Cured meat is popular all over the world, but the thing that makes Biltong taste especially unique is the special blend of African spices that give its unique taste. So what should you be looking for in that classic biltong taste?
Biltong is the most popular South African snack, traditional dried and cured meat that originates from Southern African countries (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Botswana and Zambia). If you want some FULL-FAT facts about biltong, check out our ultimate biltong guide.
Don’t confuse it with beef jerky, it packs a much bigger flavour punch and tends to be more on the savoury side. Biltong has gained huge popularity since I moved to the UK in ’99 but not all biltong is equal.
Biltong taste and flavours
There are two key stages to biltong – curing and flavouring. Curing makes the meat safe to eat but it’s the flavouring that makes it delicious and has you reaching for more.
When it comes to flavour, biltong can have hundreds of thousands of flavour combinations depending on the meat, spices and drying conditions. A bit like wine, but also totally different.
There are two key ingredients that create the classic African taste of biltong which are meat and coriander seeds. Other important ingredients include vinegar, salt and pepper. But it’s those coriander seeds that give it that truly authentic biltong taste.
If you want to see the full list of ingredients we use in our biltong, check out our Lekker Bru biltong recipe. Why not try your own DYI biltong making, it’s fun and not that hard.
BAD Biltong taste
The French have strong opinions about good tasting cheese and wine, for good reason. Try giving them an English bottle of wine to taste telling them it is better than their favourite French bottle of wine and they will laugh in your face.
In a similar way, us South African’s can be a fussy bunch, including myself especially when it comes to our beloved biltong! I have sampled biltong from all over the UK, some of it is quite good but there is also a lot of bad tasting biltong out there.
Bad tasting biltong is usually too salty, this is the most common mistake people make. Or acidic from too much of the wrong type of vinegar. Some biltong has added sugar and some bad tasting biltong is too sweet. We don’t use any sugar in our biltong, there is no need.
GOOD biltong taste, how has it evolved?
The early settlers may have introduced Biltong to South Africa but it was not like the biltong we know today. It was more of a basic ‘survival’ food back in the day cured with just salt and vinegar.
I grew up in South Africa in the 70’s, and when speaking to my South African family they reflected an interesting fact. In their younger years biltong was made just with vinegar, salt and pepper, but not the same spices used today. Gradually over time spices such as coriander were beginning to be used in biltong along with a more artisan approach.
A good biltong taste should be well balanced. The pH of biltong should range between 4.8 and 5.9, not that you need to measure it but if 7 is neutral then it should be just slightly on the acidic side.
You should see and taste the spices, with the all-important coriander seeds cutting though with a slight pepper after taste. We also like to use a small amount of smoked paprika and some recipes also use chilli’s.
We believe that the best biltong taste is not only from a good balance spice mix but also two other key elements:
- Fat: Beef fat is packed with flavour and although some people prefer to remove the fat we think it’s best to keep it on. It will reward you with amazing flavour!
- Moisture: Good tasting biltong should be moist. If it is too dry, it’s usually too salty and if it’s too moist it’s not had the chance to develop its full flavour (a bit like wine).
Hope you find this useful, feel free to leave your thoughts below.