Our hunger for snacks has shot up in recent times. As a matter of fact, it’s been predicted that the healthy snacking market is set to grow by a monumental $32 billion in the next five years. Talk about hunger marketing.
But with such a massive array of snacks knocking about on our shelves, it can be hard to know where to start. What’s actually good for you, and what’s just wrapped up in a deceptively wholesome-looking package? What’s going to taste great, and what’s going to be like taking a big bite of soil? Energy balls, we’re looking at you.
In this post, we’ll be delving deeper into one snack you can always count on - the meaty treat that is biltong. We’ll be explaining all the ways it differs from beef jerky, so that when you’re next pursuing the snack aisle, you know exactly what to pick up.
Jerky is a classic cooked and dehydrated meat snack, made with salt and a handful of different seasonings. All the moisture is sucked out of the meat, which means it can hang around safely on the shelves for a long old time.
Just like jerky, Biltong’s also a cured meat snack. You’ll probably be familiar with the beef variety, but it can be made with a load of different meats (including chicken, game and even ostrich - if you’re in the right place). It’s cured with classic ingredients like vinegar, salt, coriander, and black pepper. Sounds pretty much the same as jerky, right? Well actually, they’re totally different beasts.
There’s only one place to start when you’re delving into the difference between biltong and jerky - and that’s with the taste. Because we can all agree there’s nothing more important than that.
If you’ve munched on jerky before, you’ll know it has that dry, smoky flavour. Biltong-makers, on the other hand, use a mix of vinegar and deep, strong spices every step of the way, giving the meat that extra notch of flavour. It also packs a juicer punch, because it has a slightly higher amount of fat running through the meat. Jerky has less fat - hence why it can be drier (and tougher on the teeth).
How much fat, you ask? Don’t worry. Not all biltong is made with fatty meat - in fact, it’s all in the hands of the maker. You’ll find some biltong has been made with fattier meat to make it chewier and more unctuous, while others are made with leaner cuts for a drier finish. You’ll find it all out there nowadays, so you can take your pick.
When it comes down to it, both snacks are meatily delicious. And yet, they taste completely different. In fact, those you’d be able to detect those differences after one bite. We’d hate to tell you that one tastes better than the other - it all comes down to personal preference, after all.
So we know biltong and jerky taste different. But what about that all-important texture? In its most basic form, biltong is a dried steak. Which means there’s all kinds of options when it comes to texture, from hard, chewier cuts (well-done beef) to wet varieties (rare steak).
When it comes to making jerky, a dehydrator or oven is used. The result? A drier snack. And there’s often just one kind of jerky on the shelves - the tough, chewy variety. Which lots of people love.
You might have caught on by now that when it comes to biltong and jerky, the production processes are worlds apart. Jerky-makers start out by slicing the strips of meat, before cooking them in an oven or drying on a rack in a dehydrator for up to 12 hours. Which, as you can imagine, makes the meat pretty tough. That’s why they often soak the pieces in a salty-sweet marinade afterwards, to bring out the flavour and tenderise it a little.
With biltong, the meat tends to be left overnight in a spice-based and vinegar solution. In fact, the longer it’s left - the better. After curing, it’s all in the air-drying (no heat necessary). And finally, it’s cut into pieces. Thin or thick, depending on the preference.
Now, this is a big one: ingredients. While both jerky and biltong are made using a variety of spices, what goes into them both are always different.
Strong vinegar is the star of the show when it comes to making biltong. In fact, you couldn’t preserve the meat without it. As for the spices (which are added during the drying process), most people follow the centuries-old traditions of clove, allspice, pepper and coriander, as well as a big dose of salt.
But you won’t find vinegar going anywhere near jerky during the production process. It’s cooked in ovens or dehydrators, so flavouring agents and high salt/sugar are added to heighten the flavours of the meat.
So there we have it - a comprehensive guide to beef jerky and biltong. There’s no denying they’re both moreishly tasty snacks, which is probably why they’re become more and more popular as people start to catch on. But we wouldn’t want the two getting confused. You’re an expert on the topic now, and you can see all the subtle differences between the two - from the steps of production to the taste and texture. They may look the same, but after one bite you’ll be able to tell the difference. We reckon when it comes to the battle between biltong and jerky, giving both a go is the way forward. Not a fan of jerky? That doesn’t mean biltong isn’t your next favourite snack waiting to happen.
Don't forget to check out our biltong recipes for ideas of how you can make your meals even more delicious.