How To Eat a Horse

If you ever feel like putting your dinner where your cliched saying is, you might first want to read up a bit on how to cook that horse you're so hungry you could totally eat. Doug Powell, Ph.D.---professor of food safety at Kansas State University, and proprietor of must-read food and food safety site Barf Blog--can help, with a story detailing the flavors and cultural history of several favorite horse-related dishes from world cuisine, including...


Pictured: A sandwich made with Dutch smoked horsemeat (paardenrookvlees), cucumber, pesto and what looks to be some kind of soft, white cheese. I won't lie. I would totally eat that. From Flickr user fotoosvanrobin, via CC.

Pastissada de Caval
In northern Italy, the traditional horse meat stew from Verona known as Pastissada de caval is made with wine and paprika. Legend has it that the dish originates from the town's inhabitants marinating the meat from dead horses in the local Valpolicella wine and herbs and spices after a battle between the Ostrogoths and Barbarians in AD489. In Italy, horse - and donkey - meat has traditionally been cured to make bresaola or carpaccio.

Alcoholic Mare's Milk
This reliance on the horse on the central steppes also means a reliance on mare's milk. Fermented, mare's milk becomes a mildly alcoholic yoghurt-like drink known as Kumis or Airag. When visiting Mongolia in 2005 President Bush was apparently offered Kumis although there is no record as to whether or not he actually consumed it.


  1. Here in Luxembourg, horse meat is a staple food. I look forward to my outings with colleagues to Chez d’Artagnan to get down and intimate with a 400g (third of a pound) steak, bleeding profusely, with a red onion sauce. Yummm. Before I came here, I would have never imagined I’d be eating horse… Do like the Luxemburgers do I guess.

    1. 400g = approx 8/9 LB, not 1/3.

      “No man, they got the metric system, they wouldn’t know what the fuck a Quarter Pounder is.”

    1. I see what you’re saying, but we could also get a lot of labor out of cows and we choose to eat them, instead, too. Food preference often overrides other concerns.

      1. What about Oxen? The only reason we don’t use cattle for labor more often is that machine technology has rendered them largely obsolete.

    2. I’d say it’s more like lighting a cheery fire when you’ve got central heat. Why eat horse when you can eat vastly more available and simple creatures like cow and chicken? It’s luxurious. It’s different. It has an air of something that’s a touch removed from everyday modern life.

      1. I can understand what you mean about luxuriousness and peculiarity, and that might be true for the USA, but I think that’s a broad statement to make just in general. he article makes the point that in many parts of the world horse is a traditional cuisine akin to cow or chicken, and people have been eating it for centuries.

        Everything is food somewhere.

        1. :) Actually, I’m Canadian.

          Since, to me, this post seemed to be posted in a way that implied eating horse *is* unusual, and the comment I read implied eating a horse is wasteful, that’s how I responded — musing how horse might come to be eaten in places where it’s not a common staple, but instead a delicacy. My point basically was: We don’t always eat things for practical reasons.

          — Speaking as someone who’s North American, but also Chinese and francophone (ok, not *that* fluent). I’m no a stranger to so-called “weird” meats!

          1. Clarification: “Unusual” for its audience. I think it *is* fair to say a huge number of BB readers are American or at least North American, not to mention the fact many of the writers are. It’s OK for them (and us) to think something is weird and wonderful even if it’s normal for someone else.

  2. I’ve tried plenty of weird foods in my travels.. rats, insects, guinea pigs, gators, snakes, etc.. but thinking of eating things like Dogs, Cats, Dolphin, Whales, Horses makes me take pause.

    I am NOT knocking anyone eating a horse, to each his own.. but ots an interesting feeling to feel my cultural bias smack right into my understanding that people need to eat.

    Touch my dog and we shall have trouble however.

  3. See, for me, this is about common courtesy. Dogs and horses are animals that have helped us transport and defend ourselves since the very dawn of mankind. They’ve been constant companions and trusted friends. It seems like the least we could do for them is not eat them the way we eat everything else. But noooo…

    Man, Humans are dicks.

    1. They said that about us when we grilled up the staff at our summer home. To each his own, I say, in companionship or on the plate.

  4. If you eat a horse, at least eat one that’s slaughtered by some company that you know to let them die without pain – and especially to travel from its former home to slaughterhouse without any unnecessary pain.

    Oh, wait, that’s no longer possible in the US because of the legislation forbidding slaughtering horses. So… well. Figure it out. How many boundary neighbours you have? Is it… Canada? In most cases, not.

