Functional Food Friday: Making Biltong

Since this is functional food Friday and we’re going to be talking about meat, we should probably address whether meat can be considered a functional food. At Functional Patterns and Authentic Human we absolutely believe it is. You have probably seen the regular news items claiming that eating red meat with kill you by causing heart disease or cancer and most likely know a few vegetarians or vegans who say the same. It does after all have large amounts of fat and in particular the much vilified form; saturated fat! Eating meat also requires the death of a poor defenseless animal which some consider unethical.

And, for those vegetarian friends of yours; According to Psychology Today, roughly 75% of vegetarians eventually return to eating meat with 9 years being the average length of time of abstinence.

For centuries mankind has been eating meat. Finding ways to preserve that meat enabled our ancestors to stay in one one place and form a community. He no longer had to hunt daily or follow the herds of animals he would hunt, but could preserve some for later use. The interesting fact about food preservation is that various cultures from various parts of the world and throughout history have found ways of preserving their local food sources using the same basic methods. Evidence has been found showing the various methods and materials reflecting differing food supplies; fish, wild game, domestic animals, etc.

Curing meat saves or preserves it; the definition covers preservation processes such as drying, salting and smoking. Prior to the invention of refrigeration, the curing process was used to preserve all kinds of meat. The use of food dehydration was the earliest form of food curing. In ancient times the sun and wind would have naturally dried foods; there is evidence shows that Middle Eastern and Oriental cultures dried foods in the hot sun as early as 12,000 B.C. Early cultures used salt to help desiccate foods and salting was common and even became a special culinary technique with the use of raw salts from different sources (rock salt, sea salt, spiced salt, etc.). The addition of salt creats solute-rich environment that promotes osmotic pressure to draw water out and the addition of salt slows the oxidation process effectively preventing the meat from going rancid.

Biltong is a variety of cured meat that originated in South Africa. The making of Biltong uses dehydration and salting to preserve chunks or strips of meat. The word BILTONG is formed from the Dutch words “bil” (meaning meat buttock or hind quarter) and ‘tong” meaning “strip”. Biltong is said to have been carried by people called Voortrekkers, who migrated by wagon from the Cape Colony north-eastward (away from British rule) into the interior of Southern Africa during the Great Trek. For the long trip, they needed stocks of durable food that would sustain them on their long journey if they were not able to find sources of food for long periods along the way. Making Biltong protected the meat from decay and insects.

Many different types of meat have been used to make Biltong, ranging from beef to game meats to ostrich. It is typically made from raw fillets of meat cut into strips following the grain of the muscle, or flat pieces sliced across the grain. It is similar to beef Jerky in that they are both spiced, dried meats, but differ in their typical ingredients, taste and production process; the meat used for Biltong can be much thicker (typically approx 1 inch wide), Biltong also does not have a sweet taste and the vinegar and salt in Biltong, together with the drying process, cures the meat as well as adding texture and flavor whereas Jerky is traditionally dried without vinegar.

The flavoring of Biltong is a blend of vinegar, salt, coriander and other spices that were in abundance in the Cape Colony which was the halfway stop for Sea Traders plying the spice routes of the East. The French Huguenots living in the Cape produced wine and vinegar from their grape crops. Various brine recipes, marinades and spice mixes were created and handed down from generation to generation.

How to make Biltong:

Step 1:
Cut the meat into strips, thinner slices for snap sticks and thicker slices for smaller sliced chunks.
Layer the meat with salt and place in the refrigerator for a few hours – the longer you leave it, the more salty the final product will be. About 1/4 cup of salt per 2 pounds of meat.

Step 2:
Remove the salt from the meat by dredging in a solution of vinegar and Worcestershire sauce (cider vinegar is traditional but balsamic or other vinegars also works very well) and place in a clean glass dish. Reserve the solution to use a little after the meat has been spiced. The solution is two cups of vinegar and 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce.

Step 3:
Blend your spice spice mix which will typically contain whole coriander, black pepper and then you can choose your own favorite blend or use mine shown below. Roughly grind the spices together, sprinkle liberally over the meat. Add a little of the vinegar/Worcestershire solution and allow to settle for a further few hours (or refrigerated overnight) before the meat is hung in the dryer.

Step 4:
Hang the meat in the dryer and allow to dehydrate for a few days or until your preferred level of dryness is achieved

Gavin’s Spice Mix:
3 Tbsp Coriander Seeds
1 Tbsp Black Pepper
2 Tsp Ground Coriander
1/2 Tsp Chipotle or Chili Powder
1 Tsp Paprika
1/2 Tsp Baking Soda

If you make more than you can eat in a few days you can also store it in the refrigerator or freezer.

Shared on Healthy Home Economist – Monday Mania

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About the Author:

Candice is a certified Holistic Lifestyle Coach living in sunny San Diego, California with her husband and seven year old daughter. She is passionate about nutrition and holistic health and sharing what she has learned and continues to learn with others who want to achieve health and vitality.