Learn everything there is to know about the protein-packed munchie gaining popularity among dieters and snackers alike.
Thanks to the rise in popularity of healthy treats, jerky has become one of the top-selling salty snacks, second only to potato chips. The on-the-go munchie is now available in innovative flavors like raspberry jalapeño and you can find grass-fed varieties for relatively low-prices; making it a cost-effective method of raking in protein. But before you drop $25 a year on meat snacks, as the average American household does, consider these notes from food investigator Mark Schatzker.
Jerky isn’t always made from beef.
While your mind might automatically jump to beef when you think of jerky, the snack can be produced from an array of meats, including turkey, venison, ostrich, pork, chicken and salmon, Schatzker says. To satisfy the salty cravings of adventurous eaters, companies are even creating jerkies made from exotic meats, like alpaca, alligator, wild boar, and kangaroo.
It can be made a bunch of different ways.
In commercial settings, jerky is made by drying strips of meat low and slow, which gives the meat its signature chewy texture. Producers can either preserve the meat by salting it, which boosts its flavor, or smoking it, a traditional method that flavors and dries the meat simultaneously, and they may add chemical preservatives like sodium nitrite. After the meat is depleted of moisture, the snack is just one-fourth of its original weight. Jerky labels can also give you insight into how the snack was produced; if the package says “beef jerky,” the jerky was made from one single piece of beef, while a “beef jerky chunked and formed” statement means it was produced from chunks of meat that were molded, formed, and cut into strips.
There’s a difference between meat sticks and jerky.
The name may imply a similarity to jerky, but meat sticks are actually what Schatzker calls a food product, as it’s made from ingredients like mechanically separated chicken and sodium nitrite to prevent the meat from turning gray. They typically resemble a sausage, so stick to the crispy, bacon-looking strips next time a jerky craving hits.
Jerky is an ideal snack for dieters.
Whether you’re following a keto or paleo diet, jerky is an acceptable snack. Beef jerky boasts 9.4 grams of protein and just three grams of carbs per serving, and it’s turkey counterpart rakes in four more grams of the muscle-building macro, but only two more grams of carbs, Schatzker says. Since the meat’s fat is trimmed away during processing, jerky is super lean and a great snack for those watching their fat intake.
Beware of the sodium and sugar.
Since a one-ounce serving of beef jerky contains 590 milligrams of sodium — a quarter of the daily recommended intake of sodium — jerky lovers who need to cut back on salt should look for varieties that have less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving and eat just one serving. Sugar can also be found in some brands and flavors of jerky, so if you’re on a sugar-free meal plan, keep an eye on the labels.
It can be vegetarian too.
Plant-eaters, rejoice. Vegetarians and vegans can still get a protein boost from jerky thanks to varieties made from ingredients like soy, seitan, shiitake mushrooms, and coconut. Just like beef jerky, coconut jerky, made from young coconut meat, has the leathery feel and is offered in tasty flavors, including teriyaki and chili. Other brands have perfected their ability to concoct watermelon, pineapple, and eggplant jerkies that have the same umami flavor as the real deal.