Why does jerky have a high salt content?
Jerky is high in protein, low in fat, and with a bit of care, can be made “all natural” with no added preservatives. However, you cannot escape the fact that beef jerky has high salt content, and therefore is normally high in sodium. To generalise, there are two main reasons for this:
- Food Safety
Sodium has an important role in our nutrition, especially for elite athletes. But like all good things, moderation is required. In some specific cases, salt intake should be minimalised, so we’re often asked about the role of salt in dried meat products.
1. Food Safety: Salt acts as a natural preservative in beef jerky
Food safety is the most important factor when making jerky, either professionally like us, or at home for your friends and family. One incredible thing about jerky is that, unlike normal meat products, it can be kept refrigerated for years.
This is because any dangerous pathogens (e.g., salmonella) are killed when the meat is dried above 65C in a process called lethality. Once “lethality” is achieved, it is important that any contaminating pathogens cannot regrow in beef jerky. To achieve this, jerky products must have a low “water activity”.
Water Activity relates to the”Active water” in a product. It is similar to moisture content. Products with less water will have lower water activities. However, you can also reduce the water activity in a product by adding humectants. A humectant is something in a product that binds with water, making it unavailable for pathogens that require water to grow. So, you can reduce water activity by making products with really low water contents, or also by adding humectants like salt and sugar.
So – the main reason we add salt to jerky is to make it shelf stable. It binds with water in our jerky and lowers the “Water activity”. At KOOEE! we have to rely on our salt, because our product has no artificial preservatives and no processed sugars.
2. Flavour: salt improves the flavour of food
There was a time where salt was an incredibly valuable commodity in world trade. Even today it is high praise to be “worth your salt”.
We think the reputation is well deserved. Salt is probably the most versatile seasoning ever discovered. Most food can be improved with salt, including chocolate, cheese, salads, and meat.
In our case, salt helps bring out the savoury, meaty “umami” flavours in our jerky. A jerky made with high quality meat and a good salt profile requires no additional seasoning.
The salt pictured is courtesy of our friends Pure Paleo