The controversial origins of Biltong

This traditional snack from South Africa is much loved all over the world, but where are the real origins of biltong? Does it have its roots in Africa or elsewhere?

I LOVE BILTONG. I can’t help it, I’m South African and have meat in my blood. I spent most of my life in Cape Town, it was magical. It wasn’t until my move to the UK in’99 that I realised just how special South African food and culture really is.

If you want to dig deeper into the origins of biltong check out our ultimate guide to biltong, highlighting everything you need to know about this much loved South African meaty snack.

I set up Lekker Bru a couple of years ago to fly the flag for SA food. I feel really passionate about promoting traditional South African food using quality Devon ingredients.

The origins of Biltong

Biltong has a really interesting back story. During the 17th century, Europe had a taste for exotic spice and the search for new lands. This was the start of early modernisation, the world wasn’t flat anymore.

It was the Dutch who discovered South Africa, a chap by the name of Jan van Riebeeck who bumped into Cape Town in 1762. He was part of the VOC on a mission to discover a new direct ocean route from the  Cape of Good Hope to the Sunda Strait in Indonesia. 

These sea voyages were dangerous and hard going, malnutrition and scurvy a common killer to sea crews. It was really tricky keeping food for journeys that would often last for weeks on end. However dried cured meat was commonly used, in it’s preserved state it would last for weeks and was a great source of protein. But is this the origins of Biltong?

Although the African Bushmen are also thought to have dried wild game from their hunts, it is widely thought that is was the Dutch who introduced Biltong into South African culture. But not as we know it today!

Meaning of Biltong

Bil – tong translates as ‘bil’ meaning “rump/buttock” and ‘tong’ referring to a “strip/tongue”.

It is an Afrikaans word originating from the Dutch language. It essentially means dried cured meat strips, animal tongues are not used. Not that I’ve ever known of anyway.

Although the origins of Biltong is from the Dutch, it has evolved and become more sophisticated. Back in the 17th century when Jan discovered Table Bay, their biltong would’ve been very simply cured and dried with vinegar and salt.

Today biltong has a more exotic spice mix with more moist and tender artisan texture. This is somewhat reflected on the Cambridge biltong definition: meat that has been cut into long pieces, flavoured with spices and dried. 

A traditional South African snack

South Africa has a rich and diverse cultural background that has shaped a massively diverse array of food types and styles all influencing each other. There are so many amazing varieties of food influenced by a rainbow nation.

The origins of Biltong is deep-rooted in African culture and is the most popular and favourite South African food. Just ask ANY Soufa and 9 times out of 10 they will agree. It’s part of our culture and identity, but mostly it’s just bloody tasty and a health snack packed full of protein.

The backbone of this classic biltong taste is the humble coriander seed. This little chap packs a big earthy flavour that’s incredible when toasted, naturally there are other elements that make up a good biltong recipe.

Want to try making biltong?

Have you ever tried making biltong? Want to give it a go?

Why not try our Lekker Bru biltong recipe and let us know how you get on. Or if you don’t have the time, buy some of our biltong!

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