  5. Sorry! 400g is 0.9 pounds. Oh when shall ye ‘mericans join the rest of the planet and stop counting with your elbows and other bodily parts? ;-)

  6. would it be wrong to ask for a unicorn side salad?

    In all seriousness though, while horses are often a helpful member of the farm community, they get old or injured and sometimes they just outlive their usefulness.

    Similarly, the Chianina Ox is just as useful on a farm, but nobody says a word about turning them into delicious bistec a la florentina.

    It’s the relationships we form with horses that makes eating them sound so wrong, but people form relationships with all sorts of delicious animals.

  7. Eating horse in France is as simple as visiting the corner horse butcher (2 in my village), or the meat department at the supermarket.

    I don’t eat it, but it’s not any big deal. Loads of my
    French friends say it’s far more tasty than beef.

  8. I’ve had horse so I can declare with some confidence that the reason more people don’t eat horse steak is because it is not very good.

  9. I bet a few of you would be quite tasty over a hot grill topped with pepper, garlic powder, a zesty lemon sauce, & maybe a pinch of salt.

  10. In Ticino the italian-speaking canton of Switzerland they have whole butcher shops dedicated to horse meat. Macelleria Di Equina- or something like that. It’s not bad eating, often used for fondue, sandwiches or as the poster from Luxembourg mentioned, steak

  11. Can’t say I’ve ever had the urge to eat a horse. However, if someone put the pictured sammich in front of me at lunchtime I’d certainly give it the ol’ college try.

  12. As my Indian coworkers used to remind me, while their ancestors were riding horses in the steppes, Europe was still eating them.

  13. See, for me it is all about intelligence. I have spent some time with both chickens and cattle (my father has a cattle ranch.) Horses are beautiful and intelligent creatures (as are dogs and cats, as far as domesticated animals go.) Cattle and chickens: Not so much. Pigs: Ok, I might be a hypocrite here, as they are said to be intelligent animals. I have not verified this from personal experience. It is perhaps a shame that I have been acculturated with the deliciousness of ham and bacon. Especially bacon… Mouth watering bacon…

    1. Phikus, I can personally guarantee to you that pigs are smarter than horses. Pigs are smarter than some DOGS, in fact.
      Also, pigs are -delicious-.

  14. The food we eat is a personal preference. I chose not to eat dogs and primates because I like these animals in a way that makes me feel guilty to eat them. I don’t try to justify it by giving one or the other a higher place in society simply because they are cuter or smarter.

    If a culture chooses to eat an animal that isn’t endangered I am all for it!

    1. The food we eat is a personal preference. I chose not to eat dogs and primates because I like these animals in a way that makes me feel guilty to eat them.

      Most of us treat animals with some amount of care and respect according to a sliding scale of how much they remind us of ourselves. That’s why most of us find the idea of eating a primate horrifying, a dog unsettling, and a tuna A-OK. (The biggest dietary taboo is, of course, human flesh.) It’s also why we feel no guilt whatsoever when we take an antibiotic to wipe out a population of liver flukes.

  15. Famished American: “I’m so hungry I could eat that there horse!”

    Peaked European: “You gonna finish it?”

  16. Is the US still the leading producer of horse meat? I always thought it ironic, since its sale and consumption are banned in many states.

  17. >>…eat a horse.
    >>…eat like a horse.
    >>…eat like a bird.

    A cursory Google search reveals all of these idioms are valid (though they all mean different things).

  18. Reading this thread makes me feel really weird, because as a native Italian I just can’t see the reason of all the fuss at all. Horse meat is just another type of meat, and I don’t see that as any weirder than eating a slice of cow or pig. As a matter of fact, horse meat is generally much leaner and stronger in iron content, so it tends to feel harder to chew, quite more full of flavour and leaves you more energetic and easy on the digestion (but maybe that’s just me).

    However, the point is that this horsemeat talk had the effect of making me think about the point of view of “foreigns” about eating dogs, jellyfish or locusts… I guess that’s just a cultural thing, and when you overcome that the gross factor just disappears.

    I still think the “Preacher” story about the French horse thief (he came to Texas to steal horses to eat them, you see) was the single thing that ruined that great comic. We all know that French people are evil by nature, of course, but not because of their eating habits – and they don’t wear painter berets, generally speaking.

    And, by the way… you do know that donkey meat is actually much tastier than horsemeat, don’t you?

  19. WEIRD, I just watched the ‘sneak peak’ video for the next episode of Mad Men and it was about the stigma of horsemeat!

