Spain is not “far away” from accepting horsemeat as part of the national diet, according to the author of new research carried out in Spain which showed that horses bred in certain conditions might lead to higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
Eating horsemeat is seen as taboo in many countries, partly because horses are seen as a companion and sporting animal in the same class as dogs and cats and partly because critics point to the unsavoury quality of meat from working horses.
However, horsemeat is considered a delicacy in some countries, including China, Italy and Iceland.
The study was carried out by Lackiter Research Group, Spain, Mountain Livestock Institute, Spain and Guelph Food Research Centre, Canada, which studied the quality and safety of food derived from horses.
In particular, the focus in this study was on evaluating the nutritional quality of horsemeat, whether it was fit for human consumption in northern Spain, and whether it presented a viable alternative for consumers to eat.
Dr Noelia Aldai, one of the report authors, cited the research as being “highly significant”.
Speaking to NutraIngredients, doctor Aldai said: “I don’t think we are far away from Spanish people accepting its consumption.”
Advantages of horsemeat
“The advantage is to have an alternative protein source, extensively produced, rich in omega-3 and with low GHG (Greenhouse Gas) emissions. The idea is not to substitute beef, as it would be impossible, but provide a healthy alternative.
“These are not old animals coming from competition or saddle, but very young animals extensively produced in mountain conditions and sometimes with a short finishing period at the end to obtains some cover fat,” the doctor told us.”
Sampling was carried out during the spring and winter of horsemeat sold in specialised butchers and hypermarkets in six autonomous regions in north of the Iberian Peninsula- Basque Country, Navarre, Cantabria, Asturias, Galicia, and Castilla y León.
The fattest samples of horsemeat were found in Navarre and Castilla y León, the leanest in Asturias and Galicia, and average fat for those sampled in Cantabria and the Basque Country.
"The variability observed between the regions pointed to clear differences in the management of the animals where breed, fodder and slaughter age appear to be the most important factors," said Xabier Belaunzaran, one of the other authors of the paper.
Higher levels of omega-3
"On the whole, a higher omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid content was observed in the samples gathered in winter, possibly due to the fact that the animals were raised on mountain pastures until the end of autumn."
Belaunzaran pointed out that 5% of the sample of horsemeat analysed reached the minimum content of 300 milligrams (mg) of linoleum acid per 100 grams (g) of fresh meat, which European regulators demand must be reached to be able to label the product as a source of omega-3-type fatty acids.
Dr Aldai argued that eating horseman was no different to eating meat from a calf.
“It is true that in many countries horse is considered as a pet and its consumption causes some kind of negative feelings. But in essence, what is the difference between eating a foal or a calf? I don’t really see the difference,” Dr Aldai told us.
Different feeding strategies
Moving forward, Dr Aldai said there would be further testing on specific feeding strategies.
“We believe the higher omega-3 in winter collection was related to the animals being grazing in mountain conditions during all summer and autumn and then being slaughtered at the end of the year.
“However, we cannot confirm the hypothesis as we had no information about the samples collected at grocery stores or small butcher-shops. More than focusing on samples collected in winter, specific feeding trials are required to understand how we can reach those omega-3 levels by different feeding strategies, or even slaughtering the animals with older age.”
Source: Meat Science
Published online ahead of print: doi: 10.1016/j.meatsci.2016.10.014
'An assessment of the fatty acid composition of horse-meat available at the retail level in northern Spain.'
Authors: Xabier Belaunzaran, Paz Lavín, Luis J.R. Barron, Angel R. Mantecón, John K.G. Kramer, Noelia Aldai.