According to Wikipedia, “Venison is the meat of a game animal, especially a deer, but also other animals such as antelope, wild boar, etc.”  However, in restaurants the word ‘venison’ usually refers to deer, and sometimes to antelope.  Sometimes elk is called venison, but most restaurants will specifically market it as elk. If you are a patron in a restaurant and order ‘venison’, ask the waitperson what kind of venison it is so you know what you are getting.

Venison Taste

Venison is very low in fat.  Venison flavor varies by species with Axis venison having the mildest taste and therefore closest to beef.   Its texture is finer than beef and its low fat content means that over-cooking can make venison tough.  Venison steaks are best served rare or medium-rare as cooking it longer tends to bring out a more gamey flavor and make it tough.  Farmed venison has a milder flavor than wild venison.

In the US venison is primarily found in restaurants or on the hunter’s table and is difficult to find in supermarkets.  In Europe venison is more readily available both on menus and in the supermarket.  Most of the retail venison sold both in the US and Europe comes from New Zealand and is probably Red Deer (Cervena) venison.

Varieties of Venison

Axis Deer Venison jpg
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Axis Venison (Cervidae Axis)

Axis Deer is a native of India, but is farmed on ranches in Texas, Florida and Hawaii in the USA, and also in Australia and New Zealand.  Axis Deer are among the most beautiful, with fawn-like spots on their coats.  Males grow up to 39 inches at the shoulder and 250 pounds, while females can reach a height of 33 inches and 150 pounds

Axis Venison Flavor Profile

Axis Venison is considered by many to be the best tasting venison.  Axis venison has the mildest flavor and most tender meat of commercially marketed venison and is the most approachable to restaurant guests who may be afraid to try “game meat”.   The meat is deep red in color and contains less than 1% fat and therefore can be marketed as “fat free”.  By comparison, Fallow Deer & Red Deer have a fat content of 5% – 7%.  Detailed info at Comanche Spring Ranch.

 

Fallow Deer Venison (Cervidae Cervus dama)

Fallow Deer Venison jpg
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Fallow deer is the historical venison of European kings.  It is a native of Europe and Asia Minor, but has been introduced into countries worldwide.  In the USA it was first farmed in New York starting in 1979 and is now ranched in many areas throughout North America.  Fallow deer males grow up to 37 inches at the shoulder and a weight of up to 176 pounds.  Females reach a height of 33 inches and weight of up to 99 pounds.

Fallow Venison Flavor Profile

Fallow venison has a strong flavor which is well suited to traditional venison recipes, many of which use Juniper Berries.  It has a stronger taste than beef, and although it has more fat than Axis Deer, it still has a lower fat content than beef.

 

Red Deer Venison jpg
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Red Deer Venison (Cervidae Cervus elaphus)

Red Deer alternate names include: Cervena, European Elk.  Red Deer is native to most of Europe, Asia Minor and Northwestern Africa.  It is now found in many countries including Australia, New Zealand, and Argentina.  In the US they are farmed in several states including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Colorado.

The Red Deer is the fourth largest of the deer species (Moose and Elk are in the top three).  It is a little smaller than North American Elk and is sometimes referred to as European Elk.  Male (stage or hart) Red Deer grow to a height of up to 47 inches at the should and as much as 530 pounds.  Females (hinds) weigh up to 370 pounds.  Much of the venison sold in the USA is Red Deer from New Zealand, often marketed under the name “Cervena” which isn’t a species name but rather a marketing name used by New Zealand ranchers to distinguish their venison from deer from other regions.

Red Deer (Cervena) Flavor Profile

Red Deer are a flavorful venison with a little more pronounced flavor than Axis deer.

 

Sika Deer Venison (Cervidae Cervus nippon)

Sika Deer Venison jpg
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Sika is Japanese for “deer” (pronounced “shee-kah”).  Alternate names include: Japanese Deer and Spotted Deer.  Sika Deer are indigenous to China and Japan, but have been imported to many other countries including the United States, Australia, Austria, Britain, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Morocco , New Zealand, Philippines, Poland.  Sika Deer grow up to 37 inches at the shoulder and 150 pounds.

Sika Venison Flavor Profile

Sika venison is generally considered to have the strongest taste of all venison.

 

Antelope Nilgai jpg
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Antelope Venison (Boselaphus tragocamelus)

One of the most popular Antelope venison sold in the US is Nilgai Antelope.  Originally from India and Pakistan, Nilgai Antelope are the largest of the Asian/Indian Antelopes.  They were first ranched in Texas in the 1930’s and are now abundant on ranches and popular in restaurants.  Nilgai means “blue bull” and refers to the color and shape of a mature male bull Nilgai Antelope, which has a bluish-grey colored coat and body shape which resembles an ox.

Bulls average about 275 pounds but can weigh up to 500 pounds and stand 50 inches at the shoulder.  Cows weigh up to 385 pounds.  These weights make them large animals and as such they typically can be purchased for a better price than other venison since a larger animal provides a better yield and therefore (usually) a better price.

Antelope Venison Flavor Profile

Antelope has meat with a mild flavor for venison, good texture, and like other venison it has a very low fat content.

Venison Nutrition

Below are average values for 4 oz (113 g) of venison, specific species values will vary.

  • calories  217
  • fat  4.5 g
  • saturated fat  2.2 g
  • protein  41 g
  • cholesterol  128 mg
  • sodium  59 mg
  • omega-3  0 g

Venison Culinary Concerns – Purines

Purines are a naturally occurring substance found in plants, animals, and humans.  When the body breaks-down purines it creates uric acid.  Purines are consumed every day by everyone and are not an issue for most people unless consumed in excessive amounts.  But if a person has difficulty processing purines, or has a natural propensity for gout, kidney stones, or other uric acid related maladies then they should limit their intake of foods considered to be higher in purines.  Meats, especially organ meat, contain higher amounts of purines.  Examples of high purine foods include sweetbreads, anchovies, sardines, liver, beef kidneys, herring, mackerel, scallops, game meats, and beer (because of the yeast).

 

Where To Buy Venison

There are several ranches in the US which sell to restaurants and through the mail.

  • Broken Arrow Ranch   http://www.brokenarrowranch.com/Shop/
  • Venison World    http://www.venisonworld.com/
  • Elk USA     http://www.elkusa.com/Venison.htm
  • Under Hill Farms    http://www.underhillfarms.com/venison/