What is Biltong?
First things first, we LUV BILTONG. In fact we luv it so much we thought it would be handy to create this ultimate guide highlighting everything you need to know about this much loved South African meaty snack. Luv biltong was set up by Michael, Born in Cape Town, South Africa.
‘Growing up in Cape Town was magical, but it took me 16 years living in the UK to realise just how special South African food and culture really is. From selling fresh fish on the side of the road to slicing up massive slabs of biltong and washing it down with a cold beer. I feel really passionate about producing traditional South African food using locally sourced produce from our butchers and removing all the preservatives which is very harmful to our bodies if we eat this on a regular basis and whilst I am a big foodie, I am also health conscious about what I put into my body. Like many of you, I enjoy the great outdoors, and I am blessed to live in a city where there are such beautiful mountains and you will find me here on a daily basis, walking, running and sometimes crawling down these mountains just to get my 10 000+ steps in before the day is through.
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Traditional Snack from South Africa
Biltong is traditional dried and cured meat that originated in Southern African countries (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana and Zambia). Cured meat is common all over the world, but the thing that makes Biltong especially unique is the special blend of African spices that gives it’s unique taste and the benefits of eating this form of cured meat is in the high protein, low carb contents which makes it a good fit for a variety of diets. Biltong is also an exceptionally rich source of iron, a nutrient that many people around the world are lacking, It is naturally gluten-free and the ideal banting/keto snack.
Check out this article on the Top 10 foods to try when visiting South Africa, if you are planning your first trip to South Africa then the first item on your list should be some biltong and a beer, unless however, you are arriving in the early hours of the morning, in which case, I suggest doubling up on the biltong and beer.
Biltong is the most popular South African snack, it’s an institute a bit like the English Sunday roast. The South African version of the Sunday roast is the ‘Braai’, essentially a BBQ. What’s the most common snack to chow around the Braai? You guessed it, Biltong…washed down with an ice-cold Lager, Beer or Ale (or any other drink of your choice). It’s versatile. It’s super tasty and it lasts for ages, but not in our household. But more on that later!
What does Biltong mean?
Bil – tong is an Afrikaans word originating from the Dutch language. It translates as bil meaning “rump/buttock” and tong referring to a “strip/tongue”. Essentially Biltong means dried cured meat strips.
It’s pretty easy to pronounce, but if you’re not sure and want to double check. Have a look at this Google pronunciation tool.
There can be a much deeper meaning, if you ever happen to dream about eating Biltong, then you may want to check out this article on What does dreaming of eating biltong mean? Dreaming about eating biltong reveals that you are hoping to fill up a void. You are missing something or someone.
South African street food
I’m often asked: How would you describe South African cuisine or street food?
Every country has a cuisine that it’s known for, England has Fish and Chips. Simple but unmistakably tasty. America has Tacos, the all American-Mexican dish and the Reubens Sandwich, made from tender slices of pastrami with sauerkraut and Russian dressing on Rye bread. This is a great sandwich and very delicious but I digress.
In South Africa, there is Bunny Chow, an amazing Durban curry served in a hollowed out half loaf of bread, or Babotie an incredible Cape Malay fusion between a fruit and savoury curry and meatloaf. Also one of my favourites has to be Potjiekos, meaning “small-pot food”, a classic Cape Dutch stew slow cooked over an open fire. So simple, SO good!
South Africa has a rich and diverse cultural background that has shaped a massively diverse array of food types and styles all influencing each other.
That said, when I’m pushed on what is my favourite South African food there are always two things that come up. Biltong and Boerewors are not only my most favourite South African foods but ask any South African and 9 times out of 10 they will say the same. I’d actually take it a step further and say that there is one common ingredient found in both foods that forms the backbone of this classic taste of Africa. The humble coriander seed. This little chap packs a big earthy flavour that’s ever so slightly tart, and sweet with a subtle floral aroma that’s incredible when toasted, more on this later as well!
