The Benefits and Drawbacks of Replacing Beef with Buffalo (Bison)
For decades the debate about beef has raged around the dinner table. Millions of people love the taste and texture of beef, of course, but the health risks are a perpetual fly in the ointment. That has led to a search for beef alternatives that are still as satisfying but without the artery-clogging drawbacks. One of those alternatives is the mighty Buffalo or, as they are often called bison.
The National Mammal of the U.S., bison are the largest mammals on the entire continent of North America. They’re very similar to cattle, though, and belong in the same family, genetically speaking. Like cattle, bison are ruminants, which means that they eat plants, digest the cellulose, and chew the cud (which is partly digested plant substance).
The Main Difference – Buffalo vs. Beef
Before they were domesticated, your average cow would gladly graze on grassy vegetation all day long. Today, however, most cattle are given grain-based feeds that are vastly different from green vegetation. Meanwhile, according to Dave Carter, the Executive Director of the National Bison Association, “all bison spend the majority of their life grazing on pasture.” It’s interesting to note that, unlike cattle, it’s much harder to control bison. Ranchers, for example, find it extremely difficult to keep them in confined quarters like they do with cows. It’s for this reason that bison develop far fewer diseases than cattle.
In short, the significant difference between cattle and Buffalo is that cattle are forced to live in cramped quarters and forced to eat grain instead of grass, which is very bad for their health (and their meat, which humans eat). Some believe that this significant difference is why bison/buffalo is healthier than beef.
Bison vs. Beef Nutrition – What Are the Differences?
The nutritional differences between Buffalo and beef, Buffalo is the hands-down winner. For example, no matter the cut, all buffalo meat has fewer calories and less fat than beef. Also, buffalo meat is higher in protein. The USDA reports that in a typical bison burger, there’s 152 cal and 7 g of fat. Amazingly, that’s less than a beef burger made with 90% lean beef, which has approximately 184 cal and 10 g of fat. As for cholesterol, a 2013 study published in Nutrition Research concluded that “…bison meat appears to provide a healthier alternative to red meat.” The study also showed that after a meal with buffalo meat, LDL (bad) cholesterol levels stayed the same. On the other hand, after the same amount of beef was eaten, LDL cholesterol levels were significantly elevated.
Is There a Difference When Cooking Bison?
A common complaint of people who love bison have is that it’s usually over-seasoned. They say that bison has a delicious and unique flavor that shouldn’t be covered up. As far as cooking is concerned, Buffalo is drier than beef because it’s so lean. That means it will cook faster, so you have to be careful not to overcook it. Also, if you overcook Buffalo, Buffalo will get quite tough because it doesn’t have the same water content as beef. Top chefs recommend brushing bison meat with olive oil first. That will lock in its natural juices before cooking.
How Often and How Much Bison is Healthy?
Nutritionists agree that you should keep your consumption of bison to no more than two servings per week. They also agree that when it comes to serving size, between 4 and 8 ounces is optimal.
Is Bison Easy To Find at the Grocery Store?
While bison/buffalo isn’t challenging to find, not all grocery stores carry it. Your best bet would be in a specialty meat shop or an organic market. Some membership warehouse outlets also sell bison. One other option is to purchase bison meat from a local rancher or at your local farmer’s market. Of course, you would need to be near a local bison ranch to do so.