Horse Meat Vs Beef – What’s the Difference and Should We Be Eating It?

Three slices of red meat with the title "Horse Meat Vs Beef - What’s the Difference."

In one of the bigger food related stories of early 2013, it was reported that horse meat was found in processed meat products labelled as beef in Irish and British supermarkets. In some cases, the amount of horse meat substituted for beef was as much as 100%.

While it’s clearly deceptive for food companies to label a product one thing when it’s actually another, this page will explore what the difference is between beef and horse meat nutritionally.

The ethics of horse meat consumption is a personal matter. And though it’s definitely one you should have a choice in, if you choose to eat cheap processed ‘meat’, it could be argued that you’re not really that concerned with what you’re eating anyway. You’ll see why ahead.

For now, even though it may be distasteful to some, what are the actual nutritional differences between beef and horse meat (assuming just this time that they really are what they are labelled as)?

The Nutritional Value of Horse Meat vs Beef

Cooked and meat on a plate.

Calories

According to nutritional data, 100 grams of cooked horse meat contains 175 calories, with 55 of those calories coming from fat.

By comparison, 100 grams of standard ground beef with 30% fat has 273 calories with 164 of those coming from fat.

While you may be able to find processed beef products with less than 30% fat, unless they are specifically labelled (and we’ve seen just how well that works) the fat percentage can be even higher.

Fat Content

Horse meat is listed to be containing only 6 grams of fat per hundred grams, 2 grams of saturated fat and 64 mg of cholesterol. It’s not surprising, with most horses eating more grass than processed grain pellets, that their meat would be relatively low-fat.

Ground beef is listed as having 18 grams of fat in total, with 7 grams of saturated fat and 1 gram of trans fat. Total cholesterol is 82 mg.

Intensive cattle production uses lots of fattening grain pellets as the primary feed and often synthetic hormones to speed up the animal’s weight gain.Cattle fed grain as their main diet will always be much higher in fat compared to those that are grass fed.

Cooked meat patty with spices and small greens as decoration.

Protein

The protein content of horse meat is around 28 grams per 100 grams, making this a high protein food.

Ground beef is comparable, though a little lower, with 25 grams per 100 gram serving.

Vitamins and Minerals

The levels of certain vitamins and mineral in horse meat are quite high. It is a particularly rich source of iron and it also has good amounts of the minerals zinc, selenium and phosphorus and of the B vitamins niacin, B6 and B12.

Ground beef is also considered a good source of iron, though it is significantly lower than horse meat, with less than half the content. Zinc and selenium are higher in ground beef though and it also contains a good concentration of most of the B vitamins.

A piece of red meat.

Should You Eat Horse?

While at truly insignificant levels compared to beef consumption, horse meat is eaten in many European countries like France, Germany and Italy. In specialty butchers across Europe you can find meat from horses sold alongside other more commonly known animal foods.

So should you eat horse meat? If you don’t personally have any moral objections to eating horse and you can find it humanely slaughtered in one of these specialty butchers, then I think the nutritional information on horse meat above has shown it is actually healthier than regular beef.

Unfortunately, horse meat’s nutritional value and what you actually end up with in the vast majority of processed meat products are two completely different things.

The Problem with Processed Meat

The recent horse meat scandal has provided some interesting insights into the way food companies source their processed meat. The horse meat found in the UK and Irish ready meals was originally sourced in Romania and Poland by a Dutch company (this Wikipedia article has the whole twisted tale) and tracing the source of the various different animal parts in a product can be difficult.

A more significant problem though is the potentially dangerous additives used in the manufacture of processed meat products, particularly sodium nitrite which can lead to the creation of carcinogenic substances.

A piece of cooked red meat.

In 2012, the World Cancer Research Fund released a review of over 7000 studies into the dietary causes of cancer. The report said ‘eating even a small amount of processed meats on a regular basis increases our bowel cancer risk’. And on the routinely used additive sodium nitrite, that it can ‘damage the DNA in our cells’.

Another study by the University of Hawaii concluded that regular processed meat consumption increases your risk of pancreatic cancer by 67%. And diabetes researchers at Harvard University have discovered the compounds like nitrites and nitrates in processed meat interfere with the proper secretion of insulin and increase your risk of developing diabetes.

Processed meat has other health issues worth considering too, such as the amount of actual meat in it. Off cuts of the slaughtered carcass that cannot be sold in any other form are generally used and many of us wouldn’t really recognise what’s ground up to make these products as real meat.

In fact, the horse meat found in the frozen ‘beef’ lasagne and ‘beef’ pasta products would have almost certainly been by far and away the highest quality meat in the mix.

Here’s an interesting video on red vs white meat.

Conclusion

If you really are concerned about what you’re eating, you might want to look into just how processed meat is actually made. Many nutritional experts would say whether it is beef or horse meat is the least of your problems if you are eating processed meat regularly.

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  • I am going to try to be as kind as one can be when extremely pissed off! But honestly you disgust me and this article is horrifying!! Horses are NOT a source of food for selfish humans who have no sensitivity and humane discretion at all! our horses are animals that work for their rider because they love them; that have the capability in their heart and mind to LOVE someone. But obviously you wouldn’t know that based on your article! They are pets! Not food nor will they ever be. I want you to understand the gravity of what this is. Do you have a pet? Something you love that loves you back that will do anything to please you? Imagine me trying to legalize eating YOUR pet! Wouldnt that disgust you and hurt you? And to top this off how will legalizing this help anything or anyone I the united states?? Oh that’s right it won’t, in fact it will cause more problems. Why? because it will make burglers and thieves want to steal horses that belong to other people (who actually care about horse) for money. Why tho, oh yeah for the pleasure of selfish humans who want to “be healthier”. Whoever told you that this was an okay thing to do was WRONG hopefully you see that someday. And if you don’t ever well I pray that you realize how many hearts you believe in breaking!

