The History Of South African Biltong

A simple meat delicacy has the world overwhelmed by how delicious it is and how good it is for everyone who enjoys meat and wants a quick snack or something to fill a meal. Biltong has been a staple in South African homes for generations and has since The Great Trek it has moved from beef to poultry, game, fish and pork.

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The Beginning

Voortrekkers rubbed salt on their meat and dried it to preserve it when making their way across Southern Africa during The Great Trek to escape the British. They were using horses and carts to travel, and the journey was long from the Cape coastal regions into the interior of the Southern African mainlands. Most people owned livestock, but their meat would never have lasted on that journey, so they used salt to preserve it and hung it out to dry. Livestock took a long time to procreate during these treks, so they had to find another way to keep the meat they had for longer. The name biltong comes from Dutch and Afrikaans with “Bil”– in Afrikaans meaning bull or Dutch meaning buttock and “Tong”– meaning tongue or in Dutch meaning stripe.



South African farmers continued to use drying the meat in the sun for decades, adding more spices, saltpetre and vinegar for the preservation process to give it flavour. It used to take up to 4 weeks for it to be ready to eat. Cloth or hessian bags were everyday use for transporting food like biltong, grapes or bread in the 1800s, and it wasn’t until refrigerators arrived that biltong was cured in dark, cool rooms on farms. Many farmers still use cure rooms simple to follow in tradition. Game meat became easier to hunt for introducing Kudu, Ostrich and Gemsbok. Fish biltong or “Sout Vis” is another form of Biltong that has also been around for generations. Cape Coastal fisherman used the same method of drying the meat to preserve fish on long fishing journeys because it usually took months to either go out to sea or come home from it. Along with chicken and bacon, we now have a wide selection of meats available.


There are many ways to enjoy Biltong, but the most common in South Africa is with a cold beer watching the latest sports. You might even find a few people sneaking it into the cinemas or adding it into the dishes. The most recent craze is cheese platters, where different cheeses are plated together with Biltong slices, snap sticks or pates and enjoyed with a glass of delicious wine from the Cape Winelands. It is given in baskets to people as gifts for special occasions and used as a post-workout snack by gym nuts. The nutritional value has increased over the years, with there being better ways to cure it, but the taste remains the same at the end of the day. Biltong is a part of South Africa as the Big Five and will remain one of SA’s most beloved treats. For information on how you can get your hands on some delicious biltong, click here.

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