|Drying is the oldest form of food preservation, and dried meat is the oldest form of dried food. Used by virtually every ancient culture dried meat was probably, like many of mankind's most useful discoveries, learned by accident. |
Bacteria that spoil foods need moisture to operate and multiply in, so if you remove all the moisture bacteria cannot grow, the resulting product, however is very hard and unpalatable.
The next advance the ancients made was the discovery that if they hung their meat in the smoke of the their fire not only did the meat take on a pleasant flavour, they didn't have to dry it out as much.
What they couldn't know was that chemicals from the wood smoke were locking up some of the water molecules so that bacteria couldn't use them. The result was a pleasant flavoured easier to eat preserved meat.
Of course, the next major development was the realisation that salt did much the same thing only to a greater extent. So, now jerky was looking pretty similar to what we know today, the salt had enhanced the flavour and allowed them to leave enough moisture ( that the bacteria couldn't use) in the meat so it was quite soft.
It made an ideal stored food for those long harsh winter months when hunting was impossible or a lightweight, high protein traveling food for long hunting trips or migrations.
A later discovery was that sugar also excluded bacteria from the remaining moisture and so the flavour of the jerky could be varied to suit differing tastes. Different strokes for different folks, right? Some like boomerangs, some like chess, just as some like salt, some like sugar.
One last innovation came when pepper was found to keep birds and fly's off drying jerky and so many traditional jerky's are quite hot. This basically is the jerky we produce today.
A good resource of jerky recipes and techniques is Jerky Recipes notice board
|More beef jerky stories at story page 2 >>|
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