Jerky's got pull in survey of snack-food sales

January 31, 2001|By KNIGHT RIDDER /TRIBUNE

What's the hottest snack food in the country? Chips? Cookies? Chocolate? None of them. Thanks to Atkins and other high-protein diets, it's meat snacks.

Sales of meat snacks -- think Slim Jim and Turkey Jerky -- increased more than those of any other nibble in 1999, shooting up 28.5 percent, according to a report from the Snack Food Association.

Some of this can be attributed to the Atkins and other diets, but the meat-snack industry has been launching high-profile ads and has gotten better at distribution, says Ann Wilkes, spokeswoman for the Snack Food Association. It also has reached out to target audiences by sponsoring country-music festivals and sports events.

Even poultry giant Tyson Foods is jumping into jerky, with Tyson Dried Sausage Sticks in test markets. Meat snacks are coming in new flavors, too: mesquite, teriyaki, nacho, Tabasco and pizza.

The popularity of jerky is not limited to the United States.

You can find jerkies all over the world -- biltong in South Africa, pemmican (dried meat mixed with fat, sometimes with dried fruit) in North America, tasajo in the Caribbean (the name means tassel, because of a fancied resemblance of the strips of meat).

Before refrigeration, jerky was often a necessity because drying the meat preserved it.

Nomadic herdsmen depend on jerky, and mountainous areas, because of their abundance of cool, dry air, are often meat-drying centers. Tibet has its sha kampa, the Alps their bundnerfleisch. Our word, jerky, comes from the Andes, where ch'arki means dried meat in the Quechua language of Peru.

In most of those places, jerky is not just a nibble but a cooking ingredient as well. Ethiopian cooks throw jerky into dishes such as ye-k'want'a zilbo, stewed with onions, butter, red pepper and ground beans. The Mongols make bortso soup by boiling jerky with onions and noodles. This is similar to sopa de arroz y carne seca, a rice-and-jerky soup popular on the cattle ranchos of old California.

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