We first learned about Dr. Biltong in an article from the website, Times Live. Maxine is a 27 year old South African who recently received her doctorate from Stellenbosch University (in South Africa) on how to make Biltong, earning her the title of "Dr. Biltong". Her research project focused on the different aspects of the art of Biltong making. We had the opportunity to interview Maxine via email:
- What sparked your interest in biltong? Growing up in South Africa you start eating biltong from a young age and you learn to appreciate it more and more. I have always had a very keen interest in food and that's what lead me to study Food Science. I have been very lucky to have traveled overseas and during these travels, I would always find out about the local meat products and how they were made. When I started my post-graduate degree an opportunity to research dried meat products came about and over the years I realized the lack of research on biltong we thought, "Why not?"
- What were some of your most important findings in your thesis? The importance of adding vinegar and its benefits to the product itself and its shelf-life were the main finding. It improved the shelf-life of biltong and also adds that distinctive flavor. The importance of the air movement during drying was also an interesting find as it influences the consistency of the biltong and drying time quite considerably.
- Did you come up with new ways of curing, spicing, processing, etc? We used the basic processing methods of biltong as we all know but looked more specifically into the temperature, relative humidity and the air velocity of the drying process to see how it influenced the final product. We did a short study on using ultrasound during the curing of biltong to see its influence of salt penetration and drying time. It showed that it influenced salt penetration without extending the drying time, this needs to be studied further however as the trial was very small.
- Are you now "biltong’d" out, or do you still enjoy eating/making it? I will admit there was a time that when there was biltong around it didn't appeal to me. But I'm back to being that person who dives for the biltong when there is any available! I love to make it and I definitely love to eat it!
- What is your favorite type of biltong? (Animal) I still love the regular beef biltong (with some fat) but I wouldn't say no to a nice piece of gemsbok biltong.
- What tips would you give someone who wants to start making their own biltong? I would say they should be consistent and patient. When making it yourself for the first time try to cut the meat pieces similar sizes so that you can get use to the drying process (this will differ depending on what part of the world you in if you don't have a controlled system), also stick with a basic spice mix (you can get creative later :) ) and most importantly be patient, its worth the wait.
- Why should we eat biltong? What are the health benefits? Well most importantly its delicious, that's reason enough. Its also healthy due to it high protein low fat profile.
- What is your favorite recipe that incorporates biltong? I love a biltong potjie (a type of South African stew) and some shredded biltong in some soup is also a goodie.
Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us Maxine!
What an interesting topic...now... are you ready for some Biltong?!
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