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What Is Biltong?

What Is Biltong?

A Guide to South Africa's Nutritious Snack

Biltong, a high-protein, low-carb meat snack, has captured the hearts and taste buds of many around the globe. Originating from South Africa, its journey from a local delicacy to an international snack favourite is a testament to its unique flavour and the growing demand for healthier snacking options. We're diving into the world of biltong, exploring its history, how it's made, and the reasons behind its surging popularity.

What sets biltong apart from other snacks is not just its taste but also its nutritional profile, making it a perfect choice for those looking to indulge without compromising their health goals. Whether you're after a quick bite post-gym, a nutritious snack for the office, or a convenient treat during outdoor adventures, biltong offers a delicious solution. Join us as we uncover the secrets behind biltong's success, its health benefits, and how it differs from its cousin, jerky.

Key Takeaways

  • Biltong is a high-protein, low-carb meat snack that originated in South Africa, offering a nutritious alternative to traditional snacking options.
  • The unique flavour and tender texture of biltong are the results of a specific preparation process that includes marination in vinegar, salt, and spices followed by air-drying, differentiating it from other dried meat snacks like jerky.
  • Biltong's versatility in culinary uses extends beyond a snack, enhancing dishes like salads, quiches, pizzas, pastas, and pâtés with its rich flavour profile.
  • Its impressive nutritional profile makes biltong a beneficial addition to various diets, supporting muscle repair and growth, and providing essential vitamins and minerals.
  • Proper storage of biltong in cool, dry conditions, using breathable packaging, ensures its longevity and maintains its quality, taste, and nutritional benefits.
  • For authentic flavour and quality, South African-made biltong is available through specialist online stores like South African Spaza Shop, offering a genuine taste experience to customers worldwide.

What Is Biltong: A South African Delicacy

Biltong, a high-protein, low-carb meat snack originating from South Africa, stands as a symbol of culinary heritage and innovation. Whilst embodying the spirit of South African gastronomy, it offers a healthier alternative for snack lovers worldwide. Let's delve into the essence of what makes biltong a distinctive and cherished delicacy.

The Historical Roots of Biltong

The journey of biltong began in the 17th century with Dutch settlers in South Africa adopting and enhancing a traditional drying technique from the indigenous Afrikaner population. They introduced biltong, a word derived from the Dutch "bil" (buttock) and "tong" (strip or tongue), showcasing the process of curing strips of meat. The preservation method, involving saltpetre, vinegar, coriander, and black pepper, allowed for the creation of a durable food source essential for travellers and explorers.

Over the decades, biltong evolved beyond a mere survival food, cementing its place as a beloved snack in the South African cultural landscape. Its popularity surged, transcending borders and gaining a following in various countries, thanks in part to South Africans spreading their culinary traditions globally. Today, you can discover genuine South African-made biltong through our online store, South African Spaza Shop, further enriching the cultural exchange.

Common Meats and Ingredients

The most celebrated form of biltong uses beef, revered for its rich flavour and tender texture. However, the versatility of biltong extends to various meats, including game and exotic animals, offering a diverse spectrum of tastes. The essential ingredients that define traditional biltong include meat, black pepper, coriander, salt, and vinegar. These components work harmoniously, creating the unique taste profile that biltong aficionados admire.

Modern iterations of biltong might introduce additional elements such as garlic, sugar, and chilli peppers, further enhancing its appeal. However, at its core, biltong retains the fundamental characteristics that have made it a cherished snack for centuries. Whether enjoyed as a nutritious post-workout snack, a convenient office treat, or a companion on adventurous excursions, biltong delivers unmatched convenience, health benefits, and delectable flavours.

In drawing from its rich history and utilising a broad spectrum of ingredients, biltong epitomises a culinary tradition that continues to captivate and satiate appetites worldwide. As we offer biltong made by South Africans in our online store, we're honoured to share a piece of our cultural heritage with you. Explore the authentic taste of South Africa and understand why biltong remains not just a snack, but a tradition cherished across continents.

