Jerky Facts

Does Beef Jerky Have Sugar? What You Need to Know

Sugar-free beef jerky is difficult to find because many commercial beef jerky makers add natural or artificial sweeteners to make up for the costly ingredients and time-intensive jerky making process. But for those looking for sugar-free jerky, there are a growing number of options that are categorized as keto beef jerky or old fashioned beef jerky.

We’ve been handcrafting beef jerky for over 90+ years and four generations. We produce thousands of pounds of artisan jerky on a weekly basis in our commercial jerky factory, located in the heart of DTLA. Our team is composed of professional jerky makers, food scientists, culinary experts, and snack food pros.  

We formulate, develop, and test all kinds of jerky, some with sugar and some without. If you are looking for a beef jerky that is not sweet, check our sugar-free beef jerky made without any added sweeteners. Or if you're looking for a sugar-free snack that's also crunchy, airy, and packed with protein, check out our new Beef Jerky Crisps.

We’re going to pull back the curtain and give you a deep dive into why most jerky products have sugar. 

Why is Beef Jerky Sweet?

Sweetness in beef jerky can come from a variety of sweeteners including white sugar, brown sugar, coconut sugar, honey, corn syrup, molasses, maple syrup, agave nectar, and more. 

Each of these ingredients have different properties, but they all contribute varying degrees of sweetness to the final product.

Does Beef Jerky Contain Sugar?

Beef jerky can contain sugar, but it depends on the added ingredients. There can be anywhere from 0g of sugar per serving up to 10g of sugar per serving.

The best way to determine if beef jerky contains sugar is to read the ingredient list and nutrition facts label. 

The USDA requires commercial jerky producers to list all ingredients in the beef jerky product, so if you purchased jerky from a reputable producer, you can trust what’s on the package.   

People's Choice Beef Jerky offers a range of sugar-free options.

Why is Sugar Added to Beef Jerky?

Sugar is added to beef jerky for two primary reasons: to make up for the costly ingredients and time-intensive jerky making process and to make the jerky softer and more moist.

1. Jerky Making is a Time-Intensive and Costly Process

In its simplest form, jerky is cooked and dehydrated meat. The moisture content within the meat is removed through a form of heat treatment.

Different types of heat treatment include gas-powered ovens, traditional smoke houses, or even dried by the sun in the most traditional format.

During the cooking process, a typical batch of jerky loses anywhere between 50 to 70% of its original weight, primarily in water. The process of removing moisture is the critical factor in transforming raw meat into a shelf-stable, ready-to-eat jerky snack. Hence, the name dried meat.

In other words, it can take between 3-4 pounds of raw meat to get 1 pound of finished jerky. From an expense perspective, this process can multiply the overall cost by a minimum of 3x…and that’s before adding in all the other costs.

To compensate for the inherently expensive nature of beef jerky, many manufacturers will add either natural or artificial sweeteners (such as sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and honey) to add weight back into the final product.

Mark Bianchetti standing in the jerky factory

Third generation owner and operator, Mark Bianchetti, has a famous saying, “weight in, weight out.” Sugar-based ingredients do not cook out of the jerky, offering a way to achieve more weight in the final product at a reduced cost.

Per pound, sugar costs much less than beef. Some manufacturers will pass this savings back to the customer through a reduction in price of their jerky, while other manufacturers will keep the additional profit for themselves.

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2. Sugar aids in preservation and moisture retention

The second reason that sugar is added to beef jerky is for technical and textural reasons.

Sugar is a natural preservative which can help keep a jerky fresh for longer. It marries with the salt in the jerky formulation to create a more robust product, less likely to spoil. 

Sugar is also hygroscopic which allows it to retain moisture from the air. This helps create a softer, moister jerky that lasts longer. Beef jerky that contains sugar tends to be moister where sugar-free beef jerky can be drier.

What about sugar in People’s Choice Beef Jerky?

No Sugar, No Problem. Shop our Sugar-Free Jerky.

We do things a little differently around here.

First, we offer a full collection of products that are completely free of any sugar or carbohydrates. Yes, you heard correctly. Beef Jerky that is made without any sugar (0 carb, 0 sugar).

These products fit within our 90+ year-old family tradition that celebrates a simple, handmade process and all-natural ingredients.

Shop: Sugar Free Jerky

That’s not to say we avoid sugar all the time. Some of our most popular products feature sugar as a key ingredient of a larger spice blend. Instead of stuffing the recipe with sugar, however, we use sweet ingredients sparingly to achieve balance in the flavor profile. When possible we opt for higher quality and more natural sweeteners, such as cane sugar and honey.

So whether you’re looking for a sugar-free beef jerky or something with a little sweetness, rest assured we’ve got you covered. 

Want to learn more about beef jerky? Read our article on why beef jerky is so expensive.