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Biltong or Jerky - Which is Healthier?

Biltong or Jerky - Which is Healthier?

, by Aussie Pharma Direct, 10 min reading time

Dried meat snacks have become increasingly popular around the world, beloved for their convenience, long shelf life, and tasty protein-packed punch. Nowadays, dried meat like biltong and jerky are two of the most common snacks for on the go or fueling up after a workout.

But did you know that while both biltong and beef jerky are dried meat products, they have distinct differences in their origins, production processes, nutritional content, and flavours? In this blog, you'll learn all about what sets these two delicious snacks apart.

But first, let’s unpack the history of how these dried meats came to be

Historically, drying meat was a practical solution to a pressing problem: food preservation. Long before refrigeration, people needed methods to keep meat from spoiling, especially during long journeys or harsh seasons when fresh food was scarce. By removing moisture through drying, they could prevent bacteria growth, extending the meat's shelf life significantly. This made dried meat an invaluable resource for explorers, soldiers, and travelers who needed nutritious, non-perishable food.

To truly appreciate biltong and beef jerky, it helps to understand their rich histories and how they came to be beloved snacks in different parts of the world.


Biltong originates from Southern Africa, and it has been a way for the indigenous tribes to preserve meat for centuries. Dutch settlers, known as Voortrekkers, needed a reliable way to preserve meat during their long treks across the African continent. They adapted indigenous preservation methods, combining them with European techniques. The word "biltong" comes from the Dutch words "bil" (buttock or meat) and "tong" (strip or tongue).

The traditional method involved marinating thick cuts of meat in a vinegar solution, which helped to tenderise and flavour the meat while preventing bacterial growth. The meat was then seasoned with a mix of salt, pepper, coriander, and sometimes brown sugar before being air-dried. This simple yet effective process produced a durable, flavourful meat snack that could withstand the harsh African climate. Over the centuries, biltong has remained a staple in Southern African cuisine and has gained popularity worldwide, and of course, here in Australia too, for its unique taste and texture.

Beef jerky

Beef jerky, on the other hand, has its origins in the Americas. Long before European settlers arrived, Native American tribes developed methods for drying meat to ensure a steady food supply. The word "jerky" itself comes from the Quechua word "ch'arki," which means "dried, salted meat." Native Americans would slice buffalo or other game into thin strips, season it with salt and spices, and dry it in the sun or over a fire. This method not only preserved the meat but also made it lightweight and easy to transport.

When European settlers arrived in the Americas, they adopted and adapted these drying techniques. They introduced new spices and marinades, incorporating flavours like soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce into the drying process. Over time, beef jerky evolved into the snack we know today, characterised by its chewy texture and wide variety of flavours. Its portability and long shelf life made it a favourite among pioneers, cowboys, and eventually, modern consumers.

So, is biltong raw or cooked meat?

Despite what you might think, biltong is not cooked. Instead, it is air-dried. The vinegar used in the marination acts as a tenderiser and helps inhibit bacterial growth, making the meat safe to consume after drying.

The key to biltong's preservation and safety lies in this marination and air-drying process. The meat is hung in a well-ventilated area, allowing it to dry slowly over several days. This method not only ensures that the meat is preserved without cooking, but it also retains its rich, natural flavours and tender texture

In contrast, beef jerky is typically cooked during the dehydration process. The meat is marinated and then dried at a low temperature in a dehydrator or smoker, which both dries and lightly cooks the meat. This difference in preparation is one of the many factors that set biltong and beef jerky apart, influencing their textures, flavours, and nutritional profiles.

Nutritional comparison between biltong and jerky

When choosing between biltong and beef jerky, it’s important to consider their nutritional profiles. Both snacks offer a good source of protein, but there are some key differences in their calorie, fat, sugar, and sodium content. Here’s a general comparison of the two snacks. 


  • Lower in sugar - Traditional biltong recipes use little to no sugar, making it a great option for those looking to reduce sugar intake.
  • Higher in protein - With its high protein content, biltong is an excellent snack for muscle repair and growth.
  • Fat content - Depending on the cut of meat, biltong can be higher in fat, which may be a consideration for those monitoring their fat intake, however, this also means it can be more satisfying and provide a longer-lasting energy source.

Beef jerky:

  • Higher sugar and preservatives - Many beef jerky recipes include added sugars and preservatives to enhance flavour and extend shelf life. This can lead to higher sugar content, which might be a concern for those on low-sugar diets.

