The Rich History of Biltong: From South Africa to London

The Rich History of Biltong: From South Africa to London

While biltong is experiencing a surge of popularity today in hipster circles and on high-protein diets, its origins can be traced back several centuries to the grasslands of southern Africa.

Biltong began as a practical way for early Dutch and Afrikaans settlers in South Africa to preserve meat without refrigeration. By salting strips of meat and letting them dry out in the sunny African climate, the meat could keep for months at a time without spoiling. Hunters and farmers would hang biltong to dry on wagons, fences, and clotheslines, creating a tasty and portable protein source.

While biltong was originally made with mostly beef, game meats like kudu, ostrich and wildebeest were also common. Local spices like coriander, black pepper and vinegar were added to the meat for extra flavour. The dry air and blazing sun took care of the rest, transforming the salted meat into deliciously chewy biltong.

For centuries, biltong was an integral part of South African food culture, especially among the tough Voortrekkers who travelled deep into the continent’s interior in the 1800s. Eating biltong while on the go became a way of life for many South Africans, even as refrigeration technology eventually developed.

It wasn’t until South African immigrants brought biltong recipes with them to England in the mid-1900s that this national snack started gaining worldwide appeal. British soldiers stationed in South Africa during World War II also developed a liking for biltong and helped introduce it back home.

As biltong’s fanbase grew among Brits, specialty biltong shops began popping up in London and other English cities. Over the decades, these traditional salted strips slowly evolved into the sweeter, vinegar-cured biltong more common in the UK today. Expat South African communities helped popularize the snack across Europe and later North America.

Now, this centuries-old African trail food is finally having its international moment in the spotlight. With energizing protein, addictive tangy flavour, and very little prep time compared to jerky, it’s no wonder biltong has become the go-to snack for everyone from gym buffs to gamers. But as you savour those dried slices of spicy, salty meat, remember the fascinating history behind this traditional South African specialty. From the African savannah to English pubs to trendy health stores worldwide, biltong has made quite the journey through the centuries while still staying true to its hardy roots.

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