All There is to Know about Biltong and Its History

The closest comparative to biltong is beef jerky as it shares similarities in both being dried preserved forms of meat. Yet, there are crucial differences in the taste and how it’s made.

How They Differ

Although both are dried raw meat, jerky is made through a heat drying process, after being salted and marinated with a solution that often contains sugars. Whereas biltong is cured with vinegar and several spices, including coriander and salt as key ingredients, then hung up and dried through air circulation.

The different processes give both snacks their own unique flavours, and one cannot replace the other. Biltong is not usually sweet (although it can be) and its taste is best described as similar to quality dried steak, seasoned to perfection. On the other hand, beef jerky has more of a flavourful dried sausage taste.

What is the Origin of Biltong?

It’s traditionally a South African treat, loved by all in the country. The hunger for its taste has since spread all over the world. Nowadays, it’s mostly made by “The Boere”, and accepted as a cultural dish. Conversely, this savoury and delicious snack has a very different past.

The Khoisan people, also known as “boesmans” in South Africa, originally started making it as a way to preserve meat as far back as the 17th century. “Boesman” is an Afrikaans word that basically means Bushman.

However, the native South Africans didn’t have access to the tools and variety of spices as we now have at hand. This means the taste of early dried meat was simpler, unrefined, and not nearly as sophisticated as the masterpiece, known as biltong today.

See the process of curing used by the Khoisan in the early ages:

  1. Big chunks of meat were taken from the hunt and then salted.
  2. Next, the meat was hung up to dry out in the open air.
  3. After drying, the chunks were trimmed down to thinly sliced bits to eat.

Nowadays it carries a far more sophisticated flavour with spices like cloves, and pepper among others added to the mix as opposed to just plain salt. It also comes in many cuts, including round, fine, thick, and fatty. See our Chilli Bites as an example.

The Name and It’s Meaning

Although the Khoisan came up with the genius idea of creating this remarkable meaty snack, the name Biltong was first given by the Dutch Settlers who sailed ashore in South Africa.

“Bil” is derived from the Dutch word “bille” for buttock. In this instance, it refers to the part from which a sirloin steak would be cut. “Tong” comes from the word “Tonghe”, which means tongue or, in this case, strip in reference to its cut shape.

Treat Yourself – Give Biltong a Try

Whether you prefer a spicy, hot treat that burns your mouth with flavour, or a milder snack with the tiniest hint of sweetness, there’s a recipe that’ll work for you.

Don’t just read about the delicacies of Africa’s past and present. Try it for yourself and share the experience with your friends.









Chanel Gauche
Author: Chanel Gauche


1 thought on “The Biltong Story”

  1. Elize says:

    This is the real thing! Not jerky – it is BILTONG!

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