  20. Who says you have to cook the horse?
    I live in Kyushu, Japan – close to Kumamoto. “Basashi” aka. “horse sashimi” aka. “melt-in-your-mouth raw horsemeat thinly sliced and eaten with fresh Japanese ginger, chilli, onion and soy-sauce” is a local specialty here :) It’s actually extremely tasty, and one of our favourites for sending the new local English teachers into very tasty culture-shock :D

    Coincidentally, I also tried the mongolian horse-milk liquor last week. It’s actually pretty good – quite sweet but not overly, very smooth, and tastes faintly like melon. It slightly resembles strongly-alcoholic Calpis, if you’ve had that japanese drink.

    1. Had that at an izakaya in downtown Vancouver called Kakurenbou. It was really good with great texture and flavour. There is this hypocrisy in judging others for the type of animal they eat. An ex girlfriend had a pet pig called Porkchop which was, according to her, smarter than most dogs. No she never ate bacon (once a year she indulged in a rare steak) but so many people do and they’ll make comments about the barbarity of eating horses, dogs or cats. Just wait until the pigs unite….

    2. The French don’t necessarily cook it either. Larousse Gastronomique recommends horsemeat rather than beef for steak tartare. I ordered it in Beziers once and was repeatedly asked if I knew what it was.

      I thought was being asked if I knew it was raw meat so I said yes.

      It was very good, even with my meal being interrupted by various restaurant people coming out and asking me if I knew what it was several times more.

      Nobody thinks its unusual to eat squid, and they’re much more intelligent that horses.

      1. seems the people that process slaughter are only worried about the money they make. They fail to say Why US plants were forced to be shut down. First Texas plants operated illegal ignoring Texas laws to kill horses and the last plant in our state of Illinois had many violations toward sewer and wastes not to mention the majority of Americans opposed it. Plus all the taxes were never paid even violations unpaid. For more additional facts visit read the mayor of kaufmans on letters and the neighborhood that wanted them shut. The abuse and neglect that followed to slaughter and finally rewarding these irresponsible people on the site you will see the horse as they come it. French processors also fail to mention the drugs in horse as Manager of Natural Valley mentions too. They were the last plant to close recently. Horse slaughter must stop..

      2. It was very good, even with my meal being interrupted by various restaurant people coming out and asking me if I knew what it was several times more.

        I tried to order “Braised Game with Leeks” at a Chinese restaurant. The waiter kept pointing at our blond hair and saying, “Like dog! Like cat!” over and over. I ordered it anyway. It was about the tastiest meat that I’ve ever eaten. I copied down the characters and found out later that it was golden weasel.

  21. I ate a horseburger at a McDonald’s in Spain, circa 2001, when Mad Cow was ravaging the beef industry there. It’s really not such a big deal.

  22. This is the weirdest discussion I’ve ever read. What’s the problem with eating horse??? It’s a big herbivore. That’s good eating!

    I, too, live in Japan, and basashi is one of my favorites, too.

  23. A lot of horse meat comes from the US where horses are, for the most part, show and pleasure animals, ie not being raised for meat.

    This means that we cheerfully pump our horses full of all sorts of lovely chemicals that come in boxes clearly labeled “WARNING: Do not use in horses intended for food.”

    For example my mare receives:
    Dewormer – every 2 months
    Adequan, arthritis medicine – every six weeks
    Bute, basically horse ibuprofen – as needed
    Fly repellent – every two weeks from mid spring to late fall
    Antibotics – she’s kinda clumsy and barns aren’t exactly sanitary

    My sister’s horse came off the racetrack, like lots of horses that are just too slow to race every year. He was lucky, a lot of them get crammed into a trailer and shipped down to mexico. Anyway, we had him for about a week and his hair started falling out. Worried, we called the vet who informed us that probably going through withdrawal from all the crap they had him on at the track: lasix – to stop his lungs from bleeding, probably steroids, and who knows what else.

    Anyway, I guess the point of this novel is, people make this huge fuss – on this blog even – about people becoming sick from all the crap in USDA inspected beef/chicken/pork. Those animals were raised for food and slaughtered in plants were there was at least some sort of regulation.

    But apparently, horse meat chock full of drugs that are “WARNING: Do not use in horses intended for human consumption”, and processed in mexico under little to no regulation, is good eats? Seriously?

  24. Its interesting to note that the idea that eating horse is wrong/gross/not done in US actually started because horse was what poor people ate. As I understand it was fairly common up to an including the great depression. After that it got a stigma as poverty/famine food and was looked down on.

