Bison. Beef. Kissing cousins – but is there really a difference?
Clearly I have a soft spot for the latter. Beef ribs. Beef steaks. Beef jerky. Ground beef. It’s all good.
I’ve heard people go on and on about the benefits of bison, and to be honest, I had never tasted it until today.
So, let’s discuss the facts briefly and then I’ll give you my own personal thoughts.
Bison is considered gourmet meat and the price of bison clearly puts it in that classification. Bison is naturally leaner compared to beef and has a lot of nutritional values that exceed those of its bovine cousin. Ounce per ounce, bison has less total fat than most meat products including pork, chicken and most fish… but is it worth the difference in price?
I asked Briana Santoro (CNP, NNCP)of Naked Label for her professional opinion. She pointed out that nutritionally bison has less fat and less calories. 100g of bison has 1.8 grams of fat and 109 calories. In contrast, 100g of beef has 24 grams of fat and 291 calories. A staggering difference in artery clogging fat! Clearly if you are looking to minimize fat and calories bison is a good option as it has fewer amounts of both.
Another important aspect to consider is how the animal is raised. Antibiotics, hormones and steroids are not given to bison whereas they are commonly used in modern day cattle farming. Bison tend to be grass-fed and grass-fed longer than cattle. Briana was quick to point out:
“This is important because when the bison consume grass they consume vitamin K1 which they can then convert to vitamin K2. When we consume the animal meat we consume that K2. It is this K2 vitamin that helps ensure we get calcium into our bones. Without enough K2 in our diets the calcium isn’t able to go into our bones and instead it ends up in our arteries and veins where it can lead to heart disease. Therefore, eating animal products that are grass fed instead of grain fed (like corn) can help reduce our risk of heart disease and osteoporosis. Since bison are more likely to be grass fed, it can be a healthier choice.
Tip: You want the fat in the animal product to be yellow, not white. Yellow fat means there is beta-carotene in it and vitamin K2 goes where beta-carotene goes. When the fat is white it is actually less nutritive.”
From a taste perspective there’s a bit of a misconception that bison meats have a gamey taste. I have found this isn’t really the case. Bison meats have a similar taste to select choices of beef, but generally have a slightly sweeter flavor than beef.
Bison can be cooked or grilled just like beef. When cooking burgers, bison should be cooked rare or medium-rare because of the low fat content. Bison burgers that are cooked well done will become dry and lose a lot of the sweet rich flavor of the meat.
So, the science of it aside, my 2 cents: I could definitely tell the difference between the bison burger and the regular beef burger immediately. The bison had a wonderful velvety texture. The closest comparison I can think of is if you’ve ever had a good quality chopped steak, you’ll know how it has a nicer, less gritty texture than standard ground beef. I made sure the bison was only cooked to medium-rare, so the meat was not dry at all – as with very lean ground beef, this is something to watch out for.
The flavour was similar to beef, although not identical. I enjoyed it a lot, but am not sure I would justify the additional cost for the flavour alone. That being said, bison is clearly a healthier choice for those concerned about fat and caloric intake.
All in all, I would certainly order a bison steak or burger when in a specialty establishment that prides itself on its preparation of said meat. If you’ve never been brave enough to give it a try – go for it. It’s not scary – grab the bull by the horns and see what you think!