Paul Webb is milking Europe’s latest food scandal with a recipe for horse-meat lasagna and a pledge that “There’s no Moo in our Mince” on his company’s website.
Webb, the director of Exotic Meats in Derbyshire, England, says sales of horse burgers, sausages, steaks and mincemeat have spiked 10-fold since the equine matter was first found in supermarket burgers last month. He ran out of supply last weekend as consumers grew curious about horse flesh, he says.
“I think it’s people who want to try it to see what it’s all about, see if it really tastes like beef,” Webb said in a phone interview.
Exotic Meats, which also sells steak from zebras, wildebeests and alpacas, is among the unlikely beneficiaries of the meat scandal. By exposing the murky nature of Europe’s food chain and causing consumers to rethink the content of their plates, the crisis has piqued curiosity for horse fare in the U.K., where eating steed is something of a taboo.
“Customers are going to be far more aware as to what they are buying,” said Andrew Stevens, a food and grocery analyst at market research company Verdict Retail in London. He described the spike in horse meat demand as “an unexpected side effect.”
At Tucker’s Exotics Ltd., a seller of African game meats in Surrey, owner Peter Atkinson says he’s been inundated with inquiries from customers seeking horse. And some U.K. chefs say the taste of the meat, which is slightly sweet and closer to venison than beef, might appeal to the public if cultural habits in England could be overcome.
“If there was demand for it and it came from a good source, with decent provenance, I’d consider serving it,” said Henry Harris, the chef at restaurant Racine in London. For now, though, he doesn’t plan to.
Sales of horse meat as a percentage of butchered products has traditionally been in the low-single digits in the U.K., according to Brindon Addy, chairman of the Q Guild, which represents about 140 independent butchers. British people’s “love affair with the horse,” which makes them culturally averse to eating the animal, contrasts with habits in countries like Italy, he said. Horse sashimi is also a delicacy in Japan.
“In England, we tend to bet on horses rather than cook them,” says Mark Hix, the London chef.
As faith in supermarket products is shaken after chains including Tesco Plc, Aldi and Iceland Foods Ltd. found horse mixed with beef in some of their products, consumers are also returning to their local butcher for their staple meats.
Addy of the Q Guild estimates demand at independent butchers is up about 20 percent since the scandal began. Sales of burgers and sausages have grown as much as 30 percent, he says. A spokesperson for Tesco and one for J Sainsbury Plc declined to comment on how the crisis has affected meat sales.
The unexpected demand for horse meat suggests the problem for consumers isn’t so much that they’re eating horse -- it’s that they didn’t know they were.
“If you find that your beef has horse meat, then what else are they putting in there that we don’t know about?” Addy said. “You just want to know that you’re eating horse.”
From a nutritional point of view, the meat is healthy. It provides as much protein as beef and pork and less fat, according to a comparative study published in the medical journal Nutrition Research and Practice in 2007. Among other benefits, the researchers found higher levels of healthy unsaturated fatty acids compared with beef. A food safety document from the U.S. Department of Agriculture dating back to 1997 promotes horse, saying it is higher in protein than beef.
Each year, over 200,000 horses are slaughtered for meat in the European Union, with close to half killed in Italy, followed by Poland, Spain and France, according to Humane Society International, an animal protection organization based in Washington. The meat is also imported from Canada and Latin America, it said.
While interest in horse meat has spiked in the U.K., once the scandal dies down, demand will most likely follow, Stevens and Atkinson said.
“It’s a massive fad -- people in six months’ time won’t be buying horse meat,” Atkinson said. “I’d be very, very surprised if it were still selling.”
For now, Webb of Exotic Meats is restocking from his supplier, a licensed U.K. wholesaler who sources from southern France. He won’t name the original source, citing competitive reasons, but says he expects a new order later this week after supplies ran out last weekend.
“Forget your shop-bought frozen lasagna -- here is a recipe for the real horse lasagna,” he writes on Exotic Meats’s website. He developed his own recipe, with ingredients including carrots, celery, red wine and smoked streaky bacon, and first posted it about a week ago, he says.
To contact the reporter on this story: Makiko Kitamura in London at firstname.lastname@example.org