It’s tasty, versatile, and easy to eat. And it’s the favorite snack of people around the world.
What more is there to know about beef jerky?
As it turns out, quite a bit!
We’ve compiled the coolest, craziest, and most intriguing facts about beef jerky right here. Grab a bag and enjoy!
Five Beef Jerky Facts Every Jerky Lover Should Know
1. Beef Jerky Has Been Around for Centuries
It’s believed that jerky was first created thousands of years ago by Native Americans, who dried and preserved buffalo meat into jerky.
But the proven history of beef jerky has been traced back to around 1550 when it’s believed to have been invented by the indigenous Quechua people of South America.
Beef Jerky’s Origin Story
Back then, Quechua territory encompassed what’s now Peru, along with parts of Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Chile. The Quechua people developed many clever tactics for surviving in the punishing highlands of the Andes.
One such tactic: the creation of beef jerky.
Hunting was a critical part of Quechua’s life, and meat from kills provided the nutrition the people needed to thrive. The problem was that successful hunting was highly dependent on the time of year — and without refrigerators, fresh meat didn’t keep long enough for the people to build up food reserves.
Additionally, explorers and other travelers needed to be able to eat on their journeys. But carrying fresh meat around was impractical, unsafe, and insufficient.
So the Quechua developed a method of drying and preserving their meat in compact, nutritionally dense, long-lasting pieces they called “ch’arki” — literally meaning “dry meat.”
And it’s from the word “ch’arki” that we derived the food’s modern name: jerky.
History is fuzzy on the exact origins of jerky, but it’s likely that the Quechua and the Native Americans of North America each developed jerky independently. One thing’s for sure: this tasty treat has been a staple of our lives for centuries.
2. Beef Jerky Isn’t the Only Type of Jerky
Though most of the jerky we know and love today is made from beef, pretty much any meat can become jerky if it’s properly dried, salted, and seasoned.
Wild game meat is particularly well-suited for making jerky: it’s lean and usually comes from very large animals whose meat would otherwise be impossible to consume in a timely manner. Venison, elk, moose, wild boar, and caribou are frequently turned into jerky by hunters.
Game birds like turkey, duck, pheasant, and goose can also be made into jerky. Meat from fowl and poultry is often leaner than red meat, and it can be enjoyed by those who are allergic or sensitive to red meat.
For those who require a low-sodium or low-calorie diet, buffalo jerky is becoming increasingly popular. And many consider it more flavorful than beef jerky, perhaps due to the fact that most buffalo jerky comes from grass-fed, hormone-free bison.
Another great low-sodium jerky choice: fish-jerky! Tuna, salmon, and trout are the most common types of fish jerky, but all fish jerky contains essential omega-3 fatty acids and plenty of protein.
And the most adventurous snackers can sample exotic jerky made from alligator, snake, ostrich, alpaca, yak, and even kangaroo! These animals may not sound appetizing at first, but in jerky form, they’re surprisingly delicious and full of flavor.
3. Beef Jerky Has Been to Space
Feeding astronauts in space is a tricky task. Their food needs to be lightweight yet nutritionally dense, especially in terms of protein, and it also needs to remain safely edible for years in zero gravity.
That’s why, since 1996, astronauts have made sure that their journeys into space include Final Frontier beef jerky. In fact, one astronaut, Mark Shuttleworth, smuggled some onboard in his space suit because he couldn’t bear to leave Earth without it!
Fortunately, the benefits of beef jerky are so well-established that smuggling is no longer required. NASA, Roscosmos (the Russian space agency), and others from around the world have supplied their astronauts with ample supplies of beef jerky for their voyages.
Astronauts claim that the taste of beef jerky reminds them of home and keeps them grounded while they’re floating in zero-g. Plus it’s easy to eat — it can be torn apart without tiny pieces flying off everywhere!
Beef jerky is also virtually weightless, which matters on a space shuttle where even a few ounces can throw off calculations substantially. And its high protein content is essential for the health of the astronauts, whose bodies will shut down in space without proper nutrition.
4. Beef Jerky Pairs Beautifully with Wine
We think of beef jerky as a snack for working folks, adventurers, and bodybuilders. And we think of fancy wine as a staple for socialites, royalty, and those who enjoy the posh things in life.
So combining the two seems like an odd choice to make. But in Rome and many other regions known for their wine, that’s exactly what happens.
In Rome, jerky was originally made with donkey or horse; today, most Italian jerky is made from pork or beef instead. Regardless of the source of the jerky, it’s serious business in Rome: a huge amount of care and precision goes into drying and seasoning the jerky.
Fennel seeds and small hot peppers called pepperoncini, along with salt, are frequently used to season Roman jerky. The resulting jerky, called coppiette, is often served at bars and restaurants as it creates a feeling of thirst — which, of course, results in an order of drinks for the table!
But fine wineries and vineyards also offer gourmet jerky as part of their wine tastings. Different varieties of coppiette pair wonderfully with different varieties of wine — perhaps a sweet Riesling with a hot and spicy jerky, or a classic Cabernet Sauvignon with a simply-seasoned savory jerky.
Think about it: pairing the right wine with your steak can elevate a good meal into a great one. And beef jerky may not be as hefty and juicy as a steak, but it’s just as flavorful!
5. The Beef Jerky Industry Is Booming
The beef jerky industry is a force to be reckoned with, second only to potato chips in the snack market. In the US alone, beef jerky companies generated $1.4 billion in revenue in 2018, a figure that’s expected to grow by 4.2% every year until at least 2022.
That’s a much higher rate of growth than competing snack industries, like chips. As a whole, the chip industry is worth double the value of the beef jerky industry, but the chip industry grew just 1.7% in 2017.
And over 126 million Americans — nearly 40% of the US population — consume beef jerky every year.
Why Is Beef Jerky So Popular?
Perhaps this increase in popularity is due to the rise of health-conscious diets like keto, paleo, and other low-sugar, high-protein regimens. In a 2018 survey, 7% of Americans follow the paleo diet, and 3% follow the keto diet.
For both of these diets, beef jerky is a snack-time staple. It’s low in carbohydrates and high in protein, and its bite-sized nature and savory taste satisfy the cravings dieters get for potato chips and other unhealthy snacks.
Or maybe beef jerky’s popularity has grown thanks to the emergence of gourmet jerky brands offering unique, high-quality jerky at consumer-friendly prices. For a long time, many people avoided beef jerky due to the relatively low quality and the high price of popular jerky brands.
But new jerky companies have emphasized quality and nutrition, sourcing their meats from organic, free-range, hormone-free, and antibiotic-free farms. These companies also focus on using whole ingredients rather than piecing their jerky together from byproducts and adding fillers.
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Consumers simply feel better about spending their money on food that’s well-made, ethically sourced, and good for their health. And now that beef jerky ticks all of those boxes, it’s no surprise that it’s such a popular snack choice.
Whatever the cause, the beef jerky industry is growing fast, and it doesn’t look like it’ll be slowing down anytime soon. There’s never been a better time to enjoy all the flavor and nutrition that beef jerky provides!
Last update on 2022-09-22
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"You might be a redneck if you think that beef jerky and moon pies are two of the major food groups."
-- Jeff Foxworthy