Header Ads Widget

Biltong: A dried, cured meat from Southern Africa.

Biltong: A dried, cured meat from Southern Africa.
Biltong: A dried, cured meat from Southern Africa.

Biltong is a type of dehydrated and preserved meat that has its origins in various Southern African nations, including South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, Eswatini, and Zambia. A diverse range of meats, including beef and game meats like ostrich or kudu, are utilised in its production. The cut may also vary, with options including fillets of meat cut into strips following the grain of the muscle, or flat pieces sliced across the grain. The topic at hand pertains to beef jerky, which shares similarities with spiced, dried meats. However, it is important to note that there may be variations in terms of typical ingredients, taste, and production processes.

The term "biltong" originates from the Dutch words "bil" meaning "buttock" and "tong" meaning "strip" or "tongue".


The preservation of meat as a survival technique has been practised since ancient times.

Meat preservation can be achieved through various methods, including the use of salt, brine, vinegar, and saltpetre (potassium nitrate). Potassium nitrate is effective in eliminating Clostridium botulinum, a highly dangerous bacterium responsible for causing botulism. Additionally, the acidic nature of vinegar acts as a growth inhibitor for this bacterium. Based on information provided by the World Health Organisation, it has been determined that the growth of C. botulinum is inhibited in acidic conditions with a pH level below 4.6. Consequently, the formation of the toxin in acidic foods is prevented.

The utilisation of specific spices for their antimicrobial properties has been documented since ancient times. The Dutch have incorporated various spices into biltong, such as pepper, coriander, and cloves.

In January 2017, a research team from the University of Beira Interior in Portugal conducted a study on the antimicrobial properties of coriander oil. Coriander, a prominent spice used in basic biltong recipes, was tested against 12 bacterial strains. The findings revealed that a concentration of coriander oil as low as 1.6% effectively eradicated 10 out of the 12 bacterial strains. The growth of Bacillus cereus and Enterococcus faecalis, the two strains that were not effectively eradicated, was significantly reduced by the application of coriander oil.

There was a pressing need for food preservation in Southern Africa. At that time, the concept of iceboxes and refrigerators had not yet been developed, resulting in the absence of efficient means for food preservation. Additionally, the process of establishing and expanding livestock herds was a time-consuming endeavour. Given the abundance of game in Southern Africa, traditional preservation methods were employed to conserve the meat of large African animals, such as the eland.

The meat underwent a preparation process involving vinegar and spices, after which it was suspended for a period of two weeks to undergo air drying. This was carried out during the winter season, taking advantage of the colder temperatures to effectively impede the growth of bacteria and fungi. After undergoing proper drying, the biltong was prepared for packaging in cloth bags, which facilitated air circulation to mitigate the risk of mould formation.


The most common ingredients of biltong are.

  • Meat
  • Black pepper
  • Coriander
  • Salt
  • Vinegar

Modern-day ingredients sometimes added include balsamic vinegar or malt vinegar, sugar, dry ground chilli peppers, nutmeg, paprika, lemon juice, garlic, bicarbonate of soda, Worcestershire sauce, onion powder, and saltpetre.


In Southern Africa, prior to the advent of refrigeration, the preservation of various types of meat was achieved through the curing process. However, in contemporary times, biltong is predominantly crafted from beef due to its abundant availability and comparatively lower cost compared to game meats. The highest quality cuts of meat, including fillet, sirloin, and steaks derived from the hip region such as topside or silverside, are utilised. Alternative cuts may be utilised; however, their quality may not be as superior.

Biltong can also be made from:

  • Chicken, simply referred to as chicken biltong.
  • Fish in this case, known as bokkoms (shark biltong can also be found in South Africa). Bokkoms should not be confused with other cured fish such as dried angelfish and dried snoek.
  • Game such as kudu, springbok, and wildebeest
  • Ostrich meat (bright red, often resembling game)
  • Venison meat (used in Europe resembling game)


Historically, biltong production was limited to the winter season, as it presented lower risks of bacterial growth and mould formation. Certain recipes may call for marinating the meat in a vinegar solution, traditionally using grape vinegar, although balsamic and cider vinegar can also be suitable alternatives. This marination process typically lasts for a few hours, after which the vinegar is drained before proceeding to season the meat with salt and spices. The spice mix is generously sprinkled over the meat and thoroughly rubbed in. The addition of saltpetre is discretionary and serves as an additional preservative. It is primarily recommended for wet biltong that will not undergo freezing. The meat should be allowed to rest for a few additional hours (or refrigerated overnight) and any excess liquid should be drained before hanging the meat in the dryer.

