Biltong has such a rich history, filled with so much Southern African culture. It is a food source for some and a snack for many others, and through its story, which you can learn more about here, it manages to unite people in ways other foods can’t.
The Dutch embarked on mass migration in 1835 and lasted until 1846 to move inland and away from the Southern Cape’s coast towards Southern Africa’s mainlands. It was a journey that took a decade to complete. There was no refrigeration available, and everything has to be stored carefully to avoid decay and loss of food supplies—That’s when biltong was invented.
Livestock could procreate as quickly during this significant move, and there had to be a way to keep the meat fresh without it going off, so the Boers began using salt, saltpetre and vinegar to preserve it. After it was marinated in the mixture, they would hang it outside to dry until they could consume it. At the time, it could take up to 4 weeks before a piece of biltong was ready for consumption, but these days there are cure rooms and boxes that you can easily buy online.
What is Biltong?
Biltong started with beef and fish, also commonly known in the Southern West Coast of the Cape as “Bokkoms.” Salted meat and salted fish were the most common meat sources in the 1800s because salting your meat was the only way to keep it fresh enough to eat after four weeks. It has since evolved into game meat, chicken and bacon. Large strips of meat were cut from the beef rump and rubbed with a salt mixture. Farmers would hang the seasoned pieces of meat in the sun until it was hardened and ready to heat. The salt helped retain the meat’s moisture to stay fresh when people would go on long journeys. Game meat also became so much easier to hunt, and because of the lack of speed in livestock procreation, we now have Kudu, Ostrich, Gemsbok, Buffalo and venison.
Eventually, more spices were added to the mixture, like coriander, pepper and herbs to give it a fuller flavour, and that is how biltong is generally prepared today.
Into the future
Many large companies now use cooling rooms or boxes to prepare their biltong which speeds up the processing time by twenty days. The cooling room lights help prevent bacteria from finding a home in the biltong, and it stops the meat from becoming mouldy and rotten. A fresh batch of biltong can be ready to eat in as little as three days. Today, Southern Africa uses it as part of its celebrations. No gathering is complete without a delicious bowl of biltong. You can add it to stews, salads or cheese platters or for major festivities, and you can enjoy it with an ice-cold beer. Some wine farms have biltong pairings with their wines, and some restaurants include it in their main meals. Whichever way you prefer, remember to do one thing: Enjoy it!