“Biltong? Oh you mean beef jerky right?” Wrong!
This is one of the most frequent questions we get asked so we decided to put pen to paper and point out the differences between the two dried meat snacks!
As for the similarities, both biltong and jerky are forms of dried meat and beef is most commonly used to make both but that’s about where the similarities end. Whilst jerky has been inherited from the United States, biltong has South African origins and as with most cured foods it was born out of a necessity to preserve meat without the refrigeration we have today.
Vinegar and salt are used as curing ingredients in addition to a host of other spices such as coriander and black pepper for flavouring but as with all great food everyone has their own particular recipe! Jerky on the other hand doesn’t undergo a dry cure and whilst it might contain salt this typically isn’t used as a curing agent but instead just for flavouring.
The reason jerky doesn’t use curing agents is because the production process involves a high heat cooking stage before being placed in a dehydrator and many producers also carry out a smoking step to help with preservation (as well as flavour), something that is not involved when making biltong.
Biltong on the other hand is air dried at low temperatures with no cooking step involved. Traditionally production took place in cool South African winters when the low humidity created ideal conditions to make the tasty snack. Here in the UK we can only dream of such weather so instead use specialised drying cabinets where the atmosphere can be controlled to ensure perfect results every time!
Texture and chewiness is another big difference between the products, predominantly due to the way each product is sliced prior to drying; jerky is sliced very thinly when the meat is raw, similar to a slice of ham and this determines the thickness of the final product. This also means that the entire surface area of the jerky is exposed to the dehydrator resulting in a chewy texture that jerky fans crave.
The fresh meat for biltong on the other hand is sliced into large steaks around an inch thick before marinating and drying and these finished “sticks” are then sliced again to be eaten. The result is that the end user has the choice between cutting off thick chunks or wafer thin slices depending on personal preferences. It also means that once the sticks are cut, the majority of the surface area has not been exposed to air in the drying process leading to a much more delicate texture than jerky and less chewing required.
Is Biltong Healthier than Jerky?
Flavouring wise, the bbq style flavours common in the jerky world mean that many jerkys contain really high amounts of sugar. It’s rare however for biltong recipes to contain sugar leading to a much more savoury taste and a really good snack for anyone looking to cut down their intake and find a tasty, low sugar, low carb food, especially if you're trying to adopt a keto diet.
So which is better? Well obviously we’re biased and firmly in camp biltong, but there’s definitely room for biltong and jerky folk to get on harmoniously because, contrary to popular belief, they are totally different products!
Curious to taste the difference? Check out our full range of delicious biltong, handmade from our very own beef here!