The Art of Biltong Making

Biltong, a high-protein, low-carb meat delicacy, has captivated the tastes of many around the globe. Originating from South Africa, its unique preparation and drying process make it a distinctive snack. In this section, we'll delve into the traditional techniques that have been perfected over centuries and explain the drying process that concentrates the flavours, making each bite a savoury delight.

Traditional Preparation Techniques

The journey of making biltong begins with the selection of quality meat. Traditionally, beef is the preferred choice, but variations might include game meats, offering a broader spectrum of flavours. The meat is then trimmed of excess fat and cut into long strips, adhering to the grain for that perfect texture.

The next step involves the marination process, where the meat strips are bathed in a concoction of vinegar, salt, and spices. The authentic mix typically features coriander, black pepper, and sometimes a hint of clove or nutmeg. This marination not only infuses the meat with its characteristic flavour but also acts as a preservative, a crucial aspect given the historical origins of biltong as a means of preservation before the advent of refrigeration.

Once marinated, the meat is generously coated with a dry rub of spices, further embedding the complex flavour profile that biltong is renowned for. This step is where the artistry of biltong making truly shines, as the blend of spices can be adjusted to create different flavour variations, from the traditional to more modern twists incorporating chilli, garlic, or even smoky BBQ notes.

The Drying Process Explained

Following the marination and seasoning, the meat undergoes the pivotal drying phase, which is where the real magic happens. Traditional methods involved hanging the meat in a dry, ventilated space, allowing it to air-dry naturally. This slow drying process, which can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks depending on the climate and thickness of the slices, meticulously draws out moisture without cooking the meat.

The goal of the drying process is to remove enough moisture to preserve the meat while retaining its tender texture. Advanced drying techniques, refined through generations, now utilise controlled environments that simulate the ideal drying conditions, ensuring consistency and safety without compromising on the traditional taste and texture of biltong.

Once the drying process is complete, the meat is scrutinised for its firmness and dryness. It's at this point that the biltong can either be sliced thinly to enjoy immediately or cut into thicker chunks for those who prefer a more substantial bite.

Biltong chuncks

Biltong vs. Jerky: Key Differences

Exploring the realm of dried meat snacks, we often encounter two prominent contenders - biltong and jerky. Both offer unique flavours and textures but hail from different culinary traditions. Here, we delve into what sets these two apart, focusing on their taste, texture, and nutritional profiles. For enthusiasts eager to taste authentic South African biltong, our online store at South African Spaza Shop features a selection made by South Africans, capturing the essence of this traditional snack.

Taste and Texture Distinctions

When unraveling the differences between biltong and jerky, taste and texture are paramount. Biltong, originating from South Africa, is known for its tender and juicy texture. It's made from whole pieces of marbled steak and retains a noticeable succulence due to its air-drying process. The flavour of biltong is robust and complex, influenced by a marinade of vinegar, salt, and spices such as coriander and black pepper, which infuse the meat during its preparation.

Jerky, on the other hand, tends to be chewier and less moist compared to biltong. Its texture results from being dried with heat rather than air, often resulting in a tougher snack. The taste of jerky can vary widely depending on the marinade used but generally leans towards a simpler, smokier flavour profile due to the heat-drying process and the addition of smoke flavours in many commercial varieties.

Nutritional Comparison

Nutritionally, both biltong and jerky offer a high-protein, low-carbohydrate snack option. However, some differences arise from their respective preparation methods. Biltong's air-drying process and reliance on natural spices for preservation can result in a snack that's free from artificial preservatives and sugars. This not only contributes to biltong's distinctive taste but also implies a cleaner nutritional label with fewer additives.

Jerky, because of its drying process and sometimes extensive use of marinades, might contain higher sodium levels and added sugars, depending on the brand and flavour. While still a nutritious option when chosen carefully, consumers looking for minimal processing and additives might lean towards biltong.

