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Christmeas feature

Anyone for a reindeer roast?

20-Dec-2005

All those who still believe in Santa, stop reading here. For his sledge-pulling reindeer, Dancer, Prancer, and Rudolph, have long been consumed in a tasty stew.

You may not know it, but there is a small but growing reindeer meat export market, thanks to that iconic Swedish furniture shop, Ikea.

Until eight years ago, few people outside of Lapland had had the chance to taste reindeer soup, reindeer calf kebab or roast reindeer with lingonberries, all traditional dishes of the Sami people.

But in these multicultural times, things are changing. Ikea is selling reindeer meat to the masses across Europe, with volumes going up each year.

In France, admittedly a country that eats most things that can be hunted wild, smoked reindeer meat is flying out of Ikea's instore Swedish Food Markets. The carnivorous French consume twice as much as the second biggest consumer, Germany, even though they have only half the Ikea outlets of their neighbours.

And restaurants from Italy to Korea are buying the meat to serve up a reindeer roast.

So what is it about the meat that can so easily erase those hard-sold childhood images of friendly reindeer dancing through the sky on Christmas Eve, and entice consumers to tuck in to the rosy flesh?

There is certainly a significant taste factor. More than 70 per cent of reindeer slaughtered for meat are calves that have grazed on summer pastures and not endured a harsh winter during which the animals use up fat reserves.

This means the meat is tender and tasty, perhaps explaining why veal-eating French and Germans are fans, and animal-loving Britons hardly look at Ikea's reindeer range.

But perhaps we should ask the Sami themselves, seeing as they eat the large majority of reindeer meat, at least 2 million kilos per year of Finland's total 2.3 million kilos consumed.

Apparently it is 'very different' to beef and other meats, but difficult to explain when a part of your traditional cuisine, with a lot of the taste coming from slow cooking over an open fire, and the salting and drying of the meat.

In any case, the Sami clearly know what's good for them, as reindeer meat beats farmed animals for nutrition on several points.

"It has quite a high content of vitamin E. At 3-4 mcg per gram of meat, this is three times the amount in pork," says Sabine Sempels, researcher at Sweden's university of agriculture.

"It is also quite lean, with a low amount of fat at 1-2 per cent," she added.

And because reindeer still graze wild, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids can be as low as 2:1, well below the omega-6 overload in the typical Western diet.

The restricted stocks and slaughtering makes reindeer meat a pricy protein source (at Ikea it costs between €3-4 per 100g) that tends to be considered a delicacy in Scandinavia, featuring regularly on the Swedish 'Christmas Table'.

But it has clear appeal to those concerned about sustainable farming. And it is one product that doesn't need to carry a GI.

So if you haven't yet discovered reindeer meat, perhaps you should opt for a reindeer sandwich, instead of the meatballs, when browsing at Ikea's Christmas sale.

The best thing is, if you get hooked, reindeer meat is not only available at Christmas.

Dominique Patton is the editor of NutraIngredients.com.

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