2018 has given us a lot of interesting health-food trends so far—golden milk, mushroom powder, CBD-infused everything. The latest craze to pop up on our radar? Biltong.
While biltong isn’t actually anything new (South Africans have been making and eating it for centuries), it’s gaining traction in the U.S. as a go-to snack for athletes, fitness pros, and just about anyone else on the hunt for a high-protein, low-sugar solution to hunger pangs.
We partnered with the biltong experts at Stryve to give you the lowdown on this up-and-coming food trend. Stryve makes seriously delicious biltong that’s packed with protein (16 grams per serving!) and contains only 1 gram of sugar per bag—yeah, per bag.
OK, so let’s start at the beginning…
What is biltong?
That’s bil, as in Bill, and tong, as in tongs.
Think of your favorite cured meat but denser and richer. That’s biltong. It can be made with various types and cuts of meat, but what makes it biltong is that it goes through a specific curing process that originated in South Africa as a way to preserve meat before refrigerators.
South Africans would cover meat in spices like coriander and allspice, salt and pepper, and a dash of vinegar. Then they’d hang the meat on a hook to dry (a.k.a. cure) for several days, slice it, and ta-da—biltong!
Though coriander and allspice are most common, biltong can be spiced with pretty much anything traditionally found in South African cuisine—from curry and chili pepper to cloves, ginger, and mango powder. The culinary opportunities go way beyond snacking too—you can shred it into sauces, put into sandwiches, add to dips, or use as a garnish. Yep, we’re salivating too.
OK, but how is biltong different from jerky?
We have a whole infographic on that here. But to sum it up: It all comes down to how they’re prepared. Jerky is sliced then dried on a rack in a dehydrator or cooked in an oven for up to 12 hours, which often results in dry, tough pieces of meat. That’s why most jerky is soaked in sweet marinades and tons of salt (the average serving of commercial jerky contains more than 1,800 milligrams of sodiumand 8 grams of sugar)—they help keep it tender and add flavor.
Biltong, on the other hand, is hung and air-dried without heat for a much longer period of time, making it naturally more tender. Instead of sugar, it gets marinated in salt and vinegar—the latter not only gives biltong its distinct taste but also cures the meat. After drying, biltong is typically sliced against the grain into small ribbons (though some traditional styles in South Africa are sliced into larger one-inch chunks). And since it gets all the flavor it needs from the vinegar and spices, it rarely contains shady additives, nitrates, MSG, or hidden gluten.
The benefits of biltong
For starters, biltong is a great source of essential amino acids, which can help your body recover after exercise, lose weight, and absorb nutrients more efficiently. It’s also high in iron, zinc, and vitamin B12, which have been found to boost your immune system and energy.
Last but not least: protein. Biltong contains about 50 percent more protein than jerky. That’s because jerky is made up of about 25 to 40 percent water and sugar, leaving a lot less room for actual beef. On the contrary, biltong contains only about 12 percent water and a trace amount of sugar, so you’re getting more of the good stuff in each bite. And since the fat is trimmed off pre-drying, Stryve biltongalso has less fat than your average jerky.
If you’re into high-protein snacking, chances are you’ve heard of biltong, the dehydrated meat that’s suddenly everywhere. But do you know what it is? You’ve probably heard someone compare it to jerky and left it at that. Turns out there are a ton of differences between the two, so to break it down, we made you an illustrated guide. By the end of it you’ll be a cured-meat pro.
- Beef biltong starts with a slab of top round steak (the same lean, low-fat cut used for roasts and juicy steaks). It then gets coated in a mixture of spices, salt, pepper, and vinegar—typically in a tumbler—for roughly 30 minutes. Spice blends vary by type, but coriander and allspice are popular additions.
- Beef jerky also starts with top round steak, but instead of getting dusted with spices, the meat usually soaks overnight in a marinade. Many marinades are high in sugar and loaded with preservatives, so if you’ve ever thought jerky tastes like candy… yeah, that’s why.
- Biltong meat is hung on a hook where it dries in the open air for 14 to 21 days. The secret to proper curing? Drying the meat in a warm room with low humidity.
- Jerky gets popped into an oven where it bakes for a couple hours to expedite the drying process. While it cooks, temperatures often fluctuate, which gives jerky its thick, rough casing and chewy texture.
- Once the biltong is cured, it’s sliced against the grain to give it a more tender texture and uniform shape (the thin slices look a little like ribbons). It has a spicy-salty flavor with a zing of vinegar (which, bonus, is good for your tummy). The experience is similar to eating steak without steak sauce. Also, worth noting: There’s practically zero sugar in biltong (Stryve, for example, has only 1 gram per serving).
- Jerky gets sliced pre-cooking with the grain in big, long cuts, sometimes up to 18 inches long. Then it gets broken up into piecey chunks. The finished product is often a mixed bag, no pun intended: Some pieces might be chewy and juicy, others tough and dry, depending on how it was sliced and cooked.