Biltong taste and flavours
There are two key steps to making biltong – curing and flavouring. I will get into this more later, but the important thing to note here is that curing the meat makes it safe to eat uncooked but it’s the flavouring that makes it delicious and has you reaching for more. Biltong tastes like a well-seasoned steak. It's dried beef in its purest form.
When it comes to flavour, biltong packs a BIG punch! The two key ingredients that create the classic African taste of biltong are salt and coriander seeds. Yes, there are other important ingredients. But even with these two key ingredients, there are hundreds, if not, thousands of subtle flavour combinations.
Poor tasting biltong is usually too salty, acidic or even sweet. A good tasting Biltong should be well balanced with it’s spices and acidity, never too sweet and have that clear punch of roasted coriander seeds coming though. This is not your typical, all American, Brokeback mountain beef jerky, far from it, biltong has a distinct flavour albeit with different variations and quantities of spices and it is still made the same way it has been for several generations and if you stick around, we will give you our version on how to make the most delicious tasting biltong, bar none.
Benefits of Biltong
Biltong’s surge in popularity is partly due to its much more favourable nutrient composition compared to many other common snack foods, such as potato chips, cookies, and crackers.
Its high protein and low carb contents makes it a good fit for a variety of diets. Biltong is also an exceptionally rich source of iron, a nutrient that many people around the world are lacking (4Trusted Source).
Although the exact nutrients depend on the specific brand and ingredients, the nutrition profile of a 28-gram serving of beef biltong is (5Trusted Source):
Carbs: 1 gram
Protein: 16 grams
Fat: 2 grams
Iron: 35% of the daily value (DV)
Sodium: 19% of the DV
Dried beef also serves as a good source of several other essential nutrients, including magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins (6Trusted Source).Further information based on the USDA National Nutrient Database on the nutritional values of Biltong can be found here. Nutritional Values of Biltong and further information on the benefits of Biltong can be found here. Benefits of biltong
Who eats biltong and is it safe to eat?
In short, YES. Biltong is 100% safe to eat as long as it’s prepared in a safe and hygienic environment. Biltong has gained huge popularity in the United States, UK and the rest of Europe. I remember my fiancé sticking her nose up at the health snack once upon a time, now I have to hide it from her!
All raw meat may contain harmful bacteria that can have the potential to cause food poisoning. The good news is that curing meat is an age-old process that kills all the harmful bacteria and preserves the meat in certain conditions. Many butchers use potassium nitrate which kills Clostridium botulinum, the deadly bacterium that causes botulism, while the acidity of the vinegar inhibits its growth. According to the World Health Organization. Luvbiltong has done research into using natural ingredients for curing our meat which makes our biltong the best quality on the market using only silverside or topside beef while also ensuring the biltong is safe and free from any microbiomes. No MSG, nitrates or sulphates are used during our biltong making process and using only three main ingredients, Coriander, Pepper and Salt, our biltong is 100% safe.
Meat preservation has a long history and forms the backbone of how biltong came about as South Africa’s much-loved meat snack.
For more info check out: Is biltong safe to eat
The History of Biltong
I’m not going to hit you with a big history lesson here, but when you look at the 17th century as a snapshot you see that this was the start of early modernisation. The travel bug was hitting most of Europe causing fierce competition to explore and find new lands(a bit like the space race).
This was mostly centered around the spice trade. In fact it was the Dutch leading the way, a chap by the name of Jan van Riebeeck discovered Cape Town in 1762. As part of the VOC they successfully managed to bypass many of the problems by pioneering a direct ocean route from the Cape of Good Hope to the Sunda Strait in Indonesia.
From storm clouds to a rainbow nation
The Dutch East India Company decided to establish a colony in the Cape of Good Hope. The wagon-travelling Voortrekkers spread out from the Cape Colony reaping havoc and tribal wars with the local African Khoikhoi tribes. Soon afterwards, Dutch farmers known as Boers (Dutch for farmer) began to settle and became the forefathers of the South African Afrikaner. There is a very close tie between Afrikaans and Dutch culture.
