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What is Biltong?

What is Biltong?

What Is Biltong? A Complete Guide to South Africa's Snack

Biltong, a high-protein, low-carb meat snack, has journeyed from its South African roots to capture the palates of food enthusiasts around the globe. Its surge in popularity isn't just about its irresistible taste; it's also tied to the growing trend of seeking out healthier snacking alternatives. We're set to delve into the fascinating history of biltong, uncover how it's made, and explore the myriad of health benefits it offers.

What sets biltong apart from its snack counterparts, like jerky, isn't just its unique preparation method but also its nutritional profile. Perfect for anyone looking to indulge in a guilt-free snack, biltong presents a delicious way to stay on track with dietary goals, whether you're in the office, on a road trip, or coming back from the gym. Join us as we uncover the allure of biltong, from its rich heritage to its place in modern-day snacking.

Key Takeaways

  • Biltong Origin and Cultural Significance: Biltong is a high-protein, low-carb snack with its roots in South African culinary tradition, evolving from a practical preservation method to a beloved delicacy enjoyed worldwide.
  • Distinct Preparation Process: Unlike similar snacks such as beef jerky, biltong is marinated in vinegar and spices, then air-dried, resulting in a unique tender texture and rich flavour profile.
  • Nutritional Benefits for Health-Conscious Individuals: Biltong offers a plethora of health advantages, including high protein content ideal for muscle repair and growth, low carbohydrates, and is rich in essential vitamins and minerals like vitamin B12, iron, and zinc.
  • Versatility in Types and Culinary Uses: There's a wide array of biltong types, including traditional beef, game meat, and even fish biltong, each offering distinct flavours. It's also versatile in the kitchen, enhancing dishes from salads to pizzas and even serving as a high-protein snack option on its own.
  • Best Practices for Homemade Biltong: Making biltong at home allows for personalised flavour profiles and freshness. Important tips include selecting the right meat cuts, proper marination, the importance of a cool, dry curing environment, and advice on storage to preserve quality and taste.
  • Global Appeal and Accessibility: Biltong’s growing popularity beyond South Africa underscores a global trend towards healthy, flavourful snacking options, with it now being accessible in various parts of the world, including specialised stores in the UK.

What Is Biltong?

The Origin and History of Biltong

Biltong's journey begins in South Africa, evolving from a practical solution to a beloved national snack. In the 17th century, Dutch settlers in South Africa discovered the necessity of preserving meat in the harsh climate. They crafted biltong, marinating meat in vinegar, spices, and then air-drying it. This method ensured that explorers and hunters could carry nutritious provisions without the risk of spoilage. As time passed, biltong etched itself into the cultural fabric of South Africa, becoming more than just a preservation technique but a national delicacy celebrated across the country.

Our exploration of biltong’s history reveals its traditional significance and how it's become a symbol of South African culinary heritage. Its popularity, initially confined within the borders of South Africa, has skyrocketed globally. Enthusiasts worldwide now savour the taste of this unique snack, bringing a piece of South African tradition into their homes.

How Biltong Is Made

The art of making biltong begins with select cuts of meat, commonly beef, which are trimmed of excess fat. The meat is then marinated in a mixture of vinegar and spices, such as coriander, black pepper, and salt, which not only flavour the meat but also play a crucial role in preservation. After marinating, the meat is hung to air dry in a controlled environment for several days, sometimes up to weeks, depending on the thickness of the slices and the desired level of dryness.

This process, distinct in its simplicity and the depth of flavour it generates, highlights the importance of time-honoured methods in crafting the perfect biltong. Unlike mass-produced snacks, biltong retains a homemade quality, each batch varying slightly in taste and texture, much to the delight of aficionados.

The Differences Between Biltong and Beef Jerky

While both biltong and beef jerky are dried meat snacks, their production methods and resulting flavours are distinctly different. Biltong's unique taste and texture are a result of the vinegar-based marinade and the air-drying process, which imparts a tender quality not typically found in jerky. On the other hand, beef jerky is often smoked and dried at higher temperatures, leading to a smokier flavour and a tougher texture.

