Alpacas are domesticated camelids that originated in South America and are raised for their soft wool. While not as common as beef, pork, or chicken, alpaca meat is eaten in some parts of the world. This article explores whether humans eat alpaca meat, the taste and nutritional profile of alpaca, and where it fits into the modern food system.
Quick overview: Do people eat alpaca meat?
Yes, alpaca meat is eaten by humans, though on a relatively small scale compared to other meats. Alpaca meat is most commonly consumed in South America, where alpacas originate from. It is also growing in popularity to a lesser degree in North America, Europe, and Australia. Alpaca is valued for its lean, low-fat qualities.
What does alpaca meat taste like?
Alpaca has a taste and texture similar to beef, but it is a bit sweeter and more tender. The meat is slightly soft and juicy, with a mild, fine flavor. It contains very little fat or cholesterol, so the health-conscious often compare it to leaner meats like bison or elk.
The taste can vary slightly depending on the age and part of the alpaca. Cuts from the legs are a bit tougher, while meat from the ribs and back is extremely tender. Older animals tend to be less tender. But overall, alpaca is known for its velvety, sweet taste compared to other red meats.
Nutritional profile of alpaca meat
Alpaca meat is an excellent source of protein and essential amino acids. A 3.5 ounce (100 gram) serving provides:
- Calories: 122
- Protein: 23.7 g
- Fat: 2.7 g
- Saturated fat: 0.9 g
- Iron: 2.9 mg (16% DV)
- Zinc: 4.2 mg (39% DV)
- Vitamin B12: 2.4 mcg (100% DV)
As you can see, alpaca meat is very high in protein and low in fat and calories. It provides an excellent nutrient profile, as a good source of zinc, iron, vitamin B12 and other nutrients. Overall, it is considered a highly healthy red meat choice.
Alpaca meat around the world
Alpaca farming and consumption began over 6,000 years ago in the Andean mountain regions of Peru, Chile, Ecuador, and Bolivia. It remains an important part of the culture and food system of these countries.
Over 90% of the world’s alpaca population is found in Peru, where alpaca meat is common in restaurants and households. Annual per capita consumption of alpaca meat in Peru is about 1.6 pounds.
Other South American countries eat alpaca meat regularly but in smaller quantities. In Bolivia, alpaca carpaccio is growing in popularity. Chile, Argentina, and Ecuador frequently eat alpaca meat in stews, grilled dishes, and as charqui (dry cured meat).
Alpaca meat in North America
In the United States and Canada, alpaca farming and consumption has grown since the 1980s. As of 2017, there were over 225,000 alpacas in the US and over 40,000 in Canada.
Alpaca meat can be found in some specialty food stores and high-end restaurants in North America. It is also available for order online from alpaca farms for home delivery in many areas. Ground alpaca meat is the most common product.
Compared to South America, alpaca meat consumption remains relatively niche in North America. But interest is expanding as more people discover it and appreciate its lean, tender qualities.
Alpaca in Europe and Australia
In Europe, alpaca meat is gaining attention, though still not widely eaten. Alpaca farming began in Sweden and has expanded to the United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Norway and other European countries.
A number of European restaurants now offer alpaca meat dishes, particularly in Sweden, Finland and Switzerland where it is more common. Some European online specialty meat retailers also sell alpaca.
Similarly, alpaca meat can be found in Australia at a small number of restaurants and specialty stores. Australia has over 100,000 domesticated alpacas used for their wool and meat.
Alpaca meat farming
Alpacas are efficient, environmentally friendly livestock animals. They require less water, feed and land compared to cattle. Alpacas are gentle creatures that are easy to care for.
There are two breeds of alpacas: Suri and Huacaya. The Huacaya, with a dense, crimped fleece, are the most common. They make up about 90% of all alpacas.
Alpacas are sheared every 12–18 months for their soft, warm fleece. They reach ideal slaughter weight at 18–24 months old. At this age, they weigh between 100–120 pounds and yield 50–70 pounds of meat.
Alpaca meat is harvested humanely at USDA or CFIA inspected slaughter facilities. About 1 million alpacas are slaughtered annually, mostly in Peru and Bolivia.
Alpaca meat production
Global alpaca meat production is around 4,500 tonnes per year. Here is a breakdown by country:
|Country||Alpaca meat production (tonnes)|
As shown, South American countries dominate global alpaca meat production, led by Peru. However, the United States, Australia, and Europe are growing their output to meet increasing demand.
Price of alpaca meat
Alpaca meat is generally two to three times more expensive than beef. Retail prices range from:
- Ground alpaca: $14–$19 per pound
- Alpaca chops or steaks: $24–$34 per pound
- Alpaca roasts: $18–$26 per pound
The higher price is due to the smaller scale of production compared to other meats. But some view alpaca as worth the premium, given its outstanding leanness, tenderness and nutritional qualities.
Why eat alpaca meat?
