High in the mountains of the Himalayas, there is a relative of the common cow that continues to baffle scientists: Bos grunniens, the smaller and domesticated offspring of the wild yak.
And while native tribes of the Himalayas have raised, cared for, and relied on yaks for centuries, no one is entirely sure when, where, and how they became domesticated.
In this article, we’ll be taking a closer look at everything yak: What yak meat tastes like, how nutritious yak is, where to find yak meat to try yourself, and how to cook it for the best results possible.
So even if you don’t have plans to eat yak meat in the near future, this guide will prepare you with plenty of trivia for your next dinner party.
Where Does Yak Meat Come From?
Despite its scientific obscurity, finding yak meat outside of its native region isn’t as difficult as you might expect.
Because of the ease with which they can be domesticated — and the range of habitats they can survive in — yaks can now be found around the world.
But no matter where a herd of yaks is raised, they’ll come from stock that was originally found in the Himalayas. They’re an important source of food — both meat and milk — for peoples in India, Tibet, Mongolia, Siberia, Myanmar, and Southwest China.
But it’s Tibet that lays the most claim to both wild and domesticated yaks; the Tibetan language even gives us our English name for the animal.
What Does Yak Meat Taste Like?
Yak meat is another of the “alternative” meats that enjoyed a push for popularity in the early 2000s (and even into the 2010s).
Alongside bison, ostrich, rabbit, goat, emu, camel, and more, farmers and ranchers attempted to introduce meats that were healthier than beef and pork; not just for human health, but better for the environment and climate as well.
And while you may have noticed that these meats failed to overtake beef and pork as America’s favorite proteins, the remnants of this attempt have left people with strong impressions and opinions about the more exotic meats’ tastes.
Writing for the New York Times in 2003, prior to her widespread cookbook fame, Melissa Clark had this to say about yaks:
Yak is as lean as venison or bison (about 5 percent fat, compared to about 15 percent for beef), and, to some, tastes juicier, sweeter and more delicate.
She then goes on to interview a yak rancher, who observes that “[yaks] only eat about a third of what a cow eats and can forage for food without damaging the environment… [and] they are pretty disease-resistant, so they don’t need any hormones or antibiotics.”
Taken in total, this paints quite the picture for a meat that’s delicious, nutritious, and good for our delicate ecosystems.
And since they’re naturally hardier than cattle, yaks can easily survive without the hormones and antibiotics that can compromise the taste of beef and pork.
Clark is not the only one who has noticed that yak meat is a delicious alternative to beef. Writing for Outside Online in 2014, Katherine LaGrave makes an impassioned plea for why you should be eating yak burgers over beef patties:
Yak meat, which is about 95 percent fat-free, is naturally ultra lean, and a unique distribution of its fatty acid percentages make it high in moisture content. The result: an incredibly juicy meat. It’s also high in “good” fats, low in “bad” fats, and contains just 20 to 30 percent of beef’s Palmitic acid, the most common fatty acid found in animals and plants.
All of that is more amazing when you also take into account that yak hair is a highly valuable natural fiber used for making clothes and blankets, and their milk is densely nutritious and filled with natural probiotics. The humble yak truly is one of the most amazing creatures you’ll find on this planet.
And thankfully, even while many other “exotic” meats have fallen by the wayside for American farmers, yaks’ durable and resilient nature has helped them to hold on as a hope for healthier meats and healthier environments.
Writing for DCist in 2019, Gabe Bullard provided this update on the viability of yaks in our current food culture:
It would take massive shifts in public habit, law, and agricultural practices for truly wild animals to overtake beef, pork, and poultry. But there’s a growing market for [yaks], which offer an easily farmed departure from the norm.
Once again it looks like compared to beef, yak is easily the better choice for taste, the environment, and human health.
Were it not for the financial and political power of the beef industry, our dinner plates might be filled with sustainable yak burgers and steaks. But maybe this year really will be the year for yak to strike it big.