Our journey through the world of biltong reveals not just its rich history and artisanal production process but also how it stands apart from similar snacks such as beef jerky. As biltong gains popularity beyond the borders of South Africa, it's clear that the search for healthy, flavourful snacking options is a global pursuit. In this context, The South African Spaza Shop, located in Swindon, UK, has been acclaimed for offering the best-tasting biltong in the UK, bringing an authentic slice of South African culinary tradition to the British Isles. This store exemplifies how biltong’s global reach has introduced people far and wide to the delights of this high-protein, low-carb snack.

Our insights into "what is biltong" uncover not only its historical significance and meticulous production process but also its growing appeal as a wholesome snack option worldwide.

Key Ingredients in Biltong

Common Protein Sources for Biltong

When considering what is biltong and its core components, the heart lies in its protein sources. Beef stands out as the most traditional and popular choice for making biltong, revered for its ability to absorb the marinade's rich flavours while maintaining a tender texture upon drying. We use only the finest cuts, such as silverside, ensuring a lean and flavour-packed result. Beyond beef, our exploration into the diverse world of biltong has led us to utilise other meats, including free-range game like kudu, ostrich, and springbok. These exotic meats offer a unique taste profile, making our biltong assortment especially interesting. Additionally, Wagyu beef has recently entered the biltong scene, bringing with it a well-marbled texture that transforms into an exceptionally rich and tender snack.

Seasoning and Marinating Process

The seasoning and marinating process is crucial to crafting our biltong's distinct flavour. Starting with a foundation of vinegar, which not only imparts tanginess but also acts as a natural preservative, we then integrate an array of spices. Coarse salt and ground black pepper form the base of our seasoning blend, to which we add toasted coriander seeds, a hallmark of traditional biltong. This blend is carefully mixed with apple cider vinegar, creating a wet cure that the meat is thoroughly tumbled in. Our unique twist includes incorporating modern ingredients like balsamic vinegar, malt vinegar, and even a dash of sugar and dry ground chilli peppers for those who favour a bit of heat. This meticulous marination process, which spans 24 hours within a chilled environment, ensures that every strip of meat is permeated with complex, harmonious flavours.

By adhering to this time-honoured method while embracing contemporary twists, we ensure that our biltong not only respects its South African roots but also appeals to a global palate. Indeed, whether one is discovering what is biltong for the first time or is a seasoned aficionado, the key ingredients and meticulous crafting process underscore why our biltong delivers unmatched quality and taste.

Health Benefits of Biltong

Delving into the health benefits of this celebrated snack, biltong shines as a smart choice for anyone mindful of their nutritional intake. This snack, rooted in South African tradition, not only satisfies taste buds but also offers substantial health advantages.

High in Protein, Low in Carbohydrates

Biltong's primary claim to nutritional fame lies in its impressive protein content. Protein, a crucial macronutrient for muscle repair, growth, and overall health, is abundantly found in biltong. This makes it an exceptional snack option for athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and anyone looking to maintain or increase their muscle mass. Given its high protein and low carbohydrate composition, biltong fits perfectly into diets aimed at weight loss or management. This balance ensures that one can enjoy a filling snack without the excess carbs that could lead to unwanted weight gain.

Additional Nutritional Benefits

Beyond its protein prowess, biltong is packed with a variety of vitamins and minerals essential for health. It's a rich source of vitamin B12, a key nutrient supporting brain health and energy levels. B12 is particularly important for those following a meat-restricted diet, as it's primarily found in animal products, making biltong an excellent supplement for omnivores and carnivores alike.

Iron, another significant nutrient in biltong, plays a vital role in transporting oxygen throughout the body, crucial for energy and athletic performance. Its zinc content boosts the immune system, aiding in the body's defence against various ailments. Additionally, biltong is a good source of creatine, a compound enhancing physical performance by supplying energy to the muscles during high-intensity activities.

