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It’s an incredibly common question to see asked from those who don’t know much about Biltong. “Is Biltong Raw Meat?” The answer is surprisingly complicated- which is why we’re here to break it down for you today.
Is biltong raw?
The quick answer is that no, biltong is not raw, technically speaking, but it is classified as such for some purposes.
Let’s take a quick trip down memory lane about how biltong is made. While recipes, spice blends, and other tasty aspects will change between makers, biltong at its heart is an air-dried preserved, or ‘cured,’ meat.
The maker will slice it from high-quality cuts of meat, which are cut into strips either with, or across, the grain of the meat. Commonly this meat is beef, although everything from free-range beef and chicken to game and ostrich can be used.
That said, beef biltong is the most common type you will find.
It is then treated with a specific type of spice blend (including salt) and hung to dry. ‘Moist’ and ‘semi-moist’ types of biltong will still retain a soft center, while you can dry it all the way to a crispier finish, more like beef jerky.
At no point in the creation process is a heat treatment applied to the biltong. This is one of the key differences between biltong and jerky.
It’s also why biltong is sometimes classified as raw meat for specific purposes.
Biltong is a cured meat
Obviously, this doesn’t make sense from a scientific or a purely practical point of view. You can’t take a rump steak and place it on a shelf for 6 months, then enjoy it! Yet you can do the same with biltong.
The difference is that biltong is a cured meat, created by air drying. Curing is an ancient, and remarkably effective, preservation technique that allowed historical people to preserve meat cuts to eat later.
In the case of biltong, it came from the South African Voortrekkers, or Dutch-extraction colonists, who needed a safe way to carry meat into the interior of the country for long periods.
As all the moisture is removed from the meat, alongside the antimicrobial and antibacterial properties of salt and the herbs used, the meat does not spoil. Yet, the careful processing of biltong preserves the original meat’s taste, texture, and full nutrition.
Curing is used across many different foods, not just biltong, and was the number 1 way to preserve food before the 19th century.
Why some sources say biltong is ‘raw’
So why do some sources, including most customs stations, class biltong as a raw meat? Because no heat is used when making biltong.
Even though the curing process renders biltong safe to eat- it can even be eaten in moderate amounts by pregnant women, and doctors commonly recommend this product for teething babies in South Africa- this officially means it doesn’t get classified as ‘cooked’ for import/export purposes.
And if it’s not cooked under these legislations, it’s classed as raw, despite the salting and drying used in the traditional South African method.
Of course, lovers of fresh biltong know that it’s the absence of unnecessary heat treating, alongside the unique blend of vinegar and spices, that gives biltong its moist and flavourful taste.
Despite the absence of heat-treating to the meat, biltong is safe for almost everyone to eat- and it’s also a high protein content snack packed with nutritional goodness. We also firmly believe it wins the biltong vs.
jerky wars, as it’s free of all the unnecessary sugars and MSG that are so often found in beef jerky. It’s a versatile meat you can add to salads and sandwiches for a protein boost, incorporate in a range of cooked and baked dishes, or simply enjoy on its own.
With the popularity of biltong expanding throughout the globe, don’t you think it’s time you tried some today?