Bison vs. Buffalo
No, you aren’t here for a head-to-head cage match between two majestic beast cousins. Today we are looking at the differences between two animals that are mistaken for one another quite often.
Buffalo and bison are distant relatives belonging to the same species called the bovidae or bovine family. Sheep, goats, wildebeests, gazelles, oxen and cows are all part of this same group and are cloven hoofed. This means that they are characterized by having a hoof that splits in to two “toes”. While pigs often have cloven hooves, they do not have the specialized extra stomach for fermenting a herbivore diet that is the second requirement of being bovine.
Buffalo are native to Asia and Africa. Bison are North American and European. A lot of people think of the animals interchangeably and it is thought that this came from the similarities of their processed hides and what they were used for. It is possible that bison hides were used to make ‘buff coats’ worn by military men who settled in North America and the association of the two words is the origin of the misnomer. Another suggestion is that the bison found in North America seemed similar enough to travellers who also visited Africa and called them the same name. No matter what the right story is, buffalo and bison are not the same animals. In our searches online, we found many instances where chefs, food reviewers, information sites and even meat companies were not using the right names for the meats they were referring to or bouncing back and forth between the two animals.
So, let’s clear things up so we don’t forget again. We’ll give it to you – they are both quite large, brown animals. Bison however are bigger with larger heads than buffalo and are bearded. They have very thick coats of long fur that they shed as the temperatures rise with the changing seasons. Bison are the ones that have the big humps on their backs. What most people don’t know is that that hump that hosts an interestingly shaped and extremely strong spine that allows them to swivel their heads with great power and plow the snows that they often find themselves in. Unlike a camel who uses their hump to store waters and fats to sustain themselves in periods of scarcity, bison humps are made of really strong muscles to support their vertebrae.
Other ways to tell bison from buffalo are to look at their horns and coats. Buffalo horns look different depending on the type of buffalo but usually their horns are big and curved. Bison tend to have smaller horns than buffaloes. As for the coats, buffalo have smoother coats of hair whereas bison are shaggy in appearance.
Can we eat them? Yes. In fact, bison used to be one of the main North American meat staples when their populations were plentiful. At one point though they were overhunted to near extinction and many of their migratory routes were impeded. Since those times, luckily wild bison numbers are back up and are thriving in protected areas across Canada and the US.
Will you like it? Everything is a matter of taste but bison consumption is on the rise. Many sports teams are now choosing bison over beef for their athletes. Bison meat is healthier and less fatty than beef from cows. In fact, beef can contain up to three and half times more compared to bison per serving. Some people enjoy the taste of bison better because it has a naturally sweeter and richer taste than traditional beef. It also has more protein and less calories. For those that like a gamier texture, bison is a real treat. For those looking to shed some pounds, bison could be an excellent alternative and is an easy substitute for recipes calling for red meat like chilis, burgers and stews. You’ll find that typically bison is at a higher price point than beef and that is because the bison industry is small and most bison raisers really care about animal welfare and letting the animals grow as wild as possible and as nature intended.
Papa Earth doesn’t carry buffalo for sale. It isn’t local and that’s something we are insistent on as much as possible. If you do have the chance to try it, dig in and let us know your reviews. From what we’ve read, we haven’t found many articles and reviews that agree or have strong information on the taste and texture. Since they are animals with high populations that reproduce rather quickly, where they are present, they are likely a good source of sustenance. If we ever go international, we’ll update this article!
What we do offer is bison, and some of the bison you’ll ever have. It’s a true local product of Canada, grass-fed and raised without anti-biotics. You can find it in the subscription box section and in our bulk order section.