It’s tough to know who made jerky first and where the idea was born in history. Maybe it was an accidental process but history as we know it has been determined that most likely it was being created at some point between the 1300’s to the 1500’s in an Incan tribe known as the Quechua.
The Incas, who used llamas and alpaca for their meat primarily, were ingenious with their preservation methods. They learned that in order to survive they needed a method to store food all over their Empire. Freeze drying became a method that they discovered and used to feed their troops that moved across their empire continually and families.
As with all of their food they needed to preserve, such as potatoes, meat and vegetables, the Incas would leave the food out at night and allow it to freeze in the icy night air. When the heat of the day hit it, the moisture would start to dry out the food and begin the preservation process. The drying of meat eventually evolved into using heat.
The word Jerky is actually derived from the Quechua word ch’arki which means to burn and it was assumed this referred to meat. As we know now, to dry meat into jerky requires a low temperature drying of the meat and some salt to inhibit the bacteria from taking over.
Ch’arki is still popular and eaten today in Peru and Bolivia by reconstituting the meat through the cooking process. Even with the new processes, the old process passed down through the generations is still viable.
Jerky and ch’arki may be one and the same and they have a very long history in many parts of the world. Through the years we will see jerky develop and become the product that we love and enjoy today.