Biltong Explained

If we're going to go into any discussion on the different types of biltong, kosher biltong, or how it differs from classical American beef jerky, we'll need to start at the very beginning. What is Biltong? Where/when did it start? Why do people (not just South Africans) rave about it?

Biltong is dried meat, usually beef, which has methods in the making process that prevent it from spoiling, and enabling it to be preserved for long periods of time. And, it tastes oh so good! Although we can tell you exactly what present day biltong is, the details of it's origin and history includes multiple time periods, and at times can be more general than specific. But here goes!

Going back many centuries and way before the advent of refrigerators and freezers, meat preservation was probably a standard amongst all civilizations. Whether it was necessary due to the inability to consume so much meat in such a short time (think 300-400lbs of meat from one cow!) or wanting to take meat on longer trips, the need was there and so it became. Soaking the raw meat in a curing solution of salt or brine, the raw meat was then hung to dry for as long as needed, till it was ready to be put away for later use. Adding flavor to it either during the drying process or after it was finished, is dependent on any specific dried meat origin, and culture. For the most part little to no flavors were used as it wasn't a snack or dish that was being prepared, rather a convenient solution to being able to preserve meat.

Biltong is all of the above, but different in two key areas. When Dutch settlers were moving around Southern Africa in the early 19th century (not just present day South Africa but other countries as well) they brought with some tricks and add ons from their home country, by using vinegar as a curing agent and adding in spices with them for flavor such as pepper, coriander and cloves. After hanging to dry outside for the better part of two weeks, biltong was born, and evolved into what is today a staple snack in South Africa, and now in many other parts of the world too.

The name biltong, and not 'bull-tongue' as it sounds like to many first timers, comes from the Dutch words 'bil' translated as 'backside', and 'tong' which means 'tongue'. Not tongue because of the meat that was used, but rather when finished it resembles long strips or tongue look alike.

Although this is about biltong, and not about biltong vs jerky, the difference between the two is already quite apparent, in biltong being air dried and not cooked or smoked, cured with vinegar, and with unique spices and flavor that make it irresistible. Using the tried and tested methods from centuries ago, the same process and ingredients make it just as irresistible today!

Read more

Zbiltong, What is it?

What are the different types of biltong?

Kosher Biltong Explained

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