In essence, whether it’s the tender, richly flavoured bites of biltong or the chewy, smoky strips of jerky, both snacks satisfy the craving for savoury treats. For those intrigued by the traditional flavours of South Africa, biltong presents a culinary experience that bridges cultures and tastes. Our selection at South African Spaza Shop offers an authentic taste of biltong, meticulously crafted by South Africans, ensuring a genuine snack experience for our customers.

Culinary Uses of Biltong

Exploring the culinary versatility of biltong opens a realm of delicious possibilities. Our journey through the beloved South African snack doesn't stop at its enjoyable taste when eaten on its own. Biltong's rich flavour profile and tender texture make it a fantastic ingredient for a variety of recipes. From traditional dishes to innovative culinary creations, biltong enhances meals with its unique taste.

Popular Biltong Recipes

Biltong's adaptability in the kitchen is remarkable. Its incorporation into diverse recipes showcases its ability to complement various ingredients, enhancing the flavour of dishes. Here are some popular biltong recipes that celebrate this South African delicacy:

  1. Biltong Salad: A fresh salad mixed with thin slices of biltong, blue cheese, roasted nuts, and mixed greens, drizzled with a balsamic glaze, offers a perfect balance between the meat's rich flavour and the salad's fresh components.
  2. Biltong Quiche: Integrating biltong into a quiche provides a delightful twist on the classic dish. Combined with eggs, cream, and cheese, biltong adds a savoury depth that elevates the overall taste.
  3. Biltong Pizza: Sprinkling chopped biltong atop a pizza, along with ingredients like feta, avocado, and caramelised onions, creates an irresistible fusion of flavours.
  4. Biltong Pâté: This creamy spread, made by blending biltong with cream cheese, butter, and spices, serves as a superb topping for crackers or toasted bread, offering a sophisticated snack or appetiser.
  5. Biltong Pasta: A simple yet flavourful pasta dish can be achieved by tossing cooked pasta with sliced biltong, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and a creamy sauce, resulting in a hearty and satisfying meal.

For those seeking authentic flavours, our South African Spaza Shop offers biltong made by South Africans, available in our online store at https://southafricanshop.uk/collections/biltong. Our biltong selection promises an authentic taste experience, bringing the essence of South African culinary traditions to your kitchen. Whether you're looking to recreate traditional recipes or invent new ones, biltong adds a delicious and protein-rich element that transforms ordinary dishes into extraordinary culinary delights.

Health Benefits of Biltong

Nutritional Profile and Advantages

Biltong, a traditional South African meat snack, stands out for its impressive nutritional profile, offering a plethora of health benefits. Rich in high-quality protein, biltong supports muscle repair and growth by providing the essential amino acids needed for bodily functions. Protein is crucial for the building blocks of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, hair, and nails and aids in tissue repair. This makes biltong an excellent addition to the diet of athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and anyone looking to maintain a healthy physique.

Moreover, biltong is low in carbohydrates, making it a suitable snack for individuals following low-carb, keto, or paleo diets. The drying process preserves many of the meat's nutrients, meaning biltong is also packed with vitamins and minerals essential for overall health. These include iron, which is vital for transporting oxygen in the blood; zinc, which boosts the immune system; and vitamin B12, necessary for brain health and energy production.

Biltong in a Balanced Diet

Incorporating biltong into a balanced diet offers several advantages. Due to its high protein content and low carbohydrate levels, biltong can help satisfy hunger and reduce cravings, aiding in weight management. Its convenience as a ready-to-eat snack makes it a practical choice for busy individuals seeking nutritious food options on the go.

For those interested in exploring the range of biltong flavours, our South African Spaza Shop offers biltong made by South Africans, available in our online store. We select high-quality, locally-sourced meats, marinated in traditional spices, then air-dried to perfection. Enjoyed as part of a balanced diet, biltong provides a tasty, nutrient-rich snack that can contribute to a healthy lifestyle. Discover our selection and experience authentic South African biltong by visiting South African Spaza Shop.

