Why is it Called Beef Jerky?
When it comes to healthy snacks, beef jerky is an obvious go-to. Jerky is a low-fat option for a hike, a camping trip, or even just to keep on hand in your kitchen cabinet. Dried meat is dehydrated, so it doesn't have moisture that can cause spoilage or mold. The drying process ensures that jerky has a long shelf life, unlike fresh meat. Instead of packing ground meat for a snack on a day trip, it's more practical to small pieces of jerky, which is easy to pack and won't easily spoil in the heat. Refrigeration helps beef jerky last longer, sure, but if you keep the thin strips of meat in a vacuum-sealed bag, you're pretty much good to go no matter where you store it.
Jerky products are high-protein snacks and an excellent alternative to carbohydrates, and we've already established how easy they are to pack in a go bag. But did you ever stop to think about why it's called beef jerky?
How did beef jerky get its name?
The name "jerky" comes from the Quechua language, spoken by the Inca people in South America. The Incas had a process of drying meat called "cchargini." During the Inca Empire, as early as the 1500s, the ancient societies in the Andes called jerky "ch'arki." These people, who were indigenous to the Andes, used meat common to them, such as alpacas and llamas, for their jerky.
What does the word jerky mean?
The word "charqui" literally means dry and thin in Quechua. To this day, the dried meat product is still made in strips of meat and flavored with a marinade of flavors such as teriyaki, black pepper, and brown sugar.
Another similar snack, developed by a native tribe in South Africa, is called biltong. The word Dutch word "bil" means "meat" or "rump" and "tong" means strip. When European settlers arrived in South Africa, they introduced vinegar and other spices, such as coriander, to the mix. As Dutch settlers, also known as Voortrekkers, migrated north, they could easily pack jerky during their sea travel. The meat was easy to pack, didn't spoil, and was a source of high protein. Although biltong is like jerky, it's not exactly the same. One big difference is that it's not smoked or cooked like beef jerky. Biltong is spiced, soaked in a marinade, and dried for about 14 days. None of the ingredients in biltong are artificial.
Who invented beef jerky?
Many people want to know who invented beef jerky. The easiest answer to this question is that beef jerky was invented by the Quechua tribe in South America, but it did eventually make its way to North America (obviously!). Spanish explorers discovered the Inca tribe's South American practice of drying meat and adopted it. As these Spanish conquistadors traveled, though, they discovered that the North American tribe, the Cree Indians, had their own process of making jerky. They called this dried meat product "pemmican." Pemmican was dried meat pounded into small pieces and mixed together with other items, such as cranberries and other dried fruits. North Americans, especially those in the United States, soon came to embrace jerky; pioneers, trappers, and cowboys all used the dried meat product while out on the job. Early settlers throughout history, often without a method of refrigeration, would have found jerky to be an easy alternative to fresh meat.
How can I make my own lean jerky?
These days, jerky isn't just made out of beef. Deer, Cajun Alligator, Teriyaki Meat, Salt and Pepper Venison, and turkey jerky are quite common and are good choices if you're looking for types of meat that are leaner than beef. If you're a hunter, you probably already have plenty of lean-meat choices at your disposal. If you have a food dehydrator at home, you can make jerky out of your latest prize in deer-hunting season. According to Field & Stream, the best cuts of deer to use for jerky are any large roasts from the hind legs.
Maybe processes have developed since the early 1500s, but the same basic concept of jerky hasn't changed—and it's still delicious, practical, and healthy. The next time you open a bag of the snack—or cure your own meat to make jerky—maybe you'll remember this little history lesson.
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