Jerky is a form of meat preservation in which fresh meat is dried to prevent it from spoiling. The word “jerky” comes from a South American native tribe called the Quechua, originally part of the ancient Inca empire, as early as 1550. They called it ch’arki, which means “to burn (meat)”. The Quechua used meat from the alpaca and llamas that was boned and defatted, cut into slices and pounded thin, and rubbed with salt. The meat was then sun dried or smoked over a fire. The Spanish Conquistadors picked up on this and eventually named it Charqui. When they invaded the Americas they saw that the natives of North America were drying meat from buffalo, elk, and deer as well. It did not take long before the natives adopted the Spanish term, Charqui, only adding their accent and the word “jerky” was born. This method of preserving meats enabled people to consume high protein fuel that was readily available and eat it when food was scarce. Jerky became a staple foodstuff for early American pioneers and cowboys. Over the years people discovered that the meat could be made more palatable by the addition of various spices, consuming it for its taste rather than out of necessity. Many flavors, styles, and different types of meats have been prepared as jerky and is it is now one of the world’s leading snacks.
Another similar product, pemmican, was developed by the North American Cree Indians. Pemmican is a concentrated mixture of fat and protein from large game animals such as buffalo, elk or deer, with the addition of specific ingredients that were usually whatever was available, such as cranberries and saskatoon berries. The meat was cut into thin slices and dried over a slow fire or in the hot sun until it was hard and brittle. It was then pounded into very small pieces using stones. The shredded meat was mixed with melted fat. If available, dried fruits were pounded into powder and added to the meat/fat mixture. The resulting mixture was then packed into rawhide pouches for storage.
Contrary to popular belief, beef jerky is actually a healthy snack. It is an excellent source of protein, low in fat and calories, and has minimal carbohydrates per serving. It is a no mess snack, great for lunches, after school snacks, traveling and camping. Jerky also has a long shelf life, which makes it perfect for family preparedness kits.