    Anecdotal proof: My two grandmothers. The one of French Canadian extraction (raised in Maine though) just never liked horse, but offered to bring me some on her next trip home. (Mom nixed the idea, as I was 6) The other G-Ma (raised in depression era NYC) actually said to me “but that’s for poor people” when I brought it up to her.

  25. I’m going to go off on a rant here.
    Horse slaughter has been made illegal in most US states; as such it’s increasingly difficult for horse owners to get rid of horses that are no longer wanted. Those that cannot afford to feed their horses certainly can’t afford a vet to come and euthanize them, nor can they afford to have the carcass carted away. Instead the horses suffer a slow demise rather than an instant death. All because some Americans can’t stomach the notion that horses are a source of meat.

    So now, horses get put on transport trucks and shipped to Mexico for slaughter. So which was worse: then or now?

  26. @Kyle – I used to live down in that area! Basashi was the dish that sent me spiraling off the vegetarian wagon I rode for 5 years back into the delectable world of meaties.

    I always found the taste of horse meat to be similar to venison, also a popular staple of Kyushu!

  27. Hhmm… any anthropologists out there know if there are distinct categories of food taboos? Reminds me of living overseas, where they ate both squid and dog.

    Now, my fellow American friend ate squid but was repulsed at the thought of eating dog. I was game to try dog but would never eat squid, because I’ve seen live squids and they look disgusting (or as disgusting as any form of life can look). I’ve also seen plenty of live dogs, and they seemed like pleasant animals, so I wouldn’t mind tasting one (same for horses).

    My friend had the same viewpoints on animals, but arrived at the opposite conclusion–you can’t eat a cute dog, and of course squids as animals are unpleasant–that’s why it’s okay to commit the aggressive act against them of eating them!

    So it looks like there’s two distinct taboos right there…

  28. In New Zealand there is no large-scale production of horse meat for human consumption (as far as I know). It is processed for animal food, however.

    A month back there was a small uproar about horse meat unfit for human consumption being sold as human food in a market in Auckland. It was being sold cheaply, mostly to poorer Pacific Island people, many who may have eaten horse meat back on the islands.

    Also recently there was uproar when a Tongan man killed his dog and was preparing to roast it in the backyard.

  29. That sandwich looks really good. I don’t feel completely
    right about eating any kind of meat but I do it and live
    with the remorse. If the horse isn’t a companion animal
    bonded to someone then it’s just like eating any other livestock.

  30. Yikes. This is exactly why I’m a vegetarian. I couldn’t eat my horse, I couldn’t eat my dog. Why would I eat a pig/cow/chicken? I’m not going to decide what flesh to imbibe based on cultural norms here in the States; it all grosses me out!

  31. I’ve noticed how many comments up here assume the USA to be one of the biggest producers of Horse meat, well it is totally not true (see and reference therein).

    I’ve had plenty of Horse in my life, steak and fillet are very good but has a strong flavour, vaguely similar to cattle liver, that may not please everyone. Horse Bresaola and Sfilacci are cured Horse meat specialities, I suspect nobody could resist them.

  32. The cafeteria of my school, in switzerland, always give the choice between several kind of steak between pork, beef, and horse. And 9 students out of 10 will choose the horse.

    Horse meat is definitively healthier than beef: it contains a lot more iron and protein, but also have less fat and cholesterol. It is especially recommended for pregnant women.

    And most of all it is really tasty and cheap. So it is a really valuable nutriment.

    It is a bit hypocryte to accept eating beef and spitting in the same time on horse eaters. A cow haves the same right to live than a horse, it doesn’t depend on how much you’re emotionnally attached to it.

    Children of my country are also horrified when they go to the country and see what we have to do to kill a pig. It is only a matter of sensitivity. Killing a living being is always horrible, but this is the way of life you implicitly choose if you accept to eat meat.

    And frankly… you should really give horse a taste. It is delicious. Sticking to beef-pork-chicken the entire year is just horribly boring and not really advised for your health.

  33. Being an American as I am, I do not have a problem if other countries want to raise horses for food. I do believe that it is outrageous that they are taking our American horses to slaugther in Mexico and Canada where drug issues are overlooked.

    Just a few years ago a slaughter plant in Canada was shut down due to processing too many horses that were full of drugs. In Mexico, they really could care less what they send to people overseas.

