Jerkies – Ancient Treats for Modern Dogs
What is Jerky?
Jerky is lean meat that has been trimmed of fat, cut into strips, and then dried to prevent spoilage. If it’s made from quality meats, jerky is a healthy, low-fat, high-protein and nutrient-dense treat for humans and dogs alike. The removal of water makes jerky extremely lightweight. A pound of meat weights only three to four ounces after being made into jerky. Because most of the moisture is removed, jerky is shelf stable and can be stored without refrigeration. The scientific principal at play when preserving food by drying it is that by removing moisture, enzymes cannot efficiently contact or react with the food. This prevents the food from turning bad.
Drying is one of the oldest forms of food preservation known to humankind. What was most likely an accidental discovery allowed our ancestors to both store food for long periods of time and to have an easy-to-carry, highly nutritional food source to take with them on journeys. There is evidence, that 30,000 years ago, the Neanderthals made jerky from the mammoth they hunted.¹ This suggests that they must have understood that dried meat lasted much longer than fresh meat, and was not subject to the decay and insect infestation that plagued the storage of uncured raw meats.
Today’s common name “jerky” dates back to 1500s to a South American Quechua Inca tribe, which called their dried and salted llama and alpaca meats “ch’arki”.² In North America, the Cree Indians made “Pemmican,” a jerky variation consisting of dried meat, berries, and fat.³ Jerky reached the height of its popularity during the expansion into North America, where traders and explorers prized it as an essential source of nutrition as they traveled West with limited accessibility to fresh food and supplies along the way.
Nowadays, jerkies are omnipresent on store shelves, no matter where we do our shopping. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of these products are mass produced in factory environments. Most of these jerky snacks have little in common with the dried meats our ancestors made. To increase profit margins, many of the mass-market jerkies are made of lower quality ground or pressed meats and are enriched with additives and preservatives. In stark contrast to these high-volume products are small-batch, handcrafted jerkies coming from a limited but growing number of artisans. These single or limited ingredient jerkies are typically flavorful, healthy and nutritious. This is valid for both jerkies for human consumption and jerkies as dog treats.
Jerky as Dog Treat
A word of caution: the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has very specific requirements for which products for human consumption can be labeled as “jerky”. However, requirements for pet treats are far less restrictive. It is therefore recommended that pet owners study the list of ingredients before deciding on a specific product. Ingredients for pet food and treats are to be listed in descending order by their predominance. If the first ingredient is not meat, and/or a large number of other ingredients is listed, be cautious. This so-called “jerky” might not be the healthy treat you expect.
When it comes to real jerkies, dogs just love them! And you can give them in good conscience to your four-legged companion, even if your dog is on a raw diet or if it has sensitivities to grains or similar ingredients. Jerky treats are available in a wide variety of meats, with chicken and beef being the most popular choices in the United States. While most of the available jerkies are intended and appreciated “just” as treats, some specialty jerkies are made for specific purposes, such as beef heart jerky bites for puppy and dog training.
Regardless of the type of meat or their form factor, the best of the best are all-natural, pure meat single ingredient jerky treats that are entirely free from any additives or preservatives – based on the same time-proven recipes developed some 30,000 years ago.
¹ Viegas J: Neanderthals made mammoth jerky. Science on NBCNEWS.com; 2009.
² Ralat JR: A brief history and round-up of jerky. Cowboys & Indians; 2013.
³ Foster JE, Baird D: Pemmican. Encyclopedia Britannica.