Yak Meat Nutrition
As we’ve already mentioned, yak meat is a wonderfully healthy alternative to beef. Here are the exact facts for its nutritional composition in a 4 oz serving, courtesy of Texasyaks.com:
- Calories: 170
- Total fat 8 g
- Saturated Fat 3.5 g
- Trans Fat 0 g
- Cholesterol 60 mg
- Sodium 100 mg
- Protein 23 g
Taken together, that paints a picture of a high-protein and low fat meat that’s good for overall health, and even fit for a heart-healthy diet. It’s loaded with iron and B vitamins too, further adding to yak’s potential health benefits for all people.
For an even further exploration of all the ways that yak can benefit people and planet, check out this video from Dr. Josh Axe on YouTube:
How to Cook Yak Meat
One of the true beauties of yak meat is that although it is seen as an exotic meat, it’s simple and easy for most people to learn how to cook with it.
If you’ve ever used lean ground beef to cook hamburgers or grilled a beef steak, you can just a easily learn how to cook yak meat.
Because of that, you don’t really need yak-specific recipes that call for exact ingredients and cooking methods.
So in this section, I’ll give you a few of my favorite “no recipe” recipes where you can use yak meat instead of beef or bison.
Yak burgers should be everybody’s first stop in trying this new meat. After a single bite of a well-made yak burger, most people are instant converts — saying that yak makes the best burgers they’ve ever had, thanks to its soft and sweet flavor.
Dress up your yak burger however you want, as they’re all delicious. Cook it over charcoal if you’d like a deeper flavor, or pan-fry it in a pat of yak butter to make for an absolutely authentic flavor.
Yak steaks aren’t something you’re likely to find at the supermarket, but they’re worth seeking out. Because yaks and cattle have a similar body structure, you can often find the same cuts used for beef steaks as yak steaks.
Try a ribeye, T-bone, or porterhouse, and you’ll notice how the yak’s subtle sweetness and tender juiciness make it an excellent change from beef. Feel free to serve these with the classic accompaniments of mashed potatoes and a side salad.
Yak curries are popular throughout the Himalayas, and there’s no one “right” way to make one. Start by either cubing yak steak or browning ground yak meat, then set it aside.
Using a little oil combined with the drippings from the meat, sauté onions until they’re translucent.
Add in plenty of salt a well as roughly chopped root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, potatoes, and etc., let them sear for a few minutes in the pan, then add vegetable stock to cover.
Return the yak meat to the mix, cover, and cook over medium heat until the vegetables are cooked through. Once the stock has cooked down (about 15 to 25 minutes), remove the pan from the heat and let cool for 5 minutes.
Add a dash of heavy cream (preferably from yak milk!), mix thoroughly, and serve.
Yak kabobs are a fantastic low-effort, fast to make dish for any night of the week. If you’re using yak steak, cut it into 2-inch cubes and add it to skewers with chunks of onion, zucchini, and bell pepper.
If you’re using ground yak meat, mix it with egg yolks and bread crumbs in a bowl then form it into balls before adding it to the skewers.
Kabobs are best when cooked over a roaring charcoal or wood fire; brush the meat and vegetables with plenty of olive oil, and sprinkle generously with salt before throwing them on the grill.
If you don’t have a grill, try making them in the oven under your broiler; you’ll lose a little bit of the smoky flavor, but still get a really nice char on both sides if you turn them once while cooking.
Yak tacos make great use of any type of yak meat you might have, be it ground or steak or even using the cut-off trim after cooking a full-size steak.
Adding the classic Mexican spices of cumin, oregano, and chili powder to your yak meat will give it a flavor that pairs well with the lime, cilantro, and diced onions, and crema popular in Mexico City street tacos.
Or serve these alongside a whole bar of taco condiments, so everyone can build their own versions with this new and interesting meat as the base.
Yak stew or chili is a wintertime favorite, with hearty flavors and plenty of nutrients to get you through the coldest months of the year. Start by sweating onions and garlic in oil, until translucent (adding salt here will help to draw moisture out of the alliums).
