Ask a biltong lover if it’s the same as beef jerky, and you’ll earn a sharp word or two! Yet it’s tempting to assume these two very similar snacks have a lot in common because they do! It’s the differences between beef jerky and Biltong, however, that count the most.
So let’s take a closer look at why Biltong is so different from jerky and how that affects the taste and texture of this healthy, diet-friendly snack.
The key differences between Biltong and beef jerky:
|Origin||South Africa||North/South America|
|Preparation||Air-drying and marinating||Smoking and dehydrating|
|Cuts of Meat||Beef or game||Beef, lean cuts|
|Seasonings||Vinegar, salt, coriander, pepper||A blend of spices and seasonings|
|Texture||Tender and savory||Smoky and chewy|
|Flavor||Tangy and meaty||Intense and concentrated|
|Nutritional Profile||Higher protein, lower sodium||Higher sodium, lower fat|
|Sugar||No added sugar||Often added sugar|
|Rawness||Slowly dehydrated from raw meat||Pre-cooked before dehydration|
|Fat Content||Aim for 15%-30%||Lean cuts, less fat|
|Moisture||Soft and chewy to hard and brittle||Dry and tough|
|Fiber||Higher fiber content||Lower fiber content|
Origins of Biltong and Beef Jerky
Biltong and beef jerky have deep-rooted origins in different parts of the world. Understanding their history can help us appreciate the unique qualities that set them apart.
Biltong: A South African Delicacy
Biltong originated in South Africa during the 17th century. Dutch settlers needed a method to preserve meat when refrigeration wasn’t available. They discovered that by air-drying flavors, they could make it last longer, thus giving birth to Biltong.
Beef Jerky: An Ancient Native American Tradition
Beef jerky originates in ancient South America, where indigenous peoples dried and smoked strips of meat to preserve it for later consumption. This preservation method later spread to North America and was adopted by European settlers.
The Key Differences in Preparation
Though biltong and beef jerky may appear similar, their preparation processes are quite different, which affects their flavor and texture.
Biltong: Air-Drying and Marinating
Biltong is made by marinating meat, often beef or game, in a mixture of vinegar, salt, and spices such as coriander and pepper. The meat is then air-dried for up to two weeks in a well-ventilated area. This slow-drying process allows for a tender and flavorful end product.
Beef Jerky: Smoking and Dehydrating
Beef jerky is typically made by slicing lean cuts of meat, marinating them in a blend of spices and seasonings, and then smoking or dehydrating them at a low temperature. This process results in a drier, tougher texture compared to Biltong.
Comparing Nutritional Profiles
The nutritional content of Biltong and beef jerky can vary depending on the recipe and preparation method, but there are some general trends.
Biltong: High in Protein and Lower in Sodium
Biltong tends to have higher protein content and lower sodium levels than beef jerky. This is because the air-drying process in biltong production retains more of the meat’s natural nutrients.
Beef Jerky: High in Sodium and Lower in Fat
Beef jerky generally has higher sodium levels due to the seasonings used in the marination process. However, it often has a lower fat content, as the smoking and dehydration methods used in its preparation can remove some of the natural fats in the meat.
Taste and Texture Variations
Biltong and beef jerky have unique tastes and textures catering to different preferences.
Biltong: Tender and Savory
Biltong is known for its tender, almost steak-like texture and savory flavor. The combination of vinegar, salt, and spices in the marination process imparts a unique tanginess that sets it apart from other dried meat snacks. Biltong can also come in a range of moisture levels variations….
from soft and chewy to hard and brittle products. Depending on the drying time and personal preference.
Beef Jerky: Smoky and Chewy
On the other hand, beef jerky has a smokier, more intense flavor and a chewy, tough texture. The smoking and dehydration process of beef jerky creates a full-bodied, umami-rich taste that many find addictive.
There is a wide variety of flavors available for beef jerky, from classic barbecue to spicy and sweet. To beef jerky, sugar is added quite often; this is forbidden for Biltong.
The ‘raw’ debate
Of course, both are preserved red meats that can be stored for long periods and remain delicious (and safe to eat). They also have huge fan bases worldwide. There the similarities end.
Beef jerky originates from Northern America, whereas Biltong is from South Africa.
Biltong uses a very simple seasoning profile and spice to bring out the best in the meat, while you’ll find complex and highly processed flavors in beef jerky.
Biltong will often use a little salt in the blend, but beef jerky is packed with it, and there’s often added sugar in the recipe too.
For many brands, that sugar is a big issue- with very little fiber to offset the quick carb fix, it means you’re munching on a snack that looks protein-heavy and healthy but is packed with empty, unsatisfying carbs that will help pack on pounds at your waist.
For this reason, you can look at Biltong as a diet food when used sensibly as part of a holistic meal plan, whereas jerky is a fun snack but certainly not as good for you and shouldn’t be used in a calorie-controlled meal plan. Biltong will also have a higher protein content than the equivalent amount of jerky, making it very satiating.
A difference between Biltong and beef jerky you likely didn’t consider is that the beef for jerky is pre-cooked before being preserved. Biltong is slowly dehydrated from the original raw meat without applying heat.
This is why you will find ‘moist’ biltongs that are still very soft and why all biltongs (even crispy varieties) have a richer texture and flavor profile than jerky.
Ingredients, texture, and flavor: the key Biltong vs. jerky differences
Another key difference between the two snacks lies in the cuts of meat used. While beef jerky is naturally made from beef, as is most Biltong (although game, ostrich, and even chicken biltong are available), jerky uses far leaner cuts.
Unfortunately, this can also mean cheaper meat, which is hard to avoid in biltong production. Most biltongs, flavored dehydration, aim for a healthy 15% to 30% fat content.
In addition, Biltong meat is cured with a spice mixture, while jerky is never cured but dried. On the other hand, some jerkies are smoked, while Biltong is rarely smoked – smoking would interfere with the drying process.
The flavors and spices used affect the final texture and taste of both dried types of meat and the different preservation methods.
Jerky has a “chewy bite,” like a steak, while Biltong can vary greatly depending on moisture and fat content.
You’ll find everything from a dry, crunchy “breadstick” known as a stokkie to tender, delicate pieces. Biltong retains a lingering meat flavor that jerky doesn’t, as it’s typically overpowered by heating and the nature of jerky flavors.
That said, if you like strongly flavored meats, jerky has a stronger impact than Biltong, which often has a more subtle flavor profile.
Most biltongs are made in a thicker cut that is cured and gently air-dried under controlled conditions for up to a week. It is then cut into bite-sized pieces and packaged.
Jerky requires thin slices, which are cooked on a long, slow heat to speed up dehydration.
While beef jerky is a popular snack, there’s a reason people who try Biltong often say they’ll never go back.
From the meat’s juiciness to the subtle, delicate flavor profile, the unique way this dried meat is made gives the palate a punch that’s hard to match with even the best beef jerky. After all, that’s why we love it!