The answer takes us back to around 500 years ago, but who actually invented the method of drying meat is still up for discussion. Some say it was one of the many indigenous tribes of North America who invented jerky — or "pemmican" — while others point to the Quechua people of the South American Andes as the true originators. Regardless of its roots, the end product has more or less stayed the same for hundreds of years: spiced, dried meat that's high in protein, and can be stored for long periods of time.
"Without the luxury of refrigeration, people had to find ways of preserving meat," says Andy Muntean of C-Star Provisions. "Drying it allows it to be stored and transported easily. Even though the modes of transportation have evolved over time (from horseback to road trips), the value of the product remains." With every country comes a different type of jerky that's unique to the people who inhabit the region. The jerky most Americans know and love is what the cowboys of the mid-1800s dried and ate while moving cattle.
Don Reeves of the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum explains that jerky "referred to sun-dried meat. You'd slaughter the animal – cattle, bison, deer, elk or antelope – and strip or jerk the meat." When the sun wouldn't suffice, cowboys would slow-roast the meat over a fire to achieve the smokey dry flavor. So, why did so many people turn to dried meat as opposed to well-cooked meat? Removing the moisture from meat makes it so "bacterial or fungal enzymes cannot react with the meat," which keeps the beef, turkey, pork or elk meat from spoiling, according to Jerkyholic, a website devoted to all things jerky. With the invention of preservatives like sodium nitrite (which blocks the growth of bacteria), you could very well squeeze a year out of a bag of jerky.
These days, companies are starting to move away from artificiality in lieu of a higher-quality, better-tasting, better-for-you product.
"We also don't use artificial flavors, nitrates, MSG or hormones," continues Muntean. "Not only is this the ethical thing to do, it just tastes better. Our jerky is insanely healthy for you, we don't pack it full of sodium and the only added sugar comes from organic honey. We are proud to offer a low-calorie, low-carb, low-fat, low-sugar and high-protein snack that satisfies special diets like paleo and keto."