Hills Foods Ltd. has been asked several times over the years, exactly what is the difference between Reindeer and Caribou meat? Is it that one is wild and the other is controlled (farmed/ranched)? The few people “in the know” that we have talked to, that have dined on both, say there is not really much difference between the two. This has been our own experience as well.
Presently, at the time of this writing, there is no Caribou or Reindeer meat (or muskox for that matter) available for commercial sale in Canada.
Talking to the key people involved in the harvest and processing in the northern communities we found that if you happened to be in the community where wild Caribou were being harvested the “wild” Caribou were considered to be superior to the “controlled” Reindeer herds. The opposite was true with the individuals involved in the Reindeer harvest. The people there considered the meat of the Reindeer to be as good or better than Caribou.
Not completely satisfied with the individual explanations, we placed a call to the University of British Columbia Zoology department for feedback and surprisingly heard much the same thing. There really is no major difference in the genetics. There may be some profile differences such as slightly shorter legs on the reindeer herd in NWT or a slightly different conformation on the skull but nothing dramatically different, in their academic opinion.
The general understanding, of the northern peoples involved in the harvesting of Caribou and/or Reindeer, is that if you take migrating Caribou from the wild and maintain them in a controlled environment i.e. in a fenced area, on an island or some other land mass that prevents their escape, allows for the distinction to be named Reindeer. Perhaps this is due to the associated history with Laplanders in Northern Europe?
To learn more about the difference between Reindeer and Caribou, visit the site below:
Purists will tell you that Woodland Caribou and the Perry Caribou, because of the different area which they migrate, will have a different finish to the meat than say the Southhampton wild Caribou herd. This is interesting, as the same people that believe the controlled herd 50 miles outside of Inuvik NWT, is considered Reindeer and not as good a meat. They realize too that they have a confined population, albeit eating little else than lichen and willow. The difference in meat texture and flavour may be minute but the consumption of tree bark may also minutely affect the finish on the NWT herd of Reindeer.
Back in 1972, 40 head of wild Caribou were transferred to Southhampton Island from adjacent Coates Island. Interestingly, the Southhampton herd is presently (2005) numbering around 30,000 head and is basically landlocked. The harvesters consider these to be wild Caribou although they are not a migratory herd.
More recently, because of the shut down of the Nunavut harvest since 2009, reindeer meat has been brought into Canada from Greenland. Unfortunately the costs associated with the imported product have made the demand fall off dramatically. Close to $100.00 dollars per kilo wholesale for loins and $75.00 per kilo for hind leg cuts puts it out of most diners price range. With any luck the harvest will proceed again soon but it is a politically charged issue that doesn’t show any signs of changing soon.
So, reindeer or caribou? Are you still confused? There appears to be no clear answer. Or perhaps the answer is they are indeed the same specie but a few thousand miles apart with slightly different diets may allow for a slight variation in meat texture and flavour. One being better than the other would come down to an individuals personal taste.
The end result at Hills Foods is, we recommend both for a healthy, delicious, wild protein, if of course you can afford it. We have access to limited stock due to very low production and international demand so putting your order in early and committing for the season is always recommended.
Denver legs are the most popular cut by far as the meat is fork tender if prepared properly. The price of the Denver leg in comparison to frenched rack or boneless short loin is significantly less yet providing very decent results when comparing finished product on the plate. Caribou jerky, Caribou sausage, bone in hind legs, ground meat, trim, and boneless shoulders are also available. With most specialty game meat cuts, it is important when you’re planning a menu to make sure you double check on supply before going to print.