Buffalo Meat Nutrition

A Basic Guide to Buffalo Meat Nutrition

You probably don’t know much about buffalo meat.  Nutrition guides and classes usually don’t cover the values of bison.  In fact, if you are like most people, you didn’t even realize that buffalo was a menu option.  If you saw an advertisement for a Buffalo Burger, you probably thought that it was like “buffalo wings,” only a figure of speech.  After all, aren’t Buffalo on the endangered species list?  Didn’t we virtually wipe out all of the Buffalo during our westward expansion at the end of the nineteenth century?

The Current State of Bison

There are currently about five hundred thousand bison living in North America.  They are not considered to be near extinction any more than cows are because, like cows, they have become a domesticated animal used for their meat.  Bison were indeed eliminated from most of the wild at the end of the nineteenth century.  The connection between the over-hunting of the bison in the nineteenth century is intimately connected to the historical defeat of the plains Indians.  Many see the growing tension between Native Americans and the encroachment of the U.S. as largely tied up with the bison.  As the U.S. government killed off herds of bison, the Native American tribes that depended on these animals for food turned increasingly to raids on the encroaching population, which in turn lead to further militancy against native tribes.  (Thus, we might find it ironic that the largest herd of non-private bison should roam those public lands of Custer State Park in South Dakota.)

Buffalo Meat Nutrition

You probably haven’t heard much about how the health benefits of buffalo meat.  Nutrition values for bison, however, are much higher than for regular beef.  A cut of buffalo meat, for example, has only one-fourth the fat content as an equivalent cut of beef.  Buffalo meat also has half the calories.  For this reason, many heart health experts recommend buffalo meat as a heart healthy alternative to beef.  (Of course, even healthier is to lay off four legged meats altogether and switch to a vegetarian diet supplemented occasionally by fish dishes, but that is another matter altogether.)

Along the same lines, the cholesterol values for buffalo are also lower, although by a much narrower and less significant margin.  You will also find higher iron content for buffalo meat.  Nutrition tables show a slightly higher rate of the Vitamin B-12 as well.

Many people will find the extra cost of bison prohibitive, however.  There is also a certain amount of misgivings about eating such an enduring symbol of the American West.  Many Native Americans also consider the Buffalo a sacred animal.

Santa Catalina Island: A Curios Turn in the History of Buffalo 

You might be curious to know that Santa Catalina Island, off the coast of California has a large heard of buffalo.  How did they get there?  Did ancient buffalo once roam the coasts of California only to get caught on the island during continental drift?  Did a Buffalo somehow end up on a broken log that floated to the island or did one very gifted Buffalo manage somehow to cross the currents by a determined act of swimming?

No.  The makers of the 1924 film, “The Vanishing American” brought buffalo to the island and set them free as part of their filming.

Recent tests on the buffalo have found that like most of the captive buffalo on the mainland, most of the Catalina herd are not pure breed buffalo.  Most have been found to share genes with cattle.  Evidently, farmers have crossbred most buffalo with other captive cattle to produce the modern buffalo meat industry. 

More recent crossbreeding has also created the unpleasant sounding category that ranchers term “Beefalo.”  Given the high rates of American heart disease, you should not be surprised to find Beefalo on supermarket shelves soon.