sealPurdue News

May 2, 1997

Purdue experts help simplify market for ostrich meat

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Thanks to two big-bird specialists from Purdue University, ostrich meat is gaining more recognition as the "other red meat" for populations around the world.

Chef Hubert Schmieder and Professor William Stadelman recently participated in an ostrich meat congress in Oustdoorn, South Africa. They presented an international ostrich meat identification guide format, based on the American Ostrich Association Meat Guide. The guide, scheduled for final approval at a meeting in Belgium May 9-10, could change the way ostrich steak, fillets and ground ostrich are bought and sold worldwide.

Instead of using scientific descriptions or common names that could be confused between countries, the meat guide uses numbers to differentiate between the different edible parts of an ostrich.

"The ostrich meat market is definitely global," Schmieder says. "The industry needed a system to identify the parts of the bird and the quality of the meat without a lot of confusing words. Numbers are the same worldwide. Twenty-three countries represented at the South African congress agreed that the guide lets buyers order by number and know they will be getting the same piece of meat regardless of where they buy it."

Some of the countries represented at the congress, and who are contemplating adoption of the new identification system, were South Africa, Australia, Israel and the Netherlands.

The international ostrich meat buyer's catalog makes selecting different cuts from the ostrich as easy as ordering a No. 3 combination plate from your favorite Mexican restaurant. The congress chose numbers instead of the Latin descriptions of each muscle because numbers are universal. A buyer in Israel can order meat from a distributor in the Netherlands despite the language gap.

For example, to order an inside thigh strip without the numerical system, buyers and sellers would have to know the Latin descriptor, M. iliofemoralis. With the new buyers guide, that cut of meat is simply an OS1051. This numbering system also makes the cuts uniform. The countries using this guide all will cut using the same specifications.

Stadelman, professor emeritus of food science, says ostriches originally were grown for their feathers and the leather from their hides. "The meat was first thought of as just a waste product," he says. "It's just been in the last 12 years or so that the meat has been marketed in the United States."

It is not a challenge to find meat on the lanky birds. The American Ostrich Association says there is approximately 90 pounds of meat on an average 12-month-old bird weighing about 250 pounds.

Ostrich meat hasn't grown in popularity in America as it has abroad, but Schmieder says ostrich is beginning to compete in more "white tablecloth" restaurants in larger U.S. cities. "Ostrich won't take off in America until we have a better distribution of the bird," Schmieder says. "But it's a cumbersome journey to raise and bring the bird to market when you're putting an ostrich burger up against a hamburger, even if it's more nutritious."

Distribution also is held up because ostrich is still more expensive than other meats. Market prices range from $3 a pound for ground ostrich in some supermarkets to more than $30 for an entree in some restaurants.

Schmieder says the meat looks just like beef but is very lean. "It's lower in calories and cholesterol and higher in iron than any other red meat," Schmieder says. "The absence of fat gives it a different texture than beef, but it's very juicy and tender when cooked properly.

"The groundwork is laid in the states, it's just going to take time and money to make the market work here. In the meantime, we'll continue sending our meat and birds across the oceans."

The ostrich association says neither the U.S. Department of Agriculture nor the Census Bureau tracks the ostrich population as they do other species of livestock, but based on a survey of its membership, the association estimates there are between 350,000 and 500,000 ostriches of all ages in the United States.

Ostriches are raised successfully in every region of the United States, but the birds are making a big differences for countries like China where land is limited, but the need for food is high. "The birds are able to utilize wasteland better than any other meat animal," Stadelman says. "They eat grass and roughage and don't compete for human food." The brids are native to Africa and Southwest Asia.

They also thrive in Indiana. Martin Schroeder of Mount Vernon, president of the Indiana Chapter of the American Ostrich Association, estimates there are about 250 ostrich ranches in Indiana.

"Ostriches survive in the Midwest quite well," he says. "The birds have three seasons (spring, summer and fall) of strong production and handle cold weather like other livestock. As long as there's a place for them to get out the wind and keep dry, the birds make it through the winter very well."

Sources: Hubert Schmieder, (765) 494-5997
Martin Schroeder, (812) 985-9581
William Stadelman, (765) 494-8286;
American Ostrich Association, (817) 232-1200; Internet,
Writer: Jenny Miller, (765) 494-2096; e-mail,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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