Biltong is not just a delicious snack but also provides significant nutritional benefits. Whether added to dishes for extra flavour or enjoyed on its own, biltong is a fantastic option for those looking to maintain a healthy diet without sacrificing taste.

Storing Biltong the Right Way

After exploring the joys of making and consuming biltong, it's crucial to understand how to store it properly to maintain its quality and longevity. Biltong, a South African delicacy known for its rich flavour and nutritional benefits, requires correct storage conditions to preserve its taste and freshness. Whether you've made your own or purchased it from specialists like us at the South African Spaza Shop, where we offer authentic biltong made by South Africans, storing it the right way is key.

Optimal Storage Conditions

To keep biltong at its best, it's important to store it in a cool, dry place. Moisture is the enemy of biltong, as it can lead to mould growth and spoilage. Therefore, ensuring that the storage area has good air circulation and is apart from direct sunlight helps in prolonging its shelf life. When stored and packed correctly, biltong can last for several months, making it an excellent snack for travellers and those looking for a nutritious treat that stands the test of time.

Packaging for Longevity

For optimal storage, pack biltong in breathable packaging, such as paper bags or cloth bags, which allow air to circulate while controlling moisture. Plastic bags can trap humidity, so they're best avoided unless the biltong is vacuum-sealed, which significantly extends its shelf life. If you prefer your biltong on the drier side, keeping it in a slightly more ventilated area will ensure it remains in your desired condition.

Periodic Checks

Regularly checking your stored biltong for signs of spoilage is a good practice. Fresh biltong will be deep maroon, firm to the touch yet bendy without cracking. Any deviations from this, such as an off smell, visible mould, or unusual colour changes, suggest it's time to discard it.

By following these storage tips, you'll be able to enjoy high-quality biltong whenever you crave it. And remember, for those who'd rather skip the DIY route, our online store at South African Spaza Shop offers a wide range of authentic biltong made by South Africans, ensuring you experience the true taste of this nutritious snack. Whether you're familiar with what biltong is or are a newcomer eager to try, we've got you covered.


We've explored the rich heritage and nutritional benefits of biltong, a delicacy that's stood the test of time from its humble beginnings to becoming a beloved snack worldwide. Understanding how to store biltong properly ensures we can enjoy its unique taste and health advantages for months. For those of us craving the authentic taste of South Africa, the South African Spaza Shop offers a convenient and reliable source of high-quality biltong. Whether we're making it at home or buying it, biltong remains a smart choice for anyone looking for a nutritious, protein-packed snack. Let's embrace this tasty tradition that's as much about culture as it is about flavour.

Biltong chunks cut into biltong slices

Frequently Asked Questions

Is biltong still illegal in the US?

Biltong itself is not illegal in the US, but regulations require it to be brought in with a valid import certificate. Failure to present this certificate upon entry results in confiscation by Customs and Border Protection.

What part of the cow is biltong made from?

Biltong can be produced from various beef cuts, with the round cut being the most preferred due to its tenderness. The top round roast is especially recommended for its balance between tenderness and flavour.

Why is biltong so chewy?

The chewiness of biltong varies based on the fat content of the meat used. Fattier cuts result in a chewier texture, while leaner cuts offer a drier finish, allowing makers to influence the texture through their choice of meat.

Is biltong healthier than jerky?

Yes, biltong is considered healthier than jerky due to its natural taste, and it generally contains no added sugars or carbohydrates. Additionally, it has significantly less sodium, making it a better choice for those watching their intake.

Why is biltong so expensive?

The cost of biltong is attributed to the energy-intensive drying process, which requires a controlled environment for a prolonged period. Other factors include packaging, marketing, and distribution expenses, all contributing to its higher price point.

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