Biltong: the Healthy, High Protein Snack from Africa

As an endurance athlete and in particular a cyclist, I am constantly on the lookout for food or products that are rich in Protein to help my body repair and maintain my muscle mass, but at the same time I don’t want to put on body weight, so I am mindful about not adding too many carbs (at the wrong time) or fat into the equation.

One such food is Biltong that I believe is one of the very best, but yet remains mostly unknown to most of the world:

What is Biltong?

I grew up in Southern Africa, where for many people biltong is very commonly eaten as a tasty snack and some mothers will even give it to their babies to suck/gnaw on whilst teething!

So what is biltong?

Chirundu's Biltong
You can buy or even make your own biltong

Biltong is basically dried, spiced and cured meat (see my article on how to make biltong). It does not have to be beef, indeed it was traditionally made from antelope and where I come from you can still buy many types of “game biltong” that will include impala, kudu, wildebeest, ostrich and I have even tried crocodile before! And some of the most popular sites on the net, like D.Jays Gourmet, offer a whole menu of delicious Biltong; go ahead and give the snack a try. However beef has become the most popular and for our purposes, this is the one I will be referring to in this article.

The origins of “Biltong” are South African and the name comes from the original Dutch settlers where “bil” means rump or buttock and “tong” means tongue or strip, so a strip of rump meat = biltong.

Biltong is almost all meat, but to cure and spice it Salt, Black pepper, Coriander and Vinegar are used. Other spices and ingredients can be added to alter the flavours.

Biltong is Super Tasty
Whilst I’ll agree it is probably not the most elegant looking food, to my tastes it is delicious and easily ranks as one of my favourite savoury snacks and unless you are a vegetarian, I would urge you to give it a try if you have not already done so.

Biltong is Similar to Jerky
Whilst similar, Biltong is not Jerky and they do taste different and whilst I am probably biased, I do prefer the African version which is often much less sweet tasting. However in terms of their nutritional and most importantly their Protein content, they will be the same. If you are unable to source biltong locally, try looking for Jerky.

Beef Biltong: Nutritional Information

Nutritional Information (100g)
  • Energy: 1239kJ / 294kcal
  • Fat: 4.5g
    • of which saturates: 1.6g
  • Carbohydrates: 0g
    • of which sugars: 0g
  • Protein: 57g
  • Salt: 4g

Concentrated Protein
Because biltong is dried, to make 100g of biltong you need about double that (200g) of raw meat, so if you think of it you are getting all the protein and other nutrients from 200g of beef in just 100g of Biltong.

Different Types of Protein
When you look at the levels of protein in different products like in the table below, it is also worth keeping in mind that not all proteins are the same and different ones are absorb differently when digested into our bodies:

Red meat protein is about 94% digestible whilst you only digest about 78% from beans and 86% from Whole Wheat (86%). The result is that more of the ingested protein from meat is used by your bodies than these other sources.

Comparisons – High Protein Foods & Products

The table below lists foods that I use in my diet that contain a high content of protein in them and shows their energy content and amount of protein, fat and carbohydrates per 100g (100ml in liquids).

As you can see Biltong ranks very highly amongst them, but what is also important to note, is that there are no carbohydrates and as long as you are using lean meat, there it has a low fat content as well.

Indeed the only items that outperform biltong are whey protein powder products and not real food!


Other Nutrients

As well as the protein content Biltong contains a number of other beneficial vitamins, minerals and is a great source of the following:

  • Vitamin B12: helps with red blood cell production which transport oxygen around the body and super important for the health, growth and recovery of your muscles
  • Iron: Also helps with red blood cell production
  • Zinc: Helps us process both protein and fat and studies have shown (sorry I don’t have a source) that zinc can improve athletic performance
  • Creatine: helps body produce more energy improved brain function
  • Carnitine: Assists you to use fat as an energy source

Where to Buy Biltong

Whilst it is simple to make, there are times when you will just want some biltong, and you will want it now. Luckily these days you can get it in many countries outside of Southern Africa, including the US, Europe and the UK