There are so many forms of processed meat snacks hitting the market these days. Everything from standard jerky to the meat sticks or bars formulated with vegetable inclusions and exotic flavors. It’s tough to tell what a lot of these snacks are trying to be; a veggie bite with some meat or meat with some veggie flavors / textures – regardless, there has been a strong movement away from traditional jerky in the snack aisle.
My sense for this movement is the desire to spark some life into a category that has long lacked any innovation or novel value-adds to the consumer. So here I am to introduce you to a completely new and amazing meat snack most of you would never have heard of but that offers a totally new way of looking at snacking.
Biltong comes from the Dutch words Bil (meaning rump) and tong (meaning strip), literally rump strips or rump steaks. Biltong is an artisanal cool air-dried meat snack that originated in Southern Africa (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia) in the 17th century from a need to safely preserve meat. The principle of making biltong has its roots in many cultures: the indigenous tribes of Southern Africa would cut meat into strips and treat it with salt before hanging it up to dry, the European seafarers would brine their meat in salt and vinegar for preserving it for long journeys. When the European (Dutch, French, German) seafarers eventually settled in Southern Africa and began settling the “new world” which required building up herds of livestock and moving them toward the interior of the country and away from British rule they realized the need for preserving food for their long treks. They realized the need for preserving food to sustain their journey and minimize losses of meat given the lack of refrigeration for preservation. So necessity became the father of invention and the settlers combined their technique of meat marinating with the drying process of the indigenous tribes to create the novel and all natural process of marinating and cool-air drying steak strips.
Biltong has since then become a highly desirable premium meat snack that is enjoyed in social settings and viewed more as charcuterie that can be paired with a fine wine and a cheeseboard, enjoyed with a beer watching sports, as a high protein snack for the adventurous and active, or more recently as the foundational snack of the very popular Paleo, Keto and carnivore diets.
Biltong is traditionally made with beef strips but has certainly been made using a wide variety of amazing exotic meats roaming the plains of the African bushveld. The finest steak cuts from the sirloin, fillet and rump are typically used to make biltong as it offers the best flavor and texture. Once steak strips are cut, they are marinated in a mixture of salt, vinegar and spices. The spices have a nice story too. The Dutch settlers actually introduced the key spices used in most biltong recipes namely coriander, pepper and chili from trade routes with Asian cultures during their seafaring escapades. The marinating process is followed by a vinegar solution rinse down and re-spicing the steak strips with a blend of spices depending on desired flavor and then hanging the seasoned steaks in a cool air environment for a fortnight.
As mentioned biltong has traditionally been a snack enjoyed by Southern African countries but over time has made its way to some of the commonwealth countries such as England, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. Only recently is biltong starting to show up in the United States and with great hope and effort we wish to bring biltong to a place in the United States where it is as common a term as jerky. There are many amazing reasons to make biltong a staple in your diet.