Here are some of the reasons people seek out alpaca meat over more common options:
- Low fat and calories – With less than 3% fat, alpaca is one of the leanest meats available.
- High in protein – A 3.5 oz serving provides nearly 25g of protein while being low in fat and calories.
- Tender texture – Alpaca meat is very soft and tender due to its fine muscle fibers.
- Mild, sweet taste – The flavor of alpaca is subtle and slightly sweet.
- Nutrient density – It is an excellent source of amino acids, zinc, iron, and vitamin B12.
- Sustainable – Alpacas have light environmental impact compared to cattle.
People seeking a lean, low-fat red meat with health benefits tend to appreciate alpaca meat. Its tenderness and mild taste also appeal to those looking for an alternative to beef, pork and chicken.
There are a few potential downsides to alpaca meat that may limit wider adoption:
- Higher price – Alpaca costs 2-3 times more than beef per pound.
- Limited availability – Can be hard to find outside South America.
- Small cuts – Animals are smaller, so cuts of meat are petite.
- Mild taste – Some find it bland compared to beef.
The high price, hard-to-find nature and different taste may discourage some consumers. But many feel the positives outweigh these factors.
How to cook alpaca meat
Alpaca meat can be used in any recipe that calls for beef, pork, lamb or veal. It adapts well to almost any cooking method.
Some popular ways to cook alpaca include:
- Grilling – Works well for steaks, chops and ground patties.
- Roasting – Ideal for larger roast cuts from the leg, shoulder or loin.
- Stewing – Braises nicely in stews, curries, chili.
- Sautéing – Quick sautés and stir-fries maintain tenderness.
- Steak tartare – Finely chopped alpaca can be used for steak tartare.
- Carpaccio – Thinly sliced alpaca makes an excellent carpaccio.
Alpaca should be cooked quickly over high heat, or slowly with moisture, to keep it tender. Well-done alpaca can become tough. Internal temperature when cooked should reach 145°F.
Here are a few tasty recipes that highlight alpaca’s flavor and tenderness:
Peruvian Alpaca Stew
- 1 lb alpaca stew meat
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup quinoa
- 3 cups beef broth
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 tbsp cumin
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Season alpaca with salt and pepper.
- Brown the meat in batches in a pot over medium-high heat.
- Add onions and garlic and cook 1 minute.
- Stir in quinoa, broth, wine and cumin. Bring to a boil.
- Reduce heat and simmer covered for 1 hour until alpaca is tender.
- Adjust seasoning and serve.
- 1 lb ground alpaca
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 jalapeno, chopped
- 2 15-oz cans kidney beans
- 1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
- 2 tbsp chili powder
- 1 tsp cumin
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cook alpaca, onion, garlic and jalapeno 5 minutes.
- Add beans, tomatoes, chili powder and cumin. Simmer 20 minutes.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Top with avocado, cheese, etc.
- 12 oz très thin alpaca sirloin slices
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Parmesan cheese
- Fresh basil
- Toast points or baguette
- Layer alpaca slices on a platter.
- Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Top with parmesan shavings and fresh basil.
- Serve with toast points or baguette.
Where to buy alpaca meat
Alpaca can be purchased from a few different sources:
- Online mail order – Direct from alpaca ranches. Cuts shipped frozen.
- Specialty markets – Some high-end grocers and butcher shops.
- Farmers markets – Local alpaca farmers in some areas.
- Restaurants – A few upscale restaurants offer alpaca dishes.
- In South America – Easily found in markets and restaurants.
Online mail order from an alpaca ranch is the most convenient option for home delivery. Use a local source if you can find alpaca meat nearby.
Is alpaca meat safe?
Yes, commercially sold alpaca meat is safe to eat. Reputable alpaca ranchers follow all the proper protocols for health screening, humane harvesting, and USDA-approved processing of the meat.
There are no unique safety issues with alpaca meat. It carries no more inherent risks than beef or other red meats if handled properly.
Here are some tips for safe consumption of alpaca meat:
- Source from reputable sellers with USDA or CFIA approved facilities.
- Ensure proper handling, storage and cooking, like other meats.
- Cook to an internal temperature of at least 145°F.
- Avoid raw/undercooked consumption if concerned.
There are no regulations restricting consumption of alpaca meat. It just remains a more niche product compared to common meats like beef and chicken.
Alpaca meat is eaten and enjoyed around the world, though in relatively small amounts. This lean, sweet-flavored red meat has its epicenter in the Andean regions of South America where alpacas originate.
Interest continues to grow in North America, Europe, and Australia as more people discover alpaca meat. They are drawn to its impressive nutritional profile, tender texture, and sustainability benefits compared to beef.
While niche, alpaca farming and consumption is increasing globally. Those who try it often become fans of its delicate, fine eating qualities versus other red meats. As production expands, alpaca meat shows promise to make up a small but meaningful part of the food system.