Should You Be Eating Bison?

The National Bison Association website proudly announces that ‘Bison is Big in 2011.’ It might be a bit biased, of course, but in the past three years, the average price of bison has increased 58%—and bison burgers have become increasingly common restaurant fare. Is this just a culinary blip, or is bison meat here to stay? Let’s hope the latter—if you eat meat, bison is one of the best choices you can make. Why?

It’s Nutritious: Bison meat, which tastes like beef but a bit more flavorful or richer, contains 25-30% more protein than beef and is lower in calories, fat and cholesterol than beef, pork or skinless chicken, according to Lance E. Gegner, an agriculture specialist with the National Center for Appropriate Technology. There are  only 2.42 grams fat in one 3.5-oz serving of bison, versus 8-18 grams fat in beef, 9.66 in pork and 7.41 in chicken—yet bison has the highest iron and Vitamin B12 content of any of these meats.

It’s Natural: Overall, bison are raised in a more eco-friendly way than cattle and other livestock. Regulations prohibit the use of artificial growth hormones in bison, and industry protocols prohibit the use of antibiotics to increase growth rates. The majority of bison is ‘free-range,’ and significantly grass fed (though many are grain-fed in the last days of life). “If you can find it, choose 100% grass-fed bison,” recommends Bon Appetit magazine. A North Dakota State University study showed grass-fed bison had much more balanced Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratios ( 4 to 1, whereas grain-fed bison had ratios of 21 to 1).

It’s true that bison were, not terribly long ago, nearing extinction—at the turn of the 20th Century, fewer than 1,000 bison remained in existence, due to massive hunting in the late 1800s. As of 2007 (the most recent data), however, there were about 220,000 bison in the United States.

You can find bison in many natural/health foods stores, including Whole Foods Market. or buy directly from farms. The National Bison Association has a buyer’s guide to help you find local bison producers around the country.

To Cook Bison: You can use bison in other recipes calling for red meat, though keep in mind that bison cooks faster, so cook “low and slow,” the National Bison Association recommends. According to a USDA Bison Fact Sheet, you shouldn’t judge by color when checking for bison meat doneness, as bison meat is darker than beef to being with, so it will stay redder in the middle when it is fully cooked.

There are lots of things you can do with bison other than burgers: How about bison and brown mushroom soup with quinoa and kale? Bison meat pitas? Or here’s a National Bison Association recipe for bison chili:

Bison Chili

Serves 4
Ingredients:
1 pound Ground Bison
1 medium onion, chopped
1 15 oz. can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
2 16 oz. cans peeled tomatoes
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Preparation:
In a non-stick skillet, saute ground bison and onion until the meat is browned and the onion is tender. Add pinto beans, tomatoes, water and seasonings. Cover and simmer for 1 hour, adding more water if chili becomes too thick. Add chopped cilantro and simmer an additional 10 minutes. Spoon into bowls and garnish with grated cheese or diced jalapeno peppers.

Per serving of chili: 360 calories; 12.5 g fat; 69 mg cholesterol; 30.9 g carbohydrate; 720 mg sodium.

Photo: Simply Recipes

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