It is a simple, but excellent food, dried beef, flavoured with salt, herbs and spices.
Biltong is a South African cured meat made from a cut of beef called “beef silverside”. Traditional Spices are mixed with the beef silverside consisting of salt, pepper, coarsely ground coriander, and red wine vinegar.
The biltong meat is air-dried for five days when it is ready to be eaten.
The meaning of the word biltong is made up of two Dutch words meaning “bil” ‘which is the buttock of the animal’ and “tong” ‘which is a strip of meat.’
It originated from South Africa but is now produced and sold in many countries around the world. It can be traced back to prehistoric times as humans learnt to domesticate animals such as Cows, Sheep and Horses, our ancestors evolved, and they learnt new survival techniques, preservation was a valuable skill.
They learnt to preserve fruit and vegetables and dried meat as it was an essential part of the of the daily routine and provided food in the winter months.
The Indigenous people of sub-Saharan Africa, the Khoikhoi, travelled around from settlement to settlement finding pastureland for their livestock.
A Khoikhoi Family
They needed to carry food with them, so they learnt to preserve meat to use while they were travelling by slicing it into strips, curing it with salt and hanging it in tree’s to dry.
When the Dutch, French Huguenots and German settlers arrived in South Africa in the 17th, the hot climate made it essential for them to find a way to store meat without it spoiling.
They took the idea from the Khoikhoi and expanded on it by adding salt, vinegar, cloves, coriander and pepper.
These spices were abundant in the Cape Colony at this time as the Cape of Good Hope was the halfway point for The Dutch East India Company travelling from The Netherlands to India. Ships would stop at Cape Town to stock up on foods, and this included preserved meat to last them on their long voyages.
As more people came to Cape Town, there was a need for people to move north into the space of the open country.
This journey became known as the “Great Trek”.
The Great Trek
The Voortrekkers prepared for these long trips by making biltong and hanging it out to dry. This made it perfect to be stored while they were travelling for long periods at a time. They saved the biltong in wooden barrels on their Ox Wagons.
The Voortrekkers had an abundance of livestock on their farms, so they experimented and tested new recipes to cure meat. They found they could take clean animal intestines put meat and spices into them and hang them out to dry. The thin sausage dried quickly and became known as DroeWors.
Other meat can be used to make biltong, such as fish, chicken, wildebeest, kudu, and ostrich. Fish is the least popular while beef is the most popular meat to use.