Opting for biltong from reputable sources maximises these health benefits. Manufacturers adhering to traditional preparation methods, using minimal additives, ensure that the snack remains as nutritious as possible. Our focus remains on providing support for selecting the healthiest biltong, ensuring the benefits discussed extend from the snack directly to our well-being.

Types of Biltong

Within the realm of biltong, a variety of types emerge, each distinct in flavour and texture. Our exploration unveils the primary categories: traditional beef biltong and biltong made from game and other meats. Understanding these varieties not only enriches the culinary experience but also showcases the versatility of biltong as a protein-rich snack.

Traditional Beef Biltong

When asking, "what is biltong?", traditional beef biltong frequently stands as the quintessential answer. Crafted from high-quality beef cuts such as sirloin, fillet, or silverside, this type of biltong captures the essence of the snack's heritage. Beef is a favoured choice due to its rich flavour and widespread availability, making it a staple among biltong enthusiasts. The preparation involves marinating the meat in a blend of vinegar and spices, including coriander, black pepper, and sometimes a hint of garlic, before air-drying. The result is a tender, flavourful snack that boasts a drier and thinner profile than beef jerky, adhering to traditional South African methods while appealing to modern palates.

Game and Other Meats

Venturing beyond beef, biltong embraces a diverse array of meats, including game and more unconventional options. Venison, such as kudu and springbok, offers a wild twist on the classic biltong, introducing unique flavours rooted in South Africa's rich biodiversity. These game meats are prized for their lean texture and distinctive taste, providing an exotic alternative to beef. Additionally, biltong crafted from chicken, fish, and even shark can be found, broadening the horizon for those adventurous in their culinary pursuits. Fish biltong, known locally as bokkoms, presents a salty and savory variant that contrasts with the more familiar meats. Each type undergoes a similar curing process, relying on natural air drying and time-honoured seasoning blends to achieve the desired taste and texture.

In summarising the types of biltong available, it's clear that this traditional snack has evolved far beyond its origins, embracing a variety of meats to cater to a wide range of preferences. Whether one favours the classic beef biltong or seeks the distinct flavours of game and other meats, the world of biltong offers something for every taste.

Enjoying Biltong

Culinary Uses and Recipes

Biltong's versatility extends beyond a high-protein, low-carbohydrate snack, making it a valuable ingredient in a variety of culinary creations. Its rich flavour and tender texture enhance dishes, offering a protein boost and a depth of taste. We often incorporate biltong into salads, adding a savoury note that complements the freshness of vegetables. It's also a fantastic topping for pizzas and baked potatoes, where its flavour melds beautifully with melted cheese.

For those keen on experimenting, incorporating biltong into traditional South African recipes such as Bobotie—a spiced and minced meat dish baked with an egg-based topping—offers an authentic taste experience. Biltong can also serve as a unique twist in omelettes or quiches, providing a hearty and satisfying meal.

We encourage our readers to try making a simple biltong dip, blending cream cheese, Greek yoghurt, chopped biltong, and fresh herbs. This dip serves as a perfect accompaniment to crackers or crudites, ideal for gatherings or as a novel addition to your snack selection.

Best Practices for Storing Biltong

To ensure biltong retains its flavour and texture, proper storage is essential. We advise storing biltong in a cool, dry place to prevent moisture buildup which can lead to spoilage. An airtight container or resealable bag will help keep biltong fresh for several weeks. For those with a larger quantity or for extended storage, refrigerating biltong in an airtight container is advisable as it slows down the fat oxidation process, preserving the biltong's quality.

However, refrigeration can sometimes cause biltong to become too hard, so letting it come to room temperature before consuming is recommended for the best texture and taste. For long-term preservation, biltong can also be frozen, a practice that maintains its quality for up to a few months. When ready to enjoy, simply thaw it in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for a few hours.

