Eating horse meat has not always been taboo in the British Isles and it is still popular in many parts of the world.
People have eaten horse for thousands of years, with its proponents saying it is sweet, tender, low in fat and high in protein.
But many people feel as strongly about eating horse meat as they would about eating dog, because of the sentimentality attached to horses and their status as a pet.
Horse meat is also thought of as a poor man’s food, something to be eaten when no other meat is available.
The practice is not illegal in the UK, although for cultural reasons it fell out of fashion in the 1930s and most of the tiny amount of horse that is consumed in this country is brought in from the South of France.
In many parts of the Western world, an aversion to eating companion animals has seen a move away from eating horse. However, in many countries worldwide it's a major part of the staple diet, and often considered a delicacy.
Where they eat horse meat
The people of France are well-known for their love of horse meat, and there are specialist butchers' shops which solely sell horse meat. However, it is now sold in supermarkets too.
Eating horse meat goes back to the days of the revolution, when the horses owned by the aristocracy as a sign of prestige became food for the lower classes. In 1866 the French government legalised the eating of horse meat, partly because the cost of pork and beef was so expensive. It was eaten to alleviate starvation during the Siege of Paris in 1870-71 and it has remained a popular meat ever since.
Horse meat is an important part of Italian cuisine in many regions, including Veneto, Parma, Sicily and Sardinia, where a horse sirloin is very popular. Across Italy it’s cooked in a variety of ways; as a stew called pastissada, in thin strips called sfilacci and in sausages.
Horse is eaten minced, as steak, and also in stews and fondue. Apparently the people of Iceland were reluctant to embrace Christianity at first, because Pope Gregory III in the 8th century had banned it.
Domesticated horses and cattle were brought over to America by European settlers during the Age of Discovery, and when European horse became feral, they were hunted by indigenous people in South America. In the Andes, the meat was, and still is, sun-dried and preserved to create charqui.
Mexico is the largest producer of horse meat in the world- 78,000 tonnes in 2009. it's not only exported to Europe but also found in some dishes.
In Mongolia, beef and mutton have become more popular, though in particularly cold winters many prefer horse meat as it is not kept frozen and traditionally people believe it helps warm them up. It is also favoured for its relatively low cholesterol levels. Mongolians also make a horse milk wine, called airag.
Horse meat is a diet staple due to the nomadic lifestyle of the population. The country is also one of the largest producers in the world. The meat is typically smoked and boiled, or dried.
In Japan, horse meat is known as sakura, meaning cherry blossom, because of its pink meat. It’s often served raw, in thin slices, with ginger and onions.
Because a horse is a valuable item for households in Tonga, its slaughter is saved for a special occasion, such as for a birthday or funeral.
The countries where it’s taboo
Horse and donkey was actually popular in Britain up until the 1930s, especially in Yorkshire. But because of the fondness for horses as a domestic animal, and popular stories such as Black Beauty, it fell out of favour. It’s not illegal to sell horse meat in the UK, but it is illegal not to declare every ingredient on food labels.
Horse meat is also considered taboo in the USA, however In December 2011 President Obama lifted a five-year ban on horse slaughter. It’s legal to eat it in the States, but it’s generally considered wrong to do so.
The majority of people in English-speaking Canada feel the same way about eating horse meat as in the UK and USA, but in French-speaking Quebec it is still popular.
While Western English-speaking countries typically do not eat horse meat, Australia is actually one of the biggest producers, exporting to Japan, Europe and Russia. In 2009 it was the sixth biggest producer, with 24,000 tons
Jewish dietary laws prohibit the eating of horse meat, because horses don’t have completely cloven hooves.