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Ostrich: A Better Red Meat?

by Erica Ilton, RDN, CDN

Q. Is ostrich a healthier alternative to beef—and better for the environment?

A. Yes and yes. Here’s why.

These enormous, flightless African birds are raised on farms around the world for their meat, eggs, feathers, and hides. Ostrich meat is classified as poultry and is nutritionally similar to poultry. But it’s more like a “red” (than “white”) meat, similar to beef in color, texture, and taste.

As with beef, ostrich gets its red color from myoglobin, a protein in muscle that turns red when exposed to oxygen. But unlike beef, which can be high in intramuscular fat (that is, marbling), the fat in ostrich can be easily removed. Ostrich meat is also lower in saturated fat than beef.

Nutrition: ostrich vs. poultry vs. beef

Depending on the cut, a 3.5-ounce portion of ostrich meat, uncooked, has about 2 to 3 grams of total fat (about 1 gram saturated) and 110 to 125 calories, similar to skinless poultry breast (see chart below).

By comparison, three of the leanest cuts of beef have 4 to 5 grams of total fat (about 1 to 2 grams saturated) and 125 to 130 calories per 3.5 ounces, while some fattier beef cuts, even when trimmed of visible fat, have at least 6 to 11 grams of total fat (2 to 4 grams saturated) and more than 140 calories.

Ground ostrich meat has 9 grams total fat (2 grams saturated) and 165 calories per 3.5 ounces, compared to 15 grams of total fat (6 grams saturated) and 250 calories in 85 percent lean ground beef.

Environmental advantages of ostrich

Impressive nutrition stats are not the only reason ostrich meat is an attractive alternative to beef. It’s also a more sustainable and environmentally friendly source of animal protein.

Farm raised ostriches require very little land, and like all non-ruminant herbivores, they produce much less methane than cows and other ruminant animals. Greenhouse gases such as methane are major contributors to climate change, and methane emissions from livestock represent a significant percentage of the total greenhouse gases produced by human activities.

Ostriches also require less feed than cows, and they have a faster and higher meat yield. Female ostriches produce a minimum of 40 chicks per year, each reaching marketing age about 400 days from conception. Cows give birth at most once per year, and it takes about 650 days from conception for a calf to be market-ready. About three times more feed is needed to produce a pound of beef than a pound of ostrich meat, and when it’s time for slaughter, a 250-pound ostrich yields about 130 pounds of meat (52 percent of total weight) compared to about 490 pounds from a 1,200-pound steer (41 percent total weight).

Fascinating Facts About Ostriches

Ostriches are the largest birds in the world. When fully grown, they stand about 8 feet tall and weigh up to 400 pounds. Here's what else you may not know about them.

Where to find it, how to cook it

Ostrich meat is typically found in farmers’ markets and some grocery stores; it’s also sold online and offered at some restaurants. Ostrich jerky is also available. One prominent online purveyor, whose farm is in New Jersey, sells ostrich steak, burgers, and eggs (in season). Another prominent online store, based in Québec, sells ostrich steak and ground meat from a farm located in Canada.

Antibiotics are not typically used in farm-raised ostriches, and both of these purveyors state that their products are antibiotic-free. They also claim that hormones are never used in their birds, but this is moot because hormones are never administered to poultry.

As might be expected for an appealing product with a limited supply, ostrich meat is fairly expensive. The price for an 8-ounce filet at the two online stores mentioned above is $15 to $20, and ground meat is $12.95 to $16 per pound. The empty eggshells cost $35 a pop, and when available, that ostrich egg will run you $42.

Because of its low fat content, ostrich can go from juicy to leathery if cooked too long. The World Ostrich Association suggests sealing in the juices by using a roasting bag when preparing a leg roast, and cooking ostrich steaks over high heat before turning down the flame to finish them off. The meat can also be cubed and added to stews and stir-fries. Ground ostrich meat can be used for burgers, spaghetti sauce, chili, and just about any other recipe that calls for ground beef.

Comparing Nutrition: Ostrich, Beef, and Poultry

Type/cut of meat, 3.5 ounces, raw Calories Total Fat (grams) Saturated Fat (grams)
Fan 115 3 <1
Inside Leg 110 2 <1
Inside Strip 125 3 <1
Outside Leg 115 2 <1
Outside Strip 120 2 <1
Oyster (portion of the thigh) 125 4 1
Round 115 3 <1
Tenderloin 125 3 1
Tip, Trimmed 115 2 1
Top Loin 120 3 1
Ground ostrich 165 9 2
Eye, Round, Choice 125 3 1
Round, Tip, Choice 130 5 1.5
Top, Round, Choice 125 4 1.5
Ground beef, 85% lean 250 15 6
Ground beef, 95% lean 135 5 2
Chicken breast, skinless 120 3 <1
Chicken leg 120 4 1
Turkey, ground, 85% lean 180 13 3.5
Turkey, ground, 93% lean 150 8 2
OSTRICH/BEEF (average values)
Ostrich** 120 3 1
Ostrich, ground 165 9 2
Beef*** 125 4 1
Beef, ground, 85% lean 250 15 6

Source: USDA Food Composition Database. *Numbers have been rounded. **Average of ten cuts: fan, inside leg, inside strip, outside leg, outside strip, oyster, round, tenderloin, tip, and top loin. ***Average of eye of round, round tip, and top round, choice, lean only, trimmed to 0” fat.

Also see Is Bison Meat Better Than Beef?