Biltong is a unique meat-based snack that has recently gained immense popularity.

According to market research, meat-based snacks like biltong are expected to gross over $9 billion in revenue by 2022 (1).

This article reviews biltong, including its benefits, drawbacks, and how it compares to jerky.

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Originally from South Africa, biltong is a snack food made from cured and dried slices of meat (2).

Although biltong is a relatively new addition to the global snacking scene, it is not a new product. In fact, African communities have been making biltong as a means to preserve meat for hundreds of years (3).

The basic ingredients in traditional biltong are (3):

  • meat
  • salt
  • vinegar
  • black pepper
  • coriander

Historically, beef, ostrich, and other wild game have been the most common choices of meat, but any other meat may be used, including chicken, fish, and pork (3).

As biltong production grows, variations in the ingredients and flavor profiles are expanding. Potential add-ins include Worcestershire sauce, brown sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, chili peppers, and other spices.

Currently, the majority of commercial biltong is made from beef, but you may occasionally find ostrich, venison, and other game meat versions from artisanal producers.

Summary Biltong, which originated in South Africa, is a snack made from cured and dried cuts of meat.

Biltong’s surge in popularity is partly due to its much more favorable nutrient composition compared to many other common snack foods, such as potato chips, cookies, and crackers.

Its high protein and low carb contents makes it a good fit for a variety of diets. Biltong is also an exceptionally rich source of iron, a nutrient that many people around the world are lacking (4).

Although the exact nutrients depend on the specific brand and ingredients, the nutrition profile of a 1-ounce (28-gram) serving of beef biltong is (5):

  • Calories: 80
  • Carbs: 1 gram
  • Protein: 16 grams
  • Fat: 2 grams
  • Iron: 35% of the daily value (DV)
  • Sodium: 19% of the DV

Dried beef also serves as a good source of several other essential nutrients, including magnesium, potassium, and B vitamins (6).

Summary Biltong is a great source of protein and essential vitamins and minerals while being low in carbs. It’s particularly rich in iron.

Biltong is often confused with jerky because they’re both dried, meat-based snacks. However, the ingredients and production methods are quite distinct.

Made via different processes

Both jerky and biltong use dried meat as their primary ingredient, but the meats are dried differently.

Jerky is usually roasted or smoked for several hours, whereas biltong is not cooked at all.

Instead, it is soaked in a salt-and-vinegar brine before being hung to air-dry. This drying and aging process can last for as long as 1–2 weeks before it is ready to eat (3).

Use different cuts of meat and ingredients

Although biltong and jerky share their primary ingredient, the same does not necessarily hold true for their specific cuts of meat.

Jerky is almost always made from very lean cuts of beef, whereas biltong may be made from either lean or fatty cuts, depending on the style and desired outcome.

What’s more, biltong is usually cut into wide, thick strips that are easier to hang, whereas jerky is typically thinly sliced into irregular pieces that are more suitable for cooking.

Traditionally, biltong is made with a simple combination of salt, vinegar, and spices. Jerky, on the other hand, does not contain vinegar and is more likely to contain secondary ingredients like sugar, soy sauce, and Worcestershire sauce.

Although regular biltong does not have the added condiment-style ingredients like Worcestershire or soy sauce, some of the modern, commercially prepared versions do.

Offer different textures and flavor profiles

Because of their varied production methods and ingredients, biltong and jerky don’t taste the same.

Jerky tends to have a smokier flavor than biltong due to the way it’s cooked. Thus, biltong is sometimes described as tasting meatier and less smoky than jerky.

The use of vinegar in the production of biltong also adds a distinctly acidic flavor that jerky doesn’t possess.

While jerky has a more consistent moisture content and texture because it relies on lean cuts of meat, biltong has more diverse textures because various cuts may be used. Some types may be very moist and fatty, with others dry and crumbly.

Summary While they’re both dried meat snacks, biltong and jerky differ in terms of production methods, ingredients, and flavor profiles.

Although biltong is a nutritious snack, it’s still a good idea to eat it in moderation. Some of its ingredients may harm your health, particularly if consumed in excess.

Processed meats may increase your risk of cancer

Research suggests that a higher intake of processed and cured red meats like biltong may lead to an increased risk of certain cancers in your gastrointestinal tract (7).

A recent study found that dried, cured meats are often contaminated with toxic substances known as mycotoxins produced by fungi that grow on the meat.

Mycotoxins may cause cancer in humans. What’s more, many countries don’t test for them as part of their food safety standards (8).

As such, it’s best to keep your intake of processed, cured meats to a minimum. While it’s alright to have biltong as a snack every now and then, the majority of your diet should come from whole, minimally processed foods.

High in sodium

Biltong tends to be very high in sodium, with some types packing as much as 20% of your daily sodium allowance per ounce (28 grams) (9).

Research suggests that excessive sodium intake may negatively affect your heart health, blood pressure, and stroke risk (10).

Thus, biltong’s salt content might make it unsuitable for certain diets, especially those that restrict sodium (11).

Certain varieties may be high in fat

Because biltong is sometimes made with high-fat cuts of meat, certain varieties may contain more calories in the form of saturated fat. This could make it a poor choice for certain diets.

Research suggests that replacing animal-based saturated fats, such as those in biltong, with unsaturated fats from plant-based sources like nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives, offers more protection against heart disease (12).

While a moderate intake of saturated fat from biltong is not likely harmful, you’ll want to make sure you’re eating plenty of heart-healthy, plant-based fats, too. Balance is key.

Summary Eating too much biltong could harm your health due to the way it’s processed, as well as its high sodium and fat contents.

Biltong is a high-protein, low-carb snack made from dried meat, salt, vinegar, and spices. It’s similar to jerky but with different production methods and flavors.

Notably, certain types of biltong can be high in sodium and fat. Moreover, a high intake of processed meats may increase your risk of certain cancers.

If you’re thinking of adding biltong to your snacking routine, make sure to practice moderation in order to maintain a balanced diet.