In some traditional recipes, biltong is typically marinated in a mixture of vinegar, salt, and spices for a period of 12 to 24 hours, as per the instructions passed down through generations. The traditional spice mix typically comprises equal proportions of rock salt, whole coriander (lightly toasted), coarsely ground black pepper, and brown sugar. According to the World Health Organisation, vinegar acts as a primary inhibitor of Clostridium botulinum bacteria. Additionally, the salt, coriander, pepper, and cloves possess antimicrobial properties.


Historically, biltong production was commonly practised during the chilly winters of the South African highveld region in order to achieve optimal outcomes. The cold and dry air consistently facilitates optimal drying of the biltong, ensuring the highest level of food safety. The presence of mould and bacterial hazards is naturally minimised, allowing for the option of hanging thicker biltong cuts to undergo a slow drying process. This results in a more enhanced texture, a more pronounced flavour, and a darker appearance. 

The incorporation of heat into the biltong-making process has been a relatively recent development, according to traditional biltong makers, who argue that the utilisation of heat leads to a substandard final product. The utilisation of heated methods, such as those employed in cardboard or wooden biltong boxes (urban) or climate-controlled dry rooms (commercial), is not feasible without the incorporation of nitrates or nitrites (curing salts) due to the heightened susceptibility to bacterial and fungal proliferation. 

The utilisation of different spices can result in the creation of a diverse range of flavours. In colder climates, it is possible to produce biltong by utilising an electric lamp for the drying process. However, it is crucial to exercise caution and ensure proper ventilation to prevent the formation of mould on the meat.

The conventional method of slow drying typically results in a moderate curing process that takes approximately four days. A fan-assisted electric oven, set to a temperature range of 40–70 °C (104–158 °F), can effectively dry the meat within approximately four hours when the oven door is slightly ajar to allow for the release of moist air. While oven-dried biltong can be consumed within a day or two of being prepared, traditional biltong makers maintain that slow-dried meat is both safer and of higher quality.

Comparison to jerky

Biltong differs from jerky in four distinct ways:

  • The meat used in biltong is often much thicker due to the slower drying time in dry air conditions; typically, biltong meat is cut in strips around 25 millimetres (0.98 in) wide, but can be thicker. Jerky is normally very thin meat.
  • The vinegar, salt, and spices in biltong, together with the drying process, cure the meat as well as adding texture and flavour. Jerky is traditionally dried with salt, but without vinegar.
  • Jerky is often smoked; biltong is rarely smoked.
  • Biltong normally does not contain any sugar additives, while jerky most of the time does.


Biltong is a widely available product found in Southern African butcher shops and grocery stores. It is typically sold in the form of wide strips, also referred to as "stokkies," which translates to "little sticks." Additionally, the product is available for purchase in plastic bags, occasionally shrink-wrapped, and is offered in either finely shredded or sliced form, resembling biltong chips.

Additionally, there are specialised retailers that offer biltong for sale. These establishments offer biltong in varying degrees of moisture, categorised as "wet," "medium," or "dry." Furthermore, certain customers have a preference for a higher fat content, whereas others prefer a leaner option.


Biltong is commonly consumed as a snack; however, it can also be utilised by dicing it into stews or incorporating it into muffins or pot bread. Biltong-flavored potato crisps have been developed, alongside certain cheese spreads that offer a biltong-infused taste. Finely shredded biltong is commonly consumed as a topping on bread slices and is also used as an ingredient in sandwiches.

Biltong has the potential to serve as a teething aid for infants.

Biltong is a food product that is known for its high protein content. Typically, a ratio of 200 g of beef is utilised to produce 100 g of biltong, with the biltong-making process effectively retaining a significant portion of the protein content. Certain types of biltong may contain protein content of up to 67%.


The popularity of biltong has extended to several countries that have significant South African communities, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the United States, and India. Biltong is also manufactured within South African expatriate communities worldwide, including countries such as Germany, Ireland, and South Korea.

According to the regulations set by HM Customs and Excise and its successor HM Revenue and Customs, the importation of meat-based products from non-EU countries, including South Africa, is prohibited in Britain. As a result, biltong is produced within the UK.

Biltong is not as commonly found in the United States compared to beef jerky, which has traditionally enjoyed greater popularity as a dried meat snack. In recent years, there has been a noticeable increase in the presence of biltong in the United States, primarily due to the influence of South African immigrants who have introduced their native culture and culinary traditions to the country. The United States Department of Agriculture mandates that imports of biltong from South Africa must be accompanied by a meat inspection certificate issued by a recognised South African government authority. This requirement is in place due to concerns regarding the presence of foot-and-mouth disease in South Africa.

Also Read:

A Pizzeria? Here's what you need to know!

Source: HR Forum News

Post a Comment