Fast forward to 1931, South Africa became an independent nation. A few years later (1948), the South African government caused a major divide. At the time representing only a small proportion of the population (white people), erected a strict racial segregation and called it apartheid (separateness). This caused years of international unrest and oppression against non white people. History can’t be undone, but the late-great Nelson Mandela dedicated his life to uniting the country and healing relationships. Find out more detail about Netherlands–South Africa relations.
What do South Africans think of the Dutch, and why?
Today, more than 70 years on, there is a new South Africa. Rainbow Nation is a term coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to describe post-apartheid South Africa, after South Africa’s first fully democratic election in 1994.
Although I’m sad about our past, I’m proud of my birth Country and how South Africa has evolved. Like any country it’s by no means perfect, but there is a rich cross pollination of cultures. African, English, Dutch and mixed cultures all influencing what South Africa is today.
So, in answering the question ‘What do South Africans think of the Dutch, and why?’ I can only answer for myself by saying ‘I love the Dutch!’ Not for what they did in the past, but for the positive cultural influences they have had on South Africa.
Who discovered Biltong?
The Dutch disrupted the age old spice industry, successfully opening up the spice market to be more widely available at a cheaper price. In doing so they would need to undergo long and dangerous sea voyages with many challenges, one of them was food preservation.
Meat preservation is a 17th century survival technique used by our European seafaring friends who found a way of preserving meat in salt or brine, no fancy spice mixes at this stage. There is no single person credited with the ‘invention of biltong’, it certainly wasn’t Jan van Riebeeck.
Although the Dutch European settlers are credited with discovering Biltong, they can’t take all the credit.
Ancient cultures preserving meat, the facts
The ancient Egyptians with their love of all types of exotic meats were the first to preserve meat as early as 12,000 B.C. This was done in a variety of ways including: drying, salting (dry and wet), smoking, using fat. Even beer and honey were used for curing. Preserving meat provided a supply of protein for leaner times. The astonishing fact about food preservation is that it permeated every culture and it has evolved and become more refined over time. Find out more about Historical Origins of Food Preservation.
When it comes to Biltong, the European settlers are credited with its invention. But not as we know it today. The natural assumption is that with their newly discovered spice routes they would’ve been the first to use pepper, coriander seeds and other exotic spices to fully flavour the Biltong we know and love today. But this is not the proven case. It is widely thought that adding coriander and other more ‘exotic’ spice mixes came later.
The African Hottentots and Bushmen would have also dried meat, but it was probably not salted as they didn’t have access to this. Their diet mostly consisted of mostly berries, nuts and roots. Only around 20-30% was wild game (mostly antelopes), hunted by the men using poisoned arrows and spears on hunts lasting several days.
Game hunting has always been commonplace in Southern Africa, these days it’s more sensitive due to poaching. But there was a time 20-30 years ago where African game biltong was commonplace and beef biltong was not.
How has biltong evolved
The early settlers may have used some spices with salt, but it certainly was not like the biltong we know and love today. It was more of a basic ‘survival’ food back in the day.
Even as late as the 50’s and 60’s, spices for biltong, droëwors and boërewors were no way nearly as sophisticated as today. In the rural areas far and wide salt and pepper were the only preservatives in biltong and boerewors. Gradually during the 1960s spices such as coriander were beginning to be used in biltong, and others like cloves and nutmeg were added to boerewors together with coriander, pepper and salt.
The Key facts
So, we have covered the origins and history of biltong but there are a few important key facts that I want to delve into before we get into how you can make your own biltong.
Is biltong always made from beef?
No, although beef is the most common meat used. There is a wide variety of meats that one can use. Growing up in South Africa it was more common for us to use wild game like wildebeest, kudu, springbok or Ostrich
Some other popular meats used to make biltong include venison, chicken, pheasant and partridge. Check out our biltong page.
There are tons of recipes online and if you want to become a Biltong making guru you’ll naturally need to try a few and experiment through trial and error. There is no single recipe that is the best, but we really like ours. Try our Luvbiltong recipe.
