What is Biltong?


The dried, cured meat known as “beef biltong” is thinly sliced and originated in Southern African nations including Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa. It was somewhat likened to beef jerky, if to draw any comparisons. However, biltong is totally different. Traditional biltong, like beef jerky, was used to energize exhausted travelers on epic, long-distance trips. But that’s about where their similarities end.

Beef jerky and beef biltong are distinctly different in terms of flavor and curing when compared to regular biltong. The natives of Southern Africa used to cure their meat with salt and hang it out to preserve it. Then European settlers arrived and completely altered the process. They added coriander, pepper, cloves, and vinegar to the mixture.

The History of Biltong

The product biltong has been around for many years. Early Dutch immigrants in South Africa would shoot antelope like springbok and kudu, then cure and dry the meat for preservation.

In South Africa, biltong may be found in every butcher shop, grocery store, convenience store, petrol station, public house, and gathering. Every family now keeps biltong on hand, and people of all ages, genders, and races like it.

International markets have embraced biltong’s flavor and health advantages too. Due to the widespread movement around the globe of South Africans, “traditional” South African biltong is now produced elsewhere and is widely available in many nations such as United States of America, Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom and Hong Kong.

Similar to how prosciutto and bresaola are made, biltong was once made in ambient, natural weather in ideal locations for curing pork. The majority of South Africa has little seasonal temperature variation and little humidity. The resulting environment aids in preventing the growth of mold and pathogens. Over a period of 5-7 days, the slow curing process enables the flavor to naturally amplify.

beef biltong hang to dry

The majority of commercial biltong is produced in industrial dryers and chambers with controlled air flow, humidity, and temperature because it is very difficult to reproduce these circumstances elsewhere in the world. This enables biltong to be produced at scale in a shorter amount of time (3-5 days).

Although a variety of meats can be used to make beef biltong, beef is the most common option. mainly due to the affordable and widespread availability of beef. However, it can also be made with ostrich, springbok, or kudu sirloin, as well as fish (often made with dried, salted bokkoms and occasionally even shark) and ostrich meat.

Difference between Biltong and Beef Jerky

Beef jerky has been around for a while. In fact, many people think the term “jerky” (now known as “ch’arki”) was first used by an ancient Inca tribe called the Quechua. It simply refers to salted, dried beef. Others believe it was found by North Americans and that the word “jerky” is derived from the Spanish word “charqui,” which means dried beef strips. It’s understandable that we become perplexed when trying to trace the roots of drying meat, one of the oldest and most used techniques for food preservation in the book. The majority of cultures have unique techniques for curing and drying meat.

The typical beef jerky are thin slices of lean beef that have been slowly and painstakingly dried. Beef jerky may be made in a few different ways, but the most familiar ones are done through smoking, salting, and dehydrating. Why so much salt? It aids in gradually drawing out the moisture and gives the meat a flavorful taste. Fat should be kept to a minimum in beef jerky since it can spoil the drying process. which nobody desires.

Over the past few years, biltong has gradually increased in popularity, but it has not yet become as widely available as beef jerky. Much less preservatives and artificial flavors are used in its production. In fact, the greatest biltong producers continue to use the time-tested techniques developed in South Africa.

Biltong in a small bowl on top of chopping board

Compared to beef jerky, traditional biltong is substantially thicker (and, in our opinion, much more satisfying). It’s ideal to cut the meat against the grain if you want lovely, bite-sized pieces, and you should cut the meat with the grain if you want a longer, chewier piece.

What, therefore, distinguishes biltong from its neighbor beef jerky? The seasoning is everything. A distinct, delectable spice blend consisting of traditional rock salt, ground coriander seeds, allspice, and black pepper should be applied to the meat. But the star of the show is vinegar. In addition to curing the meat as it dried, vinegar adds a distinct flavor layer and softens the meat to give it a feeling similar to that of a steak.

Biltong’s Popularity

People’s discovery that biltong is a delicious alternative to chips and a nutritious snack has increased its appeal. People who live busy, active lives and wish to snack healthfully or even adhere to specific diets find its high protein and low carbohydrate qualities to be particularly enticing. Of course, there are also others who simply adore its flavor with a cool beer or drink of red wine! Naturally, biltong is a portable and convenient snack that can be eaten on its own or as a component in many different cuisines. Before, you could only find biltong in specialty South African stores, but now you can find it in most supermarkets and online.

Biltong’s Health Benefits

It makes sense to consume biltong prepared from high-quality, reliable sources with little use of chemicals and flavorings if you want to incorporate it into a more structured diet. In South Africa, butchers use a specifically formulated cure of MSG-free spices and locally obtained grass-fed cattle and free-ranging wildlife that have had healthy lives. These vitamins and nutrients are preserved in biltong since it is air-dried and cured rather than cooked.

fingers holding biltong

Biltong is high in protein. The body requires protein as food in order to function properly and to help cells grow and repair. They serve as the basis for life. Protein is present in every human cell. During digestion, the components of protein-rich foods known as amino acids are broken down. They function as the building blocks for cartilage, bones, muscles, and skin. Protein also makes up a large portion of hair and nails. They aid in tissue healing. From the lungs, they deliver oxygen to the tissues that require it. Hemoglobin, a protein that is present in red blood cells, enables this. It can carry the oxygen because it has iron in it. It is difficult to find a source of protein that is more concentrated than in biltong as it contains 40–60 grams of protein per 100 grams. It is a really handy post-workout snack because it is ready to eat.  

High Zinc, Iron, and Vitamin B12. An essential nutrient for immune system support, growth and development, and protein synthesis is zinc. Meanwhile, the creation of DNA, the molecules inside cells that carry genetic information, and the metabolism of cells are all crucial processes that are aided by vitamin B-12 (cobalamin).

Packed with Iron. Iron helps red blood cells carry oxygen from the lungs to cells throughout the body, which reduces weariness, strengthens immunity, and sharpens focus.

Low-Carb Diet. Biltong is a carb-friendly choice to incorporate in Keto and Paleo diets because it normally contains low sugar and carbohydrates (2-3g per 100g), if any at all.

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