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The Origins of Beef Jerky

Beef Jerky is a snack enjoyed by millions of consumers annually around the world with sales exceeding $1 billion dollars in 2017. Jerky is available in a wide variety of salty, sweet and spicy flavors for those who have a certain taste bud preference. Though beef jerky continues to gain popularity for its nutritious qualities very few domestic consumers understand its early history and international origins.

Jerky in the New World

When Europeans migrated to the new world in the 1700s they discovered that Native Americans were preserving meat to consume during times where fresh meat was not readily available. The word jerky comes from the word Ch'arki, a name derived from the Incan Quechuan language that translates to dried meat. Native Americans preserved delicious game meats like rabbit and bison and kept it handy as a snack while hunting in cold winter months. Preserving meat allowed Native Americans to rehydrate jerky at a later time. Native Americans would rehydrate bison and deer meat in water and tasty broths to share with other tribe members as part of communion. Jerky was traded amongst new settlers of the new world and the natives for other food items and animal furs. The skill of preserving meat was passed down to new settlers who began to preserve meat during their excursions and migrations to other areas of North America.  

Types of Jerky

The most consumed form of jerky in the United States is beef jerky. It is believed however that bison jerky was the first ever jerky produced by the Incas in South America. Aside from beef and bison Native Americans also preserved leaner white meat jerky from poultry like goose and turkey once these animals migrated over with new settlers. Elk, caribou, salmon and rabbit were also other popular forms of jerky preserved by Native Americans. Aside from the Incas, North American tribes like the Clatsop and Teton Sioux also prepared and consumed jerky regularly. Though less popular amongst tribes dog meat was also made into jerky as documented by Lewis & Clark who declined the offer. The tradition of preserving meat was passed on from generation to generation amongst other skills such as harvesting and hunting.

Future of Jerky

Beef Jerky is a very fast growing snack in the United States. Meat snacks in the US reached $2.8 billion dollars in 2017 a 3% rise from the year prior. Though many Americans are adopting vegetarian and vegan diets free from any animal products many meat eating Americans are increasing their meat consumption by adopting high protein low carb diets. Beef jerky appeals to consumers who are gluten free, low calories and paleo as well. As beef jerky gains popularity jerky brands continue to develop trendy flavors and offerings. Jerky has a unique past and a promising future.

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