I’m often asked, what is biltong? Bil – tong (an Afrikaans word originating from Dutch) translates as bil meaning “rump/buttock” and tong referring to a “strip/tongue”. Essentially biltong means dried cured meat strips, not animal tongues. Check out our ultimate biltong guide for loads more info.
So, what is biltong and what’s the REAL difference between UK vs SA biltong products?
Ancient cultures preserving meat
You can find out a whole bunch of detailed info on the origins of biltong in our ultimate biltong guide. So I’m not going to go into great detail here, but I do need to make one important point. As humans, we have been curing and preserving raw meat for thousands of years.
The ancient Egyptians with their love of exotic meats were the first to preserve meat as early as 12,000 B.C. From drying, salting (dry and wet), smoking and using animal fat they were really inventive about making their meat resources last. They are even thought to have used beer and honey for curing. This has all influenced making biltong safe as any other curing method used over time.
The astonishing fact about food preservation is that it has permeated every culture and it has evolved and become more refined over time. But is all biltong safe?
What is biltong and is it safe to eat?
YES, biltong is safe to eat as long as it’s prepared in a safe and hygienic environment. Making biltong is quite easy, check out the Lekker Bru biltong recipe.
Raw meat may contain harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning if consumed in its raw state. The good news is that curing and drying meat is an age-old process that kills all the harmful bacteria and preserves the meat, for many weeks in certain conditions. The potassium nitrate in saltpetre kills Clostridium botulinum, the deadly bacterium that causes botulism, while the acidity of the vinegar inhibits its growth, according to the World Health Organization.
Biltong has gained huge popularity here in the UK. I remember my English wife sticking her nose up at it when we were stranded at an airport on Honeymoon. Eventually, she buckled as the hunger kicked in and now I have to hide it from her! When I came to the UK in ’99 most Brits had no idea what biltong was, now you can find it everywhere and it’s widely enjoyed by people across the UK.
The difference between UK vs SA biltong
The African Bushmen hunter-gatherer (or San people) are among the oldest cultures on Earth, thought to be descended from the first inhabitants of what is now Botswana and South Africa. Biltong wasn’t invented by a single person but was more of a joint effort between the early Dutch settlers and the San tribes.
Naturally, South Africa is known for its game. There are 72 species of Antelope found in Africa, of which 21 are found in the Kruger National Park. Wild game hunting has historically been quite a big part of South African culture, making game biltong a popular choice of meat, often over beef. The most common biltong game used is kudu, springbok and wildebeest as well as ostrich meat which is very similar to beef in taste and texture but is very low in fat and is super tasty!
There’s no process difference between UK vs SA biltong, they are essentially made in the same way. Although in South Africa some people hang their meat to dry outside in the hot African sun. On a hot summers day it can reach temperature of 30-40 degrees C making it perfect for drying meat.
The difference between UK vs SA biltong isn’t much and the process is very similar. In South Africa, you have more game meat options, although with the current state of greedy poachers African game is being increasingly protected and for good reason. In the UK, beef is by far the most common meat to use for biltong. However, bird game such as pheasants and partridge are also fantastic, check out our Lekker Bru birdtong range.