Scared of horse meat? Turns out it’s delicious and good for you!

Is this a horse?

The Spanish have a saying: “Lo que no mata, engorda.” Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you fatter. It’s not Nietzsche, and it doesn’t have anything to do with becoming a stronger person through suffering. It’s just one among the many Spanish proverbs about hunger (Más listo que el hambre, más largo que un día sin pan, etc) and it goes back to the days when people ate basically anything they could.

Even today, if you get a group of older Spanish people together to complain (at the health center early in the morning, for example) they’ll inevitably start telling stories about those hungry post-war years when they were happy to eat dry bread for breakfast, an onion for lunch, and nothing for dinner.

Today, things have changed, and people are a lot pickier. But the economic crisis isn’t going to end any time soon, austerity is cutting into our disposable income, and reducing costs is a fact of life for almost everyone. Why not explore alternative meats?

Tried and fried

My boxing teacher introduced me to horse meat almost a decade ago. I had just given up on vegetarianism and was willing to try anything. I went to the Moroccan butcher to ask for some, and he pointed me to Carnicería Ortega, just down the street from my house and known as one of the oldest and best horse butchers in Madrid.

carniceria ortega

Carniceria Ortega

Trying the meat, I was pleasantly surprised. It tastes a lot like beef, and has a bit less fat. Contrary to what many people imagine, it’s not tough, and it’s not gamy. That being said, just the words “horse meat” are bound to get a reaction out of almost anyone. I should know. A video entitled How to Make a Horse Steak that I made years ago and posted to YouTube as a joke now has almost a hundred comments, most of them obscene, and many of them suggesting that I am some sort of soulless monster who deserves a special place in hell.

Why all the fuss? A large hoofed mammal is a large hoofed mammal! We eat cows, why not eat horses? In many countries in Europe, they do.

Julio Ortega, whose father opened the horse butcher’s on Plaza Doctor Lozano in Puente de Vallecas in 1962, says that horse meat is more natural and just as healthy as beef. The horses go through all the same health controls as cows, but the demand for the meat is lower, so horse farms haven’t yet been industrialized. The meat comes from a farm in Segovia, where they say that the horses are free to walk around and pasture freely.

Avoid prepackaged

With the recent scandal involving horse meat in pre-packaged foods in Great Britain, horse is in the news. As a bona fide fan, my first reaction was “What’s the big deal? Horse has never killed anybody!”

However, thinking about it a little bit more, I’m reminded of why I don’t buy anything pre-packaged if I can avoid it: you really never know what you’re getting if you buy something industrial. The supply chains are so long that probably nobody knows. And the law says that vendors can label something “beef” even if it has a percentage of other things in it.

If you’re buying pre-packaged meat, then, you have to accept that it could be less than natural. If you go directly to the butcher, you see him cut the meat right in front of you, and you know what you’re getting.

Of course, horses are beautiful, majestic animals. But so are cows, and we eat them all the time. Rather than being picky about what species your hamburger is, why not be picky about what other additives it might have, and buy something more natural? Something cheap, nutritious and delicious that would make those Spanish grandparents proud? Something like horse meat!

Daniel Welsch

About Daniel Welsch

Daniel Welsch is a teacher and author who moved to Madrid at a ridiculoulsly young age. Now, he’s not as young as he used to be. He writes a blog for ESL students at and books which are available on and many other places on the world wide web.

Image Credits: duncan c

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