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Are you worried about mould on your biltong? Don’t worry, we’re here to help!
Keep your biltong free from mould the easy way.
What is the white mould on my biltong? This is a common question we see, but don’t panic yet! It’s probably not even mould you’re seeing. Today we’re taking a deep dive into the ” white stuff” on your biltong, what causes it, how to save your snack, and whether or not you even need to worry.
1. What is mould?
Food mould can be a worrisome problem with all fresh foods. We’ve all seen a tomato or a forgotten fruit slowly turn into a blanket of soft, fuzzy white in the back of our refrigerator or cupboard! Mould is a microscopic fungus.
Millions of mould spores – like tiny seeds – settle on moist foods where they begin to grow. As part of their growth process, they release a substance that promotes food decomposition and causes rot.
There isn’t just one type of mould, either. If you’ve ever found a particularly rotten piece of food, you’ll likely see a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes among the moulds present. Each of them is a different species. There could be over 300,000 of them!
Also, not all moulds are bad. In fact, certain probiotic foods – such as blue cheese – rely on moulds. However, many are toxic to humans and should not be consumed.
It’s important to recognize that the visible mould is a surface mould – but most moulds, once rooted, extend much deeper into the item than just the surface, so you can’t just “wipe off” a suspect item and call it a day if you don’t detect it very early in the process.
For this reason, you should inspect your biltong regularly.
2. When is mould not mould?
However, white spots on biltong are not always mould! It is very often salt, even in low-salt varieties. While very little salt is used in the biltong preservation process itself, it is naturally present in the meat. It’s not just “table salt” that may appear as a fine, dusty film on your biltong.
All the mineral salts dissolved in the oils and juices of the meat can dry out. As the meat cures, the salts can rise to the surface and become visible. They will look like white spots on the biltong and can easily be mistaken for white mould.
However, a closer inspection should reveal the difference.
3. How to tell if the white patches on biltong are salts
So how can you tell the difference? Start with a visual inspection. If the white spots appear very regularly spaced across the surface of the meat, chances are it is salt deposits and not mould. It will also look more crystalline and less fuzzy. Scrape the stain off with a (clean) fingernail.
If it is hard or crusty, it is most likely salt. You can also safely taste this piece – but if it is mould, spit it out immediately!
4. What causes mould on biltong?
Biltong becomes mouldy, especially when there is moisture in the air but no circulation. This occurs most often in biltong boxes at home when the box is packed too tightly, or air circulation is poor.
However, it can also occur after curing if storage conditions are poor. Obviously, wetter biltong suffers more from the problem than dry cuts.
Mould occurs quickly, so don’t assume you can “just” leave it for a day or so. We advise eating homemade biltong within a week and storing it with care.
5. How do I avoid mould when making biltong?
Most mould problems are caused by improper drying procedures. First, know your weather.
If you live in a naturally humid place, or if it has been raining a lot, you need to be extra careful – especially if it’s also hot!
Your strips need to hang freely, without contact. Make sure your meat is fresh and blood-free. If you like, you can always wipe it down with a little vinegar to make sure it’s as hygienic as possible. Your biltong box should be well ventilated, with plenty of gentle air movement.
They are not usually heated, but in cold climates, a light bulb or two can be used to raise the ambient temperature and keep the humidity in check.
If you live in a humid area, you can also get in the habit of spraying the box and meat with vinegar 48 hours after hanging.
If your box is in a kitchen, make sure it’s far away from the stove and kettles that may produce steam that could get trapped. Examine your batch frequently so you can act immediately if you notice a problem.
The very first mould problems can be fixed by wiping the meat down with vinegar to kill mould spores, but if the whole batch is affected and the mould can “take root,” it’s too late.
6. How do I store biltong and avoid mould?
Once your biltong is made, the easiest way to prevent it from going off is to eat it! We recommend eating homemade biltong within one week.
However, if you need to hang on to it for longer, opt for a cool, dry storage spot and make sure the storage container is breathable.
A glass jar with a cloth or paper towel ‘lid’ and liner or a paper bag is much better than a plastic bag. The only exception is vacuum sealing for longer storage.
7. Can I freeze biltong?
Biltong can be frozen for longer shelf life, but remember – the container must be airtight. Again, a vacuum seal can be very helpful. Biltong doesn’t have much internal moisture, so it will defrost and freeze quickly.
If you are very fussy, it may change the texture slightly, but otherwise, it should taste exactly as you expect.
8.How do you get mould off biltong?
If you are sure you are dealing with biltong mould, but there is very little of it, and you caught it early, you can remove the mould with a mixture of vinegar and water – about 30% vinegar should do it. Rinse the biltong well in the mixture and rub off all visible mould. Don’t be afraid to scrub vigorously. Pat dry on a clean, lint-free cloth and then hang to dry.
Remember what we mentioned about mould underneath, though? If your biltong doesn’t dry properly after this treatment, throw it away because that indicates a deeper mould problem.
10. Why vinegar, anyway?
Vinegar is an excellent mould killer. Because it penetrates textiles and other porous surfaces rather than just killing surface mould, it is even preferred over bleach for household mould removal.
Speaking of biltong specifically, vinegar is not only food-safe and edible but also used during the creation of biltong – so wiping it down with a little vinegar won’t affect the taste at all.
11. Is mouldy biltong safe to eat?
This depends on the extent, how sure you are that your biltong is mouldy, and other important factors. First, make sure it really is mouldy. We looked at some other key causes of white spots on the biltong above, such as salt buildup.
If you’re sure you have mould spores, but there’s only a tiny bit, you can wipe it off with vinegar, as we explained.
You can also choose to trim that area away – enclose about 1cm of the uninfested flesh on either side and leave the rest of the flesh. Wipe the remainder down with vinegar, however.
If the vinegar wipe doesn’t remove the mould, it returns, the batch tastes strange or is heavily affected, or you see that your biltong is not drying, you should throw it away to be on the safe side.
You should also throw away any batch of biltong that has colored mould – it’s only safe to attempt to salvage white mould.
Some molds, like those used to make blue cheese, are safe, but most should not be consumed.
While cured meats like biltong, salami, and country ham can be salvaged if the problem is caught early enough, remember that you can’t do this with fresh foods (or even heavily contaminated cured foods) and are better off throwing them away.
The higher moisture content of the food guarantees rapid spread in the flesh, and you cannot save it the way you can hard-cured meat.
There you have it! Everything you wanted to know about white spots on biltong, explained. Now you know how to judge the safety of the white spot, when to save a batch and when to start again, and how to tell if you’re looking at salts or mould. Happy eating!