Biltong is increasingly becoming more familiar among American consumers, especially those who already like beef jerky; the two products are, however, significantly different. The South African meaty tidbit has been featured on several social media posts – Phil Lempert, the self-titled supermarket guru tweeted about it on February 13 – and there have been exciting news about it.
In a September 2018 news article, for example, Stryve Biltong acquired Biltong USA and Braaitime LLC, both of which were established by South African expats in the United States and both biltong makers. These acquisitions reportedly gave Stryve Biltong complete control over all biltong production facilities across the United States, particularly the ones already inspected and approved by the US Department of Agriculture.
What’s behind the increasingly popularity of the South African import? Biltong has high protein content – about 30 grams of protein for every 100 grams of dried meat.
It’s then a great go-to, on-the-go protein source for athletes, bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts. Better yet, it’s a portable snack for the average Joe and Jane who wants to add more protein into his or her diet without gobbling down an entire plate of steak.
Biltong is air-dried meat made from various cuts of meat although the best cuts are the sirloin, fillet, and steaks from the silverside or topside. While beef is the most commonly used type of meat – it’s readily available and relatively affordable – biltong can also be made from chicken, game animals, and ostrich meat, even from fish.
Fish biltong is known as bokkoms and it’s usually made from shark meat; bokkoms are dofferent from other cured fish like dried snoek and angelfish. The game animals used include wildebeest, kudu, and springbok.
If you’re feeling queasy about the use of game animals in biltong, don’t worry as the likes of Stryve Biltong mainly use beef in its products. There’s little risk of food boredom, too, since its biltong comes in several flavors including teriyaki and smoked.
The traditional curing agents used in biltong vary depending on the maker. The traditional spices used salt and pepper, the staples, as well as coriander, allspice, and vinegar. The air-dried meat can also be flavored with ginger, curry, and cloves, among other traditional flavors used in South African cooking.
Indeed, it’s safe to say that every South African family has a secret family recipe for biltong and it will take years and years to master it. The biltong production companies have their own recipes and production processes, too.
The main principle, however, is that the cured meat should be dried at room temperature. The flavors will depend on the spices used while the quality will be influenced by the humidity level and air-drying time.
At first glance, biltong and jerky look and feel the same. But there are significant differences between the two food products.
Beef biltong starts as a thick cut of meat, which can either be fatty or lean depending on the desired feel and flavor. It will then be flavored with salt, pepper, vinegar and spices. It will be marinated for just 30 minutes before being air-dried.
Beef jerky is typically made from top round steak. While it’s also flavored with spices, its flavor comes from the meat being soaked in marinade overnight.
Biltong is air-dried for 14 to 21 days depending on its thickness and type; the meat is hung on hooks. The air-drying process is done in a warm room with low humidity levels.
Jerky production usually requires a device, such as an oven or a dehydrator. The cured meat is baked for a few hours first so as to facilitate the drying process. The dehydrator also delivers the same results.
Since the oven and dehydrator have fluctuating temperatures, and the process itself requires different temperatures, jerky tends to be thicker in size and chewier in texture than biltong.
Biltong, on the other hand, has a more tender texture with little sweet flavor to it since no marinades were used. The final product can also be different depending on the type of cut used. In general, the higher the fat content in the meat, the softer and chewier the biltong will be.
The tender texture of biltong comes from its specific cutting method. The meat is first cut into 1-inch thick strips – or thicker depending on the maker’s choice – and sliced against the grain.
There are several companies in the United States that produce biltong and, as such, there’s supply to meet the growing demand.
Ayoba-Yo only uses grass-fed beef for its biltong so there’s a certain fine quality to it. The flavors offered include traditional and spicy biltong.
Made by True has three flavors of biltong – Cape Town Classic with salt, pepper and coriander; Little Bit of Spice with paprika, chili powder, and coriander; and Savory adventure with herbs, garlic and spices.
Brooklyn Biltong also has different flavors – a traditional biltong with allspice and coriander; Joburg Steakhouse with a subtle garlic flavor; and Zulu Peri Peri with cayenne pepper.
If you haven’t tried biltong yet, then it’s time that you do!