Indigenous peoples of Southern Africa, such as the Khoikhoi, preserved meat by slicing it into strips, curing it with salt, and hanging it up to dry. After European settlers (Dutch, German, French) arrived in southern Africa in the early 17th century, they changed the curing process by using vinegar, saltpetre and spices including pepper, coriander and cloves
The need for preservation in the new colony was pressing. Building up herds of livestock took a long time but with indigenous game in abundance, traditional methods were available to preserve large masses of meat such as found in the eland in a hot climate. Biltong as it is today evolved from the dried meat carried by the wagon-travelling Voortrekkers, who needed stocks of durable food as they migrated from the Cape Colony, north and north-eastward (away from British rule) into the interior of Southern Africa during the Great Trek. The meat was preserved and hung to be dried for a fortnight after which it would be ready for packing in cloth bags.