How to make Biltong from scratch
I’ve spent most of my life enjoying Biltong and spent the last 5 years experimenting with different recipes and ingredients. In a similar way to wine making, with just a few good quality ingredients you can achieve 1000s of variable flavours.
Essentially there are three key groups of ingredients you will need to make biltong:
This is what you are going to need:
· Beef, Silverside or Topside cut into 1.5cm – 2cm steak pieces
· For every 1 kg (2,2lb) of Biltong meat…...the following mixture of spices apply:
· 18 grams of rock salt
· 2 grams of black pepper
· 1 gram of brown sugar
· 4 grams of coriander
· 125ml brown vinegar
The instructions you need to follow for biltong is pretty universal and straightforward, but like anything there are a bunch of variations on ease and flavour and this is our take on the method we use for our biltong.
Sprinkle the biltong meat with Worcestershire sauce while tossing spices… let lie for 12 hours and stir well again… hang out after another 12 hours in a well-ventilated room, or in front of a fan… or in a biltong box.
Allow enough air-flow between the pieces of meat but be careful to not have too much air as this could cause case hardening and the meat inside would still be raw and will not dry entirely.
Keep the humidity to below 50% which would allow your meat to dry slowly but evenly and without the case hardening.
Our batches of meat usually take between 3-4 days to dry and the meat is still moist and tender.
Honestly, the best thing is for you to try a bunch of recipes and even experiment with adding your own twist.
Nutrition, health and storage tips
Is biltong good for you?
Yes, but like most things it’s best in moderation. Biltong is high in protein and low in carbohydrates making it a popular choice for muscle building and gym going fitness fanatics. It’s got loads of Vitamin B12, naturally low in fat and is usually gluten free. Although most commercial spice mixes tend to have traces of gluten.
Is biltong best with or without fat?
Some people like it very lean, others prefer biltong with loads of fat. A key thing to remember here is that beef fat is full of flavour and is especially good at soaking up those amazing spice flavours.
Kosher and Halal biltong
“Kosher” is a term used to describe foods that comply with dietary guidelines set by traditional Jewish law. These laws determine which foods may be consumed and how they must be produced, processed, and prepared. “Halal meat” is a term that refers to meat that is allowed for consumption in the religion of Islam.
We are delighted to see a growing number of butchers and biltong suppliers now offering these options.
Top tips for storing biltong
Fresh biltong is usually at its very best within 5 days of opening or making. How long will your biltong keep really depends on how you store it. A large unsliced slab of biltong will keep the moisture locked in and will typically last longer than sliced which will have more area exposed to lose moisture.
Never store Biltong in plastic, the moisture will be trapped and make it mouldy. For short term storage (5-10 days) a paper bag in the fridge is best and for longer terms you can also vac-pac for 6-12 months if stored in cool dark conditions. Biltong can be frozen, but it changes the texture and we wouldn’t recommend it.
We often get asked what happens if you get mould on your beef biltong, is it harmful? As long as you catch it early enough you can use a clean cloth or paper towel dipped in vinegar to wipe off the first instances of mould. However, if the mould has excessively covered the meat you’ll be safer to bin it, darn shame.
Check out our 5 top tips:
Pregnancy, breastfeeding and babies
Biltong is a rich source of protein that is great for developing strong and healthy muscles during pregnancy and breastfeeding. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding you can consume biltong in moderation, BUT you need to consider these important points:
· Avoid biltong that is very moist
· Raw meat is at risk of carrying bacteria or Listeria
· If in doubt consult your local GP for advice
Is Biltong safe for teething babies?
Yes, it can work really well because it is chewy and tasty. But again a note of caution:
· It can be a choking hazard for young babies, so best for babies over 6 months
· Make sure the biltong is not too moist
· Make sure the biltong is not too spicy
You may also find these blogs interesting.
Hopefully we’ve already covered some key facts and questions in this article, but here are a few other frequently asked questions.
Is it worthwhile getting a home biltong maker?
