Biltong: A seasoned history

Quintessentially South African, biltong has been around for hundreds of years – probably for far longer than you might imagine. In fact, this Southern African delicacy (which, as anyone that has tasted it will contest to, is wholly different from American dried beef jerky) first originated with South Africa’s indigenous Khoisan people, who air-dried the game meat they hunted in order to preserve it for longer. This was one of the first times in history that this method was used to extend the lifespan of food – something that was essential for the hunter-gatherers in lieu of modern methods of keeping food safe for consumption.

When the Dutch arrived in South Africa, and the Voortrekkers eventually started migrating north, this simple method was refined even further, with these European settlers who were moving away from British rule starting to use vinegar and spices on the meat they air-dried in their wagons.

A century later, scientists would find that the saltpetre used in the process of preserving biltong was actually quite efficient at getting rid of dangerous botulism toxins, while the traditional spices used in biltong, like pepper, cloves coriander and salt also have powerful antimicrobial properties. The preserve’s name is taken from the early Afrikaans “bil”, which means “rump”, and “tong” (tongue), which describes the characteristic strips of meat that are hanged to dry.

Today, there is a plethora of different types of biltong on the market, with many DIY biltong makers also utilising their own special trademark blend of spices when practicing this proudly South African hobby. Usually, biltong is made from fillet, sirloin, topside or silverside, although plenty of different cuts work well. Venison and game meat is also often used, and those with a more exotic palate might enjoy ostrich biltong. Even if red meat is most often used in the making of biltong, air-dried fish biltong, called bokkoms, is a popular snack in coastal areas.

If you haven’t tried your hand at creating your own biltong just yet, don’t forget that Fleisherei at Hazeldean Square stocks superior biltong, created using the traditional slow drying method of years gone by. Fleisherei believes that the difference between traditionally dried biltong and meat dried using “dry-ovens” or other more “technological” methods is in the taste – the former of which offers meat lovers the consummate biltong flavour they are looking for.

Find Fleisherei Bistro at shop 11 at Hazeldean Square, or call 012 809 3125 to find out about Fleisherei’s extensive array of biltong and fresh meat cuts.

Hazeldean Square is the preferred choice of hundreds of shoppers in the east of Pretoria. Whether you’re a meatatarian or a vegan, you’re bound to find something delicious at Hazeldean Square.