While traveling throughout South Africa, when of the snacks you commonly see is Biltong. Many of the butcheries, grocery stores and specialty shops throughout the area sell the delectable treat. Biltong is a 400-year old traditional South African beef snack, which is cured in a very unique and highly nutritious way. Biltong differs from American Beef Jerky — which many of us are likely more familiar with — in both taste and preparation.
The meat used in Biltong can be much thicker than jerky meat, Typically Biltong is cut into strips that are 1” wide or thicker while jerky, on the other hand, tends to be much more thin. The addition of vinegar, salt and spices in Biltong, along with its unique drying process, cures the meat and adds a different texture and flavour. Jerky is traditionally dried with salt but without vinegar. The last key difference is that Jerky meat is often smoked, while Biltong is never smoked.
The South African snack, while unique in taste, has quite an unique history behind it as well. The word Biltong derives from the Dutch words “Bil,” meaning meat buttock or hind quarter, and “Tong,” meaning strip. Put together, the word Biltong gets its name for a strip of meat. Mankind has preserved this meat for centuries and it has served as a staple for manys diet. Ancient seafarers pickled meat in large wooden barrels and consumed large quantities of Biltong during their long months at sea.
A new twist was put on Biltong, following the immigration of Huguenot settlers from Europe who settled in the fertile lands of the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa. The meat was flavored with a tasty blend of vinegar, salt, sugar, coriander, pepper and cloves. At the time, these spices were in abundance throughout the Cape Town colonies as the French Huguenots produced a great deal of wine and vinegar from their grape crops. Cape Town served as a halfway stop for European seafarers traveling on their spice routes to the Far East, which is why Europeans in the area produced such goods.
The most common ingredients found in biltong, include: meat, black pepper, coriander, salt, sugar (or brown sugar) and vinegar. However, modern-day interpretations of Biltong can sometimes include: balsamic vinegar or malt vinegar, dry ground chili peppers, nutmeg, garlic, bicarbonate of soda, Worcestershire sauce, onion powder and saltpetre.
If you would like learn how biltong is made, check out this video below.