The diet and food intake of South African wildlife have often a greater effect on the taste of the meat than most people realize.
In New Zealand, for instance, a certain quality and taste can be standardized as the deer harvested for venison are fed a highly and intensive regulated food intake.
South African wildlife, however, is kept in its natural habitat, ensuring that the product remains a quality organic meat, is influenced by the specific and often a wide range of dietary habits. This then has an effect on understanding the value of South African game meat, not only because the animals harvested are found nowhere else in the world on a large enough scale for game meat, but also because the food intake is noticeably African.
When considering the dietary requirements for the various species available for the international venison market, three categories come to mind.
Grazers, preferring grass, leaf eaters and those species in between.
Springbuck, for instance, are mainly grazers and prefer short grass but will enjoy herbal shrubs and bushes, leaves and seed pods when available. The same goes for the Gemsbok (Oryx) which in addition to shrubs and bushes, will dig up roots and bulbs.
Blue Wildebeest, on the other hand, are primarily grazers, showing a preference for short green grass. Although the meat of Blue Wildebeest still defers greatly from beef, it tends to lean toward a less “wild taste than some of the other species. Zebra also falls into this category, but will occasionally feed on herbs.
The browsers, which include Kudu and Impala have their own flavour to bring to the table as the meat of these species are strongly influenced by the sort of trees these animals prefer eating from. Trees in the South African low-veld differ from those in the high-veld, and even kudu meat could alter, depending on which part of the country the meat is harvested.
Ostrich is an exception, as ostriches eat almost anything, (often swallowing small rocks, which help with digestion.) South Africa has large ostrich farms, and therefore meat being derived from ostrich does not necessarily fall in the same category as the other species out in the wild. The same applies to the meat of crocodile. There are many wild ostriches and crocodiles, but for the export venison and game meat industry, these two species are often acquired from intensive breeding ranches.
It is thus important that the end consumer know what the species he or she is eating, and to be able to accurately determine whether or not the meat is preferable, rather than just stating that is is venison.