Just over two years ago, a number of food sources were found to be using horse meat in some of their products, usually substituting more expensive beef. This affected both small and large retailers alike. There’s plenty to read about the ‘horsemeat scandal’ on the BBC Website.
As far as I can tell, there are two key objections. First, about the deception itself – we expect beef in beefburgers. Second, about the choice of replacement – we simply don’t eat horse in the UK, it’s just wrong.
It’s this latter part that got me intrigued. Why don’t we eat horse in the UK? What’s so repulsive about the idea?
Again the BBC provides much more about this than I can possibly contribute. Suggestions vary: horses are companions; national tendencies; feedback loops of supply, and so on.
Amongst my group of friends (myself included) a new response emerged from the scandal: Actually I’d quite like to try horse – see what all the fuss is about.
In Europe, the Belgians are the biggest consumers of horsemeat according to Eurostat. Italy and the Netherlands are roughly equal second eating around a kilo per person per year. Typically, the average French person eats less than half of this.
This roughly tallies with my experience of shopping for the stuff: paardenvlees and viande de cheval for Dutch- and French-speaking areas respectively. Finding it in northern France was rather tricky (we eventually found steak in a large Carrefour supermarket), whereas it was easily found in Colruyt (Belgian bulk supermarket) and Albert Heijn (Dutch; smaller supermarkets).
It can often be found smoked (key word gerookte in Dutch, or fumé in French) and ready to put in a sandwich or salad. The meat is also used in continental dishes (such as stews).
Generally speaking, horsemeat is much darker than beef with a richer colour. I found it very soft and the meat breaks apart in your mouth. The taste (disguised a little when smoked) is a bit hard to describe. I find it a bit stronger than beef, and leaner too.
It’s frankly a delicious alternative to beef and one I’d be happy to include more regularly in meals.
I was hoping that some enterprising butchers would source horse meat following the scandal – to capitalise on public curiosity – but it seems there’s still a fair amount of opposition to the idea and I haven’t seen it added alongside wild boar, kangaroo or crocodile (at our more diverse local shops).
It could well be that British tastes make the widespread import/production of horse meat unlikely, but tastes do change. In the US it might prove to be an economical option. Our closer neighbours clearly have no issue with the meat, and there are plenty of stockists willing to take a risk or two.
If we do see horse meat on the shelves in future, it will of course be correctly labelled and – one would hope – responsibly sourced. Rather than being an undesirable addition to our meals, it might well be a welcome one. I for one would be happy to buy it if that ever happened.