    • Sheesh, calm down. It’s not the Author who was the one who legalized eating horses, idiot. He merely pointed out factual nutritional values. Here’s a few facts for you.

      1) You may be pissed off, but you have no right to in this case. Who are you to question the ethics of other cultures? Just because you consider horses to be pets, and thus ‘on a higher level’ than the chicken, beef and pork even you probably eat, it doesn’t give you the right to get indignant and all fussy over it. You can train a chicken and call it a pet too, you know? We just tamed the horses first in history because it was of more use to us as mounts in war.

      2) “For selfish humans?” Really? You speak as if you aren’t one. Guess what? You are. You do selfish things too.

      3) “And to top this off how will legalizing this help anything or anyone I the united states??” Horse meat is cheaper (almost half price) than beef. Ergo, it’s helping the poor, and is very useful in this state of economic inflation.

      4)”because it will make burglers and thieves want to steal horses that belong to other people (who actually care about horse) for money.” Thieves… stealing horses. Now that’s hilarious. Even then, Horses have always been valued as pets, as you say. So, even if this hadn’t been legalized, thieves would still have ‘stolen’ horses (somehow, carrying it I guess) to sell to pet shops or for mounts or something.

      Oh, and Mark, nice article. Will definitely be trying out some horse meat soon 😀

  • Kyla,

    The article does not present a moral viewpoint on eating such animals. It explains the nutritional differences. They eat different things in different countries around the world. In Romania, horsemeat is eaten a lot. In France, snails are eaten. In Vietnam, dogs are eaten. In Iceland, Whale meat is eater. While this maybe be stomach turning to some of us, it’s a fact of life.

    Horse meat is already legal. The big scandal in the UK was that some manufacturers were selling beef products which had no beef in them and were actually horsemeat. This is clearly illegal and should remain so.

    Mark

  • Hi Kyla,

    I personally agree with much of what you’ve said and would never knowingly eat horse. I do wonder though whether you have read the whole article or just the title.

    I actually used a current topic in the news to illustrate that people were eating horse without knowing it, which is an issue we really should be taking up more with the big manufacturing companies, and just how unhealthy processed meat can be.

    Ultimately the article is not pro eating horse, it’s anti processed meat with the last paragraphs devoted to the cancer risk of eating this type of food.

    I appreciate you are passionate about this topic but I seriously doubt anyone reading this page would be inspired to go and eat a horse. Hopefully they would rather take a look at the sources of low quality meat in their diet and consider whether they are worth having given the health risk.

    If they do that then food companies will have less demand for it and will be less likely to use horsemeat as a substitute. Something I think most people would agree is wrong.

  • Great informative article. I live in Belgium and have eaten horse products all my life. I love red meats, but beef is getting more and more expensive around here. So it’s nice to know that the horse meat (clean cuts) I buy for my family is not only cheaper and tastier, but also healthier.

    Thanks!

  • I eat horse meat a couple of times a month. Its content is great for people who lift and are tired of the chicken breast/beef/tuna protein source cycle.
    Btw Kyla, it’s sweet that you have your own fairytale viewpoints, but please don’t push your nonsense on others. Also, here’s a tip, learn to read and interpret an article without jumping to conclusions you hippie.

  • Just come to this page after searching for information regarding the benefits of horse meat. I found it informative and hopefully, some of the information will be supported from other areas. It is however a shame that some are a bit narrow minded. It looks like I will be sourcing horse meat in the future as this does seem a balanced artical and clearly highlights the issues concerning our highly processed food.

    • Hi Allen and thanks for your comments.

      I did find the horsemeat scandal strange knowing the state of the ‘meat’ usually found in processed foods. It has shed some light on how this kind of food is made though so hopefully it’s a positive thing in the long term.

  • I recently tried a foal fillet during travels to Belgium, it was delicious. Nice to find out it is also nutritionally superior to beef. I wish I could find a local butcher who could supply me with this tasty meat.

  • Okay, just to get it out there, I own three horses but do not oppose of eating horse meat. I also live fifteen minutes away from Eugene, OR, having the belief that horses are multipurpose animals (riding, companion animals, and pasture pets (horses that just sit in a pasture and have never been ridden)) should be forbidden. Although, horses were first domesticated for food (around 4500-2500 B.C.). They were not thought of for riding purposes until 1000 B.C. Horses were a good source of meat and are herd animals, that meant they were easy to capture and man-kind could keep lots of horses together easily. Horses started out as livestock and at the end of the day, are still livestock. (Livestock as in cattle (meat providers/dairy products), pigs (meat providers), sheep (meat production/wool), goats (dairy products), alpacas(herd protectors/hair), lamas (herd protectors/hair), horses (transport/companion/meat providers), chickens (meat/eggs)…just in case you did not know what livestock was.)

  • During WW II after 1943 the horse meat from the grocery store was of much higher quality than the beef, and it cost no ration points.

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