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The Difference Between Bison and Buffalo

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If you were to look for the “home where the buffalo roam”, would you find really find it in the American range? Not very likely. Although the name is used interchangeably, bison and buffalo are two distinct animals, separated by oceans. Learn all about the great giant of the American plains!

The American Bison 


What we in North America are used to calling “buffalo” is actually bison - American Bison specifically. Easily recognizable by its huge size and prominent hump, it's found all over the US and Canada, and it's actually what your "buffalo burgers" are made of. American Bison (bison bison) is an ancient species which once roamed the North American continent in large herds, revered by Native Americans and now recognized as the national mammal of the USA.

Bison is prized for being an incredibly healthy and nutritious protein, and lean to boot. American bison has about 93 calories per 3 ounces, which is about 1/3 of the same amount of beef. The fat content in that same portion is about 1.8 grams, versus 8.7 grams in beef. Besides that, it’s also very high protein and other nutrients while being lower in cholesterol. All in all, Bison is a great alternative to beef, and a healthier choice overall.

Bison is tender while being lean, because the little fat it does have is very fine, making the meat soft. It has a meaty flavor that’s not overpowering, but rather mild and pleasing, with a sweetness and lightness that’s incredible. Most of the time, Bison is also the more environmentally friendly choice, as bison are usually raised free to roam in large pastures, and not given antibiotics or hormones.

Water and Cape Buffalo


On the other hand (and another continent), the real buffalo is native to Africa (called Cape Buffalo, shown on the left) and Asia (called Asian Water Buffalo, shown on the right). It's smaller, less furry and decidedly hump-less, plus its not usually consumed for meat.

And what about our beloved mozarella di bufala or buffalo mozzarella? That IS actually made from milk from the Asian water buffalo. The animal was introduced to Italy in the 1400s.

The Buffalo-Bison Confusion

So why is bison called buffalo? Chalk it up to a case of mistaken identity. It was the well-meaning but confused European settlers who, upon encountering the unfamiliar animal, saw some similarities with the Asian and African buffalo and decided to lump them in the same category. It wasn’t discovered until later than the animals were different, and by that point the name had stuck, popularized by the popular song, “Home on the Range” and later by the minting of the “Buffalo nickel”. The mistake was by then so ingrained in American culture, that still today, in culinary terms (at least in America) we eat “bison”, but call it “buffalo”.

The Conclusion

Buffalo and bison are two different animals. In America we call “buffalo meat” what is actually “bison meat” and chalk it up as an accepted mistake.

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5 out of 5 stars ratingDec 06, 2019

very interesting information.I never knew that! and I'm from buffalo new york.

john from buffalo, NY
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