Common preservatives in beef jerky

  • Sodium Erythorbate: This preservative is used to maintain colour and flavour in processed meats. While it is generally considered safe, excessive consumption of preservatives can contribute to long-term health issues.
  • Sodium Nitrite: Used to prevent bacterial growth and enhance the colour of the meat, sodium nitrite can form nitrosamines, compounds that have been linked to an increased risk of cancer when consumed in large amounts over time.
  • Other preservatives: Other common preservatives in beef jerky include citric acid and potassium sorbate, which help extend shelf life and prevent spoilage. While these additives are effective, there is ongoing debate about their potential long-term health impacts, particularly with high consumption levels.

The use of these preservatives can make beef jerky a less healthy option compared to more natural products like biltong, which traditionally do not contain these additives.

All in all, nutritional content can vary significantly between different brands and recipes. If you’re looking to enjoy biltong in Australia, Chief is one of the Australian brands that produces healthy snacks where their main products include beef bars and biltong. And they’re made from 100% Australian beef that is 100% organic, grass-fed, grass-finished, and regeneratively farmed. The selling point for Chief is their use of quality ingredients, without using added nitrates or nitrites, including that of cheap fillers like maltodextrin or hydrolyzed vegetable proteins, which are often high in MSG -  common preservatives in many jerky products.

Some other artisanal or health-focused brands also offer low-sugar, low-sodium options for beef jerky, so it's important to check labels if you have specific dietary needs.

Flavour and texture differences

Biltong is typically softer and more tender than beef jerky. This is because biltong is made from thicker cuts of meat and air-dried, which helps to preserve the meat's natural moisture and tenderness. The slow drying process allows the meat to retain a slightly chewy yet soft texture that many find enjoyable.

Biltong also has a unique flavour profile, often characterised by a tangy taste from the vinegar used in the marination process. The seasoning blend, which usually includes coriander, pepper, and salt, imparts a savoury and slightly spicy flavour. The natural meatiness of the beef is more pronounced, providing a rich, robust taste experience.

On the other hand, beef jerky is generally chewier and tougher than biltong. This is due to the thinner strips of meat used and the dehydration process, which removes more moisture from the meat. The resulting texture is denser and requires more effort to chew.

The flavour of beef jerky is often sweeter and smokier compared to biltong. This is due to the use of marinades that typically include ingredients like soy sauce, brown sugar, and various spices. Additionally, beef jerky is often smoked during the drying process, adding a distinctive smoky flavour that complements the sweetness and spiciness of the marinade.

In summary, if you prefer a tender, tangy snack with a savoury spice profile, biltong might be your go-to choice. On the other hand, if you enjoy a chewier, sweeter, and smokier snack, beef jerky could be more to your liking. Both offer unique and enjoyable eating experiences, making them popular choices for different palates and preferences.

What diets are the meat snacks suitable for?

Both biltong and beef jerky can fit into various diets, but there are some distinctions to consider:

  • Keto - Both snacks are suitable due to their high protein and low carbohydrate content. However, biltong might be preferable for those strictly limiting sugar intake.
  • Paleo - Both biltong and beef jerky can be paleo-friendly, especially if they are made with natural ingredients and minimal processing. Look for brands that use grass-fed meat and avoid added sugars and preservatives.
  • Low-sodium diet - If you're watching your sodium intake, biltong might be a better choice, but always check the nutritional information as sodium levels can vary by brand.


Both biltong and beef jerky offer a convenient, protein-packed snack that's perfect for on-the-go eating or satisfying savoury cravings. Ultimately, your choice between biltong and beef jerky comes down to your personal preferences and dietary needs. 

If you're looking for a healthy everyday snack, biltong is a great option. Its lower sugar content, lack of preservatives, and high protein make it a smart choice for those looking to maintain a balanced diet. Its tender texture and rich flavour also make it a versatile addition to meals. On the other hand, while beef jerky can be a tasty treat, consuming it every day or as a meal replacement might not be the best idea due to the preservatives often used in its production.

In the end, both biltong and beef jerky have their own unique benefits and can fit into a balanced diet when consumed in moderation. Consider your health goals, dietary restrictions, and taste preferences when making your choice, and you'll be sure to enjoy a satisfying and nutritious snack either way.


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