Who “invented” biltong?

We wish we could say we did, but the truth is preserved meat snacks have been enjoyed since ancient times. Biltong, more specifically, became a pantry staple in South Africa in the early 1600s as a way to preserve meat for future meals, especially for those embarking on long journeys by ox wagon or on horseback.

The Voortrekkers migrating from the Cape Colony into the interior of the country during the “Great Trek” used to take dried meat along with them, together with other staples of durable and easy to consume foodstuffs. The word biltong is from the Dutch bil (“buttock”) and tong (“strip” or “tongue”).

The meat was prepared with spices and vinegar and then hung in the winter months to be air-dried, as the colder temperatures prevented fungus and bacteria from growing. After the meat had been suitably dried, the biltong was packed into cloth bags, which allowed the air to circulate and thus prevent mould. It was a practical, nutritious and delicious source of energy and protein – the perfect snack for a hungry Settler.

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