2018 has given us a lot of interesting health-food trends so far—golden milk, mushroom powder, CBD-infused everything. The latest craze to pop up on our radar? Biltong.
While biltong isn't actually anything new (South Africans have been making and eating it for centuries), it's gaining traction in the U.S. as a go-to snack for athletes, fitness pros, and just about anyone else on the hunt for a high-protein, low-sugar solution to hunger pangs.
We partnered with the biltong experts at Stryve to give you the lowdown on this up-and-coming food trend. Stryve makes seriously delicious biltong that's packed with protein (16 grams per serving!) and contains only 1 gram of sugar per bag—yeah, per bag.
OK, so let's start at the beginning...
What is biltong?
That's bil, as in Bill, and tong, as in tongs.
Think of your favorite cured meat but denser and richer. That's biltong. It can be made with various types and cuts of meat, but what makes it biltong is that it goes through a specific curing process that originated in South Africa as a way to preserve meat before refrigerators.
South Africans would cover meat in spices like coriander and allspice, salt and pepper, and a dash of vinegar. Then they'd hang the meat on a hook to dry (a.k.a. cure) for several days, slice it, and ta-da—biltong!
Though coriander and allspice are most common, biltong can be spiced with pretty much anything traditionally found in South African cuisine—from curry and chili pepper to cloves, ginger, and mango powder. The culinary opportunities go way beyond snacking too—you can shred it into sauces, put into sandwiches, add to dips, or use as a garnish. Yep, we’re salivating too.
OK, but how is biltong different from jerky?
We have a whole infographic on that here. But to sum it up: It all comes down to how they're prepared. Jerky is sliced then dried on a rack in a dehydrator or cooked in an oven for up to 12 hours, which often results in dry, tough pieces of meat. That's why most jerky is soaked in sweet marinades and tons of salt (the average serving of commercial jerky contains more than 1,800 milligrams of sodium and 8 grams of sugar)—they help keep it tender and add flavor.
Biltong, on the other hand, is hung and air-dried without heat for a much longer period of time, making it naturally more tender. Instead of sugar, it gets marinated in salt and vinegar—the latter not only gives biltong its distinct taste but also cures the meat. After drying, biltong is typically sliced against the grain into small ribbons (though some traditional styles in South Africa are sliced into larger one-inch chunks). And since it gets all the flavor it needs from the vinegar and spices, it rarely contains shady additives, nitrates, MSG, or hidden gluten.
The benefits of biltong
For starters, biltong is a great source of essential amino acids, which can help your body recover after exercise, lose weight, and absorb nutrients more efficiently. It's also high in iron, zinc, and vitamin B12, which have been found to boost your immune system and energy.
Last but not least: protein. Biltong contains about 50 percent more protein than jerky. That's because jerky is made up of about 25 to 40 percent water and sugar, leaving a lot less room for actual beef. On the contrary, biltong contains only about 12 percent water and a trace amount of sugar, so you're getting more of the good stuff in each bite. And since the fat is trimmed off pre-drying, Stryve biltong also has less fat than your average jerky.