Next, add in your yak meat — either cubed yak steak or ground yak meat works fine here.
Cook until just browned on the outside, but not fully cooked through. Add a can or two of drained beans, a can of diced tomatoes, and plenty of tomato juice, and you’ll be well on your way to a rich and delicious chili.
Spicing here is totally up to the cook; I like using ancho chili powder, cumin, and a dash of allspice to add a special touch.
Yak Bolognese may be the most comforting dish of all. Simply substitute ground yak meat for the cut of beef in your favorite spaghetti and red sauce recipe, and you’ll have a wonderful anytime meal that’s healthier and more delicious.
Where to Buy Yak Meat
Because of the long-running advocacy for yak meat as an alternative to beef, there are more yak ranches in the United States than you might imagine.
And while you might not be able to find it at your local butcher’s shop, there are plenty of options online that you can use to have yak meat delivered right to your door.
Exotic Meat Market has a huge range of types of yak meat available, from ground meat to nearly a dozen types of steaks to sausage and stew meat.
Their prices tend to be a little bit high — at around $15 a pound for ground yak meat — but their quality is excellent and shipping is reliable.
Individual farms are often the best way to get yak meat in larger quantities for a better price per pound.
Firebird Farms offers a 100% grass-fed yak meat starter pack that’s great for beginners. It includes ground yak chuck, ground yak sirloin, and a few premium yak steaks, as well as their popular sweet ginger yak jerky.
Del Yaks has some of the best prices for yak meat, so long as you can meet their minimum order of about $100. Their ground yak burger meat comes in at just under $10 a pound, making it a great deal that’s comparably priced to grass fed beef or bison.
Lastly, Broken Spoke has excellent prices for all of their yak meats, including the most generous and reasonably priced sampler pack we’ve found. They’re a great first pick for anyone looking to try yak for the first time.
FAQs About Yak Meat
Here are a few FAQs about Yak Meat.
Is yak meat better than beef?
Yak meat is a high-quality, red meat that is considered healthier than beef. It is lower in fat and calories, but higher in protein and iron. Yak meat also has a slightly sweet flavor that some people prefer over beef.
How much does yak meat cost?
Yak meat generally costs more than beef, pork or lamb, but it is still a relatively economical meat. The price of yak meat varies depending on the cuts that are available, but it is generally around $6 to $8 per pound.
What kind of meat is yak?
Yak is considered a red meat. Its flavor is relatively mild but not at all gamey. It’s high in protein, low in cholesterol and high in B12.
What is yak good for?
Yaks are best known for their milk and meat, which is said to be high in protein and low in fat. Yak meat is also a good source of zinc, iron and B vitamins. It is good for any dish that would go well with beef or bison – it stands up to hearty tastes and acidic contrasts.
How do you cook yak meat?
Yak meat can be cooked in a variety of ways, but is most commonly roasted or grilled. It can also be used in stews, curries, and other dishes.
Yak meat is a healthy and lean choice, providing an excellent source of protein, iron, and B vitamins. It has a slightly sweet flavor that some people compare to beef or lamb. So if you’re looking for an interesting new meat to try, why not give yak a go?
Are yak good eating?
Yes, yak meat is considered a delicacy in many parts of the world. It is lean, flavorful, and healthy. Yak meat is a good source of protein, iron, and zinc.
Can humans eat yak cheese?
You can eat yak cheese. Most yak milk is not pasteurized, since there are so few industrial operations so it is illegal for you to drink it but safe to eat the cheese.
What’s the difference between a yak and a bison?
Yaks and bison are very different animals. A yak is a hairy cow-like animal from the Tibetan Plateau that usually measures about five feet at the shoulder and can weigh as much as 800 pounds. A bison is a North American animal that most often stands from two meters to three meters high at the shoulders, and weighs between 400 kg (880 lb) to 900 kg (2,000 lb).
Does yak meat taste like beef?
The taste of Yak Meat is best described as unique, unlike beef or lamb. The meat itself is similar to beef in texture rather than lamb.