What does horse meat taste like?

People in Ireland and the United Kingdom have been outraged after learning that some of their beef items (such as frozen beef lasagne) were manufactured with horse meat rather than beef.

According to USA Today, it was also found that people may have been misled into eating horse meat for up to a year. Only DNA tests indicated that horse flesh was present. This begs the question, “How does horse meat taste?”

(And — jokes about the British palate notwithstanding — couldn’t anyone tell the difference?)

According to the International Business Times, horse meat is often regarded to taste slightly sweet, a bit gamey, and a hybrid between beef and venison. While meat from younger horses is pinkish in hue, flesh from older horses is deeper and reddish in color.

It’s also a very versatile meat that lends itself to a variety of preparations — which is why it’s so popular in so many different cultures, according to the Huffington Post. (And why, perhaps, it was so easy to disguise in frozen lasagna.)

Horse meat is used to produce pastissada de caval, a rich, hearty stew in northern Italy (“caval” is Italian for horse). Horse flesh, or basashi, is cut thin and eaten raw in Japan. Horse is also used in a variety of recipes in Kazakhstan, Indonesia, and Mongolia.

Because the meat is thinner than beef or pig, it requires less cooking time to prevent drying out. According to KQED, a public radio and television program, it’s also rich in iron and omega-3 fatty acids. Nonetheless, many cultures, including parts of China, North America, and the British Isles, do not consider horses to be food. [7 Ideal Survival Foods]

Some opponents reacting to the horse meat controversy in the United Kingdom have raised concerns about pollutants in the meat, such as the medication phenylbutazone, or “bute,” according to PulseToday.

Bute is an anti-inflammatory painkiller that has been used in the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis in dogs and horses. It has been banned from use in humans, as some people have had adverse reactions to the drug, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). “As phenylbutazone can cause severe toxic reactions, it was also banned from use in food-producing animals as it is unclear whether there is a ‘safe’ level of the drug,” according to a statement by the NIH.

According to the NIH, Britain’s top medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, has said that an inquiry is underway to investigate how horse meat got into the food chain. “There is no evidence of a safety risk to consumers who may have consumed the products.” So far, all of the merchants concerned have removed possibly contaminated items from their shelves.

“There is currently no indication that phenylbutazone — bute — is present in any of the products that have been identified in this country but the FSA [Food Standards Agency] has ordered further tests to confirm this,” Davies said.

“It’s understandable that people will be concerned,” she said. “However, even if bute is found to be present at low levels, there is a very low risk that it will cause any harm to health.”

Sharon Moore

Managing Director at Moore Racehorse Trust

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