Chef Rick HomeJerky is is dried, cured meat, and is probably a the number one "food" item sold at the 7-11. But you already know this. What you probably don't know is that it was invented in the Inca empire and was introduced to the U.S. during the California Gold Rush.

An Inca language group called Quechua raised alpaca (a camelo related to the llama) as livestock, mostly for wool, but also for protein. They would cure the raw flesh in salt from one of the salares (salt flats) and dry it in the altiplano desert sun. The result was meat which could be carried or stored without spoilage. The Quechua name for this meat was ch'arki.

Farther south (in Chile), the Mapuche (Araucanian), who traded with the Quechua, processed the flesh of the guanaco (another camelo that lived in lower elevations) in a similar manner, and the invading Spanish recorded the name of this meat as charqui. They gave the same name to cured, oven-dried (and sometimes smoked) beef. Charqui was an important source of protein for Chilean sailors and miners.

In 1849, among the first people to establish placeres (placers, or claims) during the California gold rush were Chilean miners and deserting sailors. Finding the local hardtack and rancid cured bacon unappetizing, the Chileans prepared their own harina tostada (toasted flour) and charqui and sold it to the prospectors or took it to the placers themselves. The beef raised in California mainly for tallow and hides was now to become a major food source for the growing population.

Before long, "beef jerky" was well known throughout California. In Chile, it's best known as the primary ingredient in the creole stew charquicán.

Chef Rick Home