Jerky and biltong are often considered the same or very similar — as both are dried meats that make a popular and tasty snack with a long shelf life — but they do have some real differences.
To start, jerky comes from North and South America, while biltong originated in Southern African countries, like Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa. The word “biltong” is from the Dutch words “bil,” which means “buttock” and “tong,” which means “strip” or “tongue.”
The process to make the two differs a bit as well. Jerky is commonly sliced into strips prior to the cooking and drying process, while biltong is often air dried as a whole piece and then sliced into bite-sized pieces.
Biltong is usually cured and marinated for 24 hours and then air dried for up to a week. It is left in thicker pieces and left to dry out slowly before slicing to the desired size. Meanwhile, jerky is typically marinated and then cooked on a rack at a low temperature to slowly dehydrate and cook the meat — with no curing involved.
The drying methods also often leave jerky with a more smokey taste and a different texture compared to biltong. Biltong may have varying textures depending on the fat content in the particular cut. For example, a more lean biltong will be drier, while a thicker biltong may be softer and chewier.
Biltong is usually offered in natural and simple flavoring, whereas jerky may come in a wide range of different flavors. Plus, biltong normally does not contain any sugar additives. Therefore, biltong is sometimes considered the healthier option that’s higher in protein per bite due to a lower water and sugar content. The most common ingredients of biltong are meat, of course, as well as black pepper, coriander, salt and vinegar