Yes, food dehydrators are great. The general feeling is they aren’t as good as biltong boxes, but they get the job done quicker. But a word of CAUTION! They can make your meat very dry, so keep a keen eye out.
Can you make beef biltong without salt and vinegar?
No, although there are different kinds of ways to cure meat and some not involving salt and vinegar. These two ingredients are key to making biltong. The use of vinegar also lowers the pH of the meat which prevents the growth of microbes.
Can biltong give you gout?
Yes, it can. Essentially red meat (and other food types) which have high purine levels and contribute to high blood levels of uric acid. If in doubt have a chat to your GP.
Why is my Biltong too salty and too dry?
If your batch of home made biltong is too salty and dry chances are you’ve used too much salt. Also it’s very important to use a good quality flaked salt , DO NOT use fine salt.
Does biltong have sugar?
A lot of biltong does have sugar in it. Our beef biltong has no sugar. Adding sugar to biltong will make it taste similar to Beef jerky which tends to have a sweet taste.
Is biltong better than jerky?
Yes, in our biased South African view. Biltong has a more savoury taste.
Is biltong always made from Beef?
Absolutely not, beef is the most common meat used to make Biltong but all types of game can be used. In South African Kudu and Springbok are very popular. In the UK Venison and game birds like Pheasants make fantastic biltong, check out our biltong range.
Can you use it in cooking?
You certainly can. Biltong is mostly known as a snack but it can be a great addition to some fantastic recipes. Find out more in the next section, recipes that use biltong.
Recipes that use biltong
There are loads of different ways you can eat and enjoy biltong. By default it makes a great snack and a healthier alternative to crisps and chocolates, but it can also be a really great protein ingredient and if stored correctly can last 6-12 months in your larder.
Here is a list of a few of our favourite recipes that use biltong:
1. Biltong sandwich BLT: Switch out your bacon for biltong, add your lettuce and tomato. Perhaps a cheeky chunk of extra mature cheddar cheese. YUM!
2. Biltong baked potato: This makes a delicious alternative to the ham, cheese and coleslaw filling. Just swap out the ham for biltong to set your taste buds free!
3. Biltong salad: If you like your salad (i know i do) then you NEED to try this mega tasty
4. Biltong pizza: We often make our own pizza, biltong works REALLY well with sundried tomatoes and also makes an excellent alternative to the hawaiian pizza, just swap out the ham for biltong. We call it the safari pizza.
5. Biltong stew: I do love a good hearty stew, but I don’t always have fresh meat in the fridge. I always have Biltong in my larder, so I decided to try swapping out the fresh diced beef for beef biltong. The results were just stunning, you need to try this!
6. Biltong quiche: Summer pikniks are never quite complete without a bit of quiche, right? I’ve only just recently discovered this and it’s rocked my world ever since, check out this kiff recipe for biltong quiche.
7. Biltong cheesecake: If you’re thinking these recipes are getting weirder, your right! I LOVE cheesecake, but with Biltong??🤯
Ground biltong powder is growing in popularity as a really versatile protein ingredient. It’s a fantastic ingredient, perfect for sandwiches, salads and various cooking and baking recipes. Being so finely grated, it also added heaps of flavour to stews, soups and you NEED to try with a cheese toasties. It’s off the chart tasty!
So hopefully, this has sparked a few ideas for you to go explore in the kitchen. Please also let us know if you discover some kind of new biltong culinary wonder to try and share with our Lekker Bru friends.
Check out our favourite ways to use biltong powder:
5 Amazing ways to use biltong powder
Closing & Resources
That’s it. If you read this from start to finish, thanks. You are now officially a BILTONG NERD like us. Welcome to the club!
This ultimate guide is an ongoing work in progress, I would like it to evolve and grow it over time. With this in mind if you have any questions, comments or specific feedback please leave a comment or drop us a line. We can only improve this resource with your help : )
Luvbiltong has a growing range of products from beef biltong and wild biltong to gift packs and hampers.
As a thank-you for reading this article I’d like to offer you 10% off any of our products today.
Use code: Luvbiltong21