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The History of Jerky

Before jerky became a popular snack for low carb dieters and backpackers: jerky was a source of nutrition for ancient societies. That’s right, jerky, a long-time favorite of meat lovers, has been around for centuries. In fact, drying meat is one of the oldest methods of preservation known to mankind. Jerky has a history.
The history of jerky begins with what was probably an accidental discovery which allowed people to both store food for long periods of time, as well as have a source of nutrition to take with them on journeys.

Interesting Historical Tidbits about Jerky:

Beef jerky is thought to have originated in South America during the 1800s. The Quechua tribe, ancestors of the ancient Inca Empire, produced a meat similar to beef jerky called ch’arki, or charqui – pronounced jerky. The word “jerky” comes from the term charqui, which means to burn meat. When the Spanish encountered this method of meat preservation, they adopted it and made it available to the rest of the world.

Native Americans smoke dried meat to make their own form of jerky. Jerky was made by adding salt to strips of meat from game animals such as deer, buffalo, and elk, and allowing them to dry over fires for extended periods of time. This method of preparation enabled Native Americans to preserve meats during times when it was readily available and eat it when food was scarce.

Jerky’s popularity was rekindled during the expansion into North America where it was prized as a valuable source of nutrition by traders and explorers as they traveled areas without ready access to fresh supplies. Its light weight and longevity made it a superior food source as the world was tamed and settled.
It became a staple foodstuff for American cowboys and pioneers. Early explorers built smoke huts and hung cuts of meat over a fire to smoke cure the meat. True jerky was made when the meat was first flavored and then cured. Over the years, people discovered that the meat could be made more palatable by the addition of various spices.

Long before jerky made its way into the mainstream diet, jerky was a source of nutrition for ancient societies, cowboys, pioneers and Native Americans. So, the next time you reach for a snack of beef jerky, know that you’re snacking on a piece of history.