meat itself. On the one hand, this makes it easier to process. On the other hand, it allows for a more compact structure with a better shelf life.

However, what the piece of meat is like is not essential for the recipe. Therefore, you can get a piece of meat from your trusted butcher at a reasonable price unsuitable for conventional dishes. To make the bars, you have to blend the meat anyway.

Due to drying, you will need about two pounds of raw meat to make one pound of pemmican.

In a food dryer, the meat dries in about 12 hours. But even without special equipment, you can dry the meat in the oven:

  • Cut the raw meat into skinny strips (a sharpened kitchen knife is essential; freezing the meat can help too)
  • Place the strips without folds or overlaps on a baking tray.
  • Put it in the oven at about 150°F (65°C) for several hours (usually less than 12 hours)

As soon as the meat breaks, it is dried and now represents jerky. Although delicious, you should not eat it all at once because too little meat iis terrible for texture, taste, and shelf life.

What Does Pemmican Taste Like?

Pemmican tastes beefy and smokey.

Since it is a high-calorie trekking snack that historically ensured survival, the practicability and function of this emergency food were the main focus.

Accordingly, its taste may take some getting used to the first time.

Nevertheless, there are various ways to give the recipe a personal touch that tastes delicious.

If you add optional herbs and spices, you can create various flavors and even improve the texture.

Moreover, a wide variety of spice blends fit well in the snack.

As a rule of thumb, spices that combine well with meat taste good in pemmican. The following seasonings have already been tested in many places:

  • Herbs a la Provence
  • Cumin
  • Garlic and onion
  • Chili and peppers
  • Cajun spice blends
  • Italian spice blends
  • Mexican spice blends

Also, many people use dried berries or honey, making it taste sweet.

However, you add a large amount of sugar in this way. In this case, you turn healthy pemmican into an average snack unsuitable for the keto or carnivore diet.

Pemmican Recipe

Make pemmican, a shelf-stable, keto-friendly survival and prepper snack 🥩 that lasts forever, easily at home with this recipe.
Prep Time 15 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Servings 12 bars
Calories 368kcal


  • Blender
  • Bowl


  • 250 grams dried meat or jerky from 1000 grams of raw beef, deer, or bison
  • 250 grams tallow
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tbsp spices optional


  • Render the tallow slowly in a pot at low heat. The low heat ensures that the fat does not burn, which can ruin the pemmican. This process can take several hours.
  • While the fat renders you can blend the dried meat and optional spices into powder.
  • The ingredients should have a sawdust-like consistency so that they can now be mixed with salt in a large bowl.
  • As soon as the tallow is rendered, it can be separated from impurities in the fat through a fine sieve.
  • As long as the fat is no longer too hot, you can pour it over the dry ingredients and mix well. There should be just enough tallow to moisten all the meat.
  • Pour the mixture into a shallow casserole dish and then place in the refrigerator to cool and set for a few hours.
  • Afterward the pemmican can be cut into smaller pieces (bars or cubes). It be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place or in the freezer, where it will last even longer.

The Bottom Line

Making traditional pemmican is ultimately less effort than it might seem.

The only important thing is that the liquid fat is at the right temperature. If it is too hot, it will harm the taste. It will damage the texture when it is too cold and clumps together.

The survival food can last years if stored in a cool and dry place.

Nevertheless, it is a more valuable energy source for extraordinary adventures than a casual snack.

That’s why it tastes nowhere better than in nature. Because of the natural healthy fat, you don’t have to pack butter if you bring pemmican.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What does pemmican smell like?

Pemmican smells like smoked beef. It smells similar to beef jerky.

Can you survive on only pemmican?

There are stories of people in Antarctica living for months on nothing but pemmican.

Why doesn't pemmican go bad?

The rendered fat contains less impurities and water, which makes the meat in the bar last longer.

Mag. Stephan Lederer, MSc. is an author and blogger from Austria who writes in-depth content about health and nutrition. His book series on Interval Fasting landed #1 on the bestseller list in the German Amazon marketplace in 15 categories.

Stephan is a true man of science, having earned multiple diplomas and master's degrees in various fields. He has made it his mission to bridge the gap between conventional wisdom and scientific knowledge. He precisely reviews the content and sources of this blog for currency and accuracy.

Click on the links above to visit his author and about me pages.

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