    More importantly that being an American, I am a mother and I can not understand how anyone would trust any meat from a horse if there was a possibility that the horse came from America. These horses are not being quarantined for 6 months before slaughter as they should be and you are feeding all kinds of dangerous drugs to your children. Demand this to be stopped before later studies find that people are sick or dead due to it. Unfortunately it seems that no matter where you live, you are always the LAST to know about something harmful when it is too late.

  34. MKB said, “we could also get a lot of labor out of cows”… You apparently haven’t spent a lot of time around cows. Horses greatly outdistance cows and pigs when you collectively consider train-ability, intelligence and willingness. Using them for food is vulgar.

  35. I had a bit of horse for lunch just now (we Dutchmen put it in croquettes and other deep fried mystery meat, mostly), so I’m not entirely objective.

    But there is a couple of things we can all agree on, I think.

    – Some people like to own and ride horses.

    – Horses are mortal.

    – Once the horse is dead, it’s desirability and ride-ability are decreased, and the owner will want to get rid of the body.

    – Burying a horse is very expensive, especially in densely populated areas.

    – Horsemeat is edible. That is, if you eat it, it doesn’t kill you but in fact gives nourishment and vital minerals.

    So, the people who eat horses have something going for them. Do American horse owners really bury their horses?
    I really don’t see the fuzz. But then, when Dutch artist Tinkebell turned her dead cat into a handbag, I didn’t see the fuzz either. But boy, did she get death-threats…

  36. Eating a horse seems like burning a book for heat.

    As a librarian, I would have no problem burning books if it was necessary to keep someone alive–unless it was the only known copy or a incunabulum or something similar, in which case I’d ask that person what they did for a living and how much family they had and so on.

  37. Thirds on ‘basashi’ [horse sashimi] being delicious. You can get it at any decent izakaya in Tokyo. It is lower in fat than beef and higher in protein (at least that is what I was told)

  38. When I were a lad of 8 or so, I lived in the Netherlands for a couple of years. I learned to love horse sausage (frikandel? I think? It’s been a while), until I learned what it was. I spent a few months being grossed out by it, but then I figured hey, I liked it before I knew what it was, and I couldn’t come up with a reason that eating horses was really any worse than cows or buffalo, so I went back to enjoying me some tasty horsemeat.

    Man, I miss that horsemeat.

  39. so its not ok to eat lean meat from an animal, but sitting on them, making them jump and pull things, and then making them into glue are more acceptable?

    horse meat is pretty decent stuff, and i dont know why anyone would let that much meat go to waste for no reason.

  40. I tried horse meat in Ghent at the De Hel restaurant. I saw the word “paard” on the menu and asked what it was. The waiter knew we were from the US and probably expected us to get upset about it. He said, “that’s, uh, horse meat…” I jumped at the chance to try it. It was braised with wild mushrooms in a Lefe ale reduction and served with a glass Lefe. My wife had rabbit that night. When I’m asked what it tated like, I tell people “much like venison, only nobler and more docile.” Horse meat should’t be illegal in the US. We should let demand for it decide if it gets sold here or not.

  41. Horse is delicious. Here in Toronto it’s legal to eat, but it doesn’t make it on many (if any) menus. However, you can get it at some places, such as the “Quack & Track” (ie: duck confit & horse steak) at La Palette in Kensington (other horse-serving bistros are available). If you’re not squeamish about the cultural taboo, it’s definitely worth a try!

  42. Take the logic from “BartB | October 22, 2009 5:56″, let’s replace the word “horse” with “people”. Makes sense to me.

  43. Horses are not raised for food in this country. Therefore, substances banned from food animals are in their bodies. They range from toxic wormers to phenylbutazone (PBZ), the “aspirin” of the horse world, and even include fertility drugs that can cause miscarriages in women. “PBZ is a known carcinogen and can cause aplastic anemia (bone marrow suppression) in humans”, says Equine Welfare Alliance (EWA) member, Dr. Ann Marini, Ph.D., M.D.
    Some of the garbage ‘treatments’ that are given to performance horses included iodine-peanut oil injections along the spine, anabolic steroids, cocaine, amphetamines, opioids and even snake venom.

  44. Had kumis when I visited Kazakhstan back in the 90s. It was pretty gnarly, and I really had to stifle my gag reflex, but once it was down it was okay. It was after I had climbed a brazillion steps to the top of a dam, so it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for in a refreshing drink. But I like to try regional foods and drinks.

  45. what you want to eat is endangered. They are wild mustangs of the american west, and there are less than 25,000 left because of selfish european horseflesh eating “culture” being complicit with american big cattle interests

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