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We are often asked if biltong is healthier than jerky. In fact, this is it’s probably the number one question asked about biltong versus jerky!
The quick answer is yes, it is – but why? How can there be such a difference in quality between two meat snacks that seem very similar? Let’s dive a little deeper into the facts.
Biltong vs. jerky
The two are often compared, and off-hand, it’s easy to see why.
They look similar, and they’re both preserved meats. However, the similarities end there. The taste and texture are completely different. So are their health profiles. They’re also made in two very different ways.
How is biltong made?
We go into this in detail here, but biltong is an air-dried cured meat. It originated in South Africa, but its unique delicious flavor has spread it worldwide.
You can use a variety of meats to make it, but the process is always the same. The meat is marinated in a simple spice mixture with a little salt and vinegar and then air-dried until the moisture content is low enough. At this point, the bigger chunk of meat is cut into bite-sized strips.
This creates a tender, rich flavor profile, and you can choose whether you want it soft or crispy. Since there’s no heat involved, almost all of the meat’s vitamins and minerals are also preserved, making it one of the healthiest snacks around. Due to the loss of water during the curing process, it also has about twice the amount of protein compared to equivalent cuts of meat, making it a fantastic protein-rich snack.
Is jerky made differently?
Yes. The making of jerky is quite different. Jerky is dried with more salt, no vinegar, and often smoked. It is also treated with heat as it dries.
Because it’s cured by spice rubs and marinades, it can have a range of marketed “flavors” that require flavor ingredients, like teriyaki, garlic, and more.
Biltong has a much simpler flavor profile that serves only to enhance the meat, though you do get some flavors like a spicy babelas (hangover) blend or South Africa’s famous peri-peri.
The key difference, however, is that these are not “flavors” as used in beef jerky. It’s just a few tweaks in the spice blend. The meat remains the main attraction. This is one of the key critical differences between biltong and jerky.
How does biltong vs. beef jerky taste?
This means that biltong and jerky taste very different. While jerky and beef biltong are both meat snacks, the similarities end there. Biltong retains a strong “meaty” flavor that is subtly enhanced by spices. Jerky has an immediate smoky flavor that tastes strongly of added flavorings. The texture is also very different. Biltong tends to be tender and chewy, while jerky is tough and snaps when bent.
So why is biltong healthier than jerky?
While good South African biltong can have a fat content of up to 30%, it is a much leaner snack overall than jerky. Remember that dried meat, from which all moisture has been removed, has a much higher protein density than the equivalent amount of raw meat.
The salt preservation of jerky means it’s high in sodium, which is a concern for people with heart or blood pressure problems.
Although a little salt is also used in biltong, it is not the same amount. The artificial flavors used in jerky also often contain MSG, too, if that is a concern for you. More importantly, they are also inevitably packed with sugar – sugar you don’t even realize is there.
This makes beef jerky very high in carbohydrates, where biltong is high in protein with a little fat and few carbs.
Because biltong is not heat-treated, many of the delicate vitamins that are destroyed during cooking remain intact. This means it can pack a punch of your daily nutritional needs, also as it helps keep your blood sugar stable due to the protein content.
As you can see, jerky and biltong are very different, and beef biltong is healthier than jerky.
While jerky is best treated as an occasional treat, biltong has a valuable place as a healthy snack when you’re on the go or need a pick-me-up between meals, extremely useful for certain diets especially keto, and can be incorporated into a healthy eating plan in moderation. We’d even go so far as to say it’s one of the most nutritious snacks on the market!