By following these simple storage guidelines, you can enjoy the delicious taste of biltong whenever you like, ensuring each piece is as flavourful and tender as when it was first made. Whether you're incorporating it into recipes or enjoying it as a snack, biltong offers a unique and delightful culinary experience.

Making Your Own Biltong

Step-by-Step Guide for Homemade Biltong

Making your own biltong at home is a rewarding process that allows for customization to suit your taste preferences. We'll guide you through the steps to create this delicious snack.

  1. Select the Right Meat: Opt for organic, grass-fed beef like silverside, bottom round, sirloin, or top round for the best outcome. Lean cuts with minimal marbling are ideal.
  2. Prepare the Meat: Cut the beef into strips or flat pieces, depending on your preference. For traditional biltong, slices should follow the grain of the muscle.
  3. Marinate: Immerse the beef strips in a mixture of vinegar and spices. Modern-day ingredients like balsamic or malt vinegar, sugar, chili pepper, nutmeg, and coriander can add a unique twist to your biltong's flavor profile.
  4. Spice It Up: After marinating, generously coat the meat with your chosen spices. Here's where you can get creative, using anything from coriander seeds and black pepper to paprika and garlic.
  5. Hang to Dry: Attach hooks to one end of the strips and hang them in your biltong box. The drying environment should be well-ventilated to prevent moisture buildup.

Drying and Curing Tips

The drying and curing stage is critical in making biltong. Here are some tips to ensure your homemade biltong turns out perfectly.

  • Choose the Right Environment: Biltong dries best in a cool, dry place. Avoid areas with high humidity to prevent spoilage.
  • Monitor the Temperature: Ideal drying temperatures range from 15°C to 22°C. Exceeding this range can affect the drying process and the final taste of your biltong.
  • Be Patient: Depending on the thickness of the slices and the drying method, biltong can take up to 5 or 6 days to dry. It's ready when the outside is firm and the inside remains slightly tender.
  • Storage: Once dried, store your biltong in a cool, dry place. If you prefer a softer texture, consider freezing it for short-term storage.

Throughout this process, remember what biltong is: a traditional South African snack that's both nutritious and flavourful. By making your own biltong, you're not only creating a high-protein snack but also experiencing a piece of South African cuisine. Whether you're introducing it to family and friends or simply enjoying it on your own, homemade biltong offers a taste of South African tradition with every bite.


We've journeyed through the rich history and intricate making of biltong, a snack that's carved its niche in the hearts of food lovers worldwide. By embracing the traditional with a dash of innovation, biltong stands out not just for its flavour but as a testament to culinary craftsmanship. Whether you're trying your hand at making it at home or exploring its culinary versatility, biltong offers a unique taste experience. It's more than just a snack; it's a bridge to South African heritage, inviting us to explore, taste, and enjoy. Let's keep the tradition alive, experimenting with flavours and sharing the biltong love with the world.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is biltong raw or cooked?

Biltong undergoes a unique preservation process where it is dried without heat for up to two weeks, effectively 'cooking' it without heat. Consequently, it is safe to eat and not considered raw.

What is biltong called in English?

Biltong is derived from Dutch, combining "bil" (meaning rump) and "tong" (meaning strip or tongue), closely related to beef jerky in composition but distinctive in taste, nutritional content, and preparation method.

Is biltong still illegal in the US?

As of July 12, 2021, biltong can be brought into the US if accompanied by the appropriate certificate. Without this, US Customs and Border Protection will confiscate it at the entry point.

Can I eat biltong every day?

Incorporating biltong into your daily diet is beneficial, especially as a high-protein snack post-exercise or for weight management. Up to 100g per day is considered suitable for most diets.

Is it healthy to eat biltong?

Yes, biltong is a nutritious choice, offering a high protein content, essential vitamins, minerals, and iron while being low in carbohydrates. It's an ideal snack for health-conscious individuals.

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