South Africans love, and I mean LOVE, their sweets and sauces. It’s no wonder that many of their desserts combine a ton of sugar with lots of spicy and sweet sauces!
With a rich and diverse culture, South Africa’s most popular desserts reflect a variety of palettes for a tempting buffet of dessert options. Here is the top 20 most popular South African desserts and sweets.
1. Malva Pudding
Perhaps the most iconic South African dessert, malva pudding is served almost everywhere. A soft and springy cake with flavors of apricot jam and caramel is topped with a sweet creamy sauce and served with a thin custard and ice cream.
It was brought to SA by the Dutch, but made famous by Maggie Pepler, who taught cooking and even worked for South Africa’s ambassador in London, where, to their delight, she served the pudding to dignitaries and celebrities.
2. Milk Tart (Milk Tart)
Lighter and more delicate than a custard tart, a well-made Milk Tart is divine. The milk-based custard is flavored with cinnamon, sometimes with orange zest, and put in a shortcrust pastry.
Like any good dessert debate, there are strong opinions about whether the custard should be baked or refrigerated. Each method has its own merits, so let’s just enjoy it!
3. Potato Pudding (Potatoe Pudding)
Simple white potatoes are transformed into a smooth, creamy pudding sprinkled with cinnamon and served with deliciously spiced stewed fruit. A favorite in the Cape Malay community, you’ll find it at just about any family gathering or traditional gathering.
Hertzoggies are tarts filled with a delicious mix of apricot jam and coconut. They were invented when General JBM Hertzog campaigned to become prime minister, promising that he would give women the right to vote and that the Cape Malaysian people would have equal rights with whites.
It is said that the Malays were so excited that they created and named this treat for him. He won, but unfortunately he only kept his promise to women.
Although this fine little treat has a messy political history, it retains its elegance by being the perfect delicious accompaniment to English tea.
5. Tameletjie (gooey toffee)
Tameletjie, one of the oldest delicacies in the country, has become popular in various cultures, leading to many variations, originally including pine nuts and then expanding to almonds or other nuts, or coconut.
Tameletjie is a phrase commonly used in South Africa to describe a difficult or awkward situation. But this toffee is not something you want to get rid of quickly, although it can happen accidentally from sheer enjoyment!
6. Pumpkin Fritters
These little guys are so delicious and versatile that they can be served as a dessert, appetizer, side dish or snack. They are made simply by pureeing cooked pumpkin with flour, brown sugar, egg and vanilla and then baking until crisp.
Drizzle with lemon juice and cinnamon mixed with caster sugar, or serve with a caramel sauce. Season them with salt instead of sugar and make them savory. Yummy!
7. Milk kos
A great traditional dish made with simple and inexpensive ingredients; many regular grannies make this milk porridge.
Rapid preparation of milk boiled with flour until thickened and flavored with cinnamon and sugar, and sometimes topped with butter and a little bit of nectar or orange zest. A great way to warm up on a cold day.
8. Asynpoeding (Vinegar Pudding)
Similar in texture to malva pudding, asynpoeding uses vinegar in its sauce. Surprisingly, it refreshingly balances the sweetness of the pudding. hmm! Give Hazard a try and you’ll be sure to ask for more!
Similar to milk kos, but of Cape Malay origin, this milk porridge contains spices such as cardamom or cinnamon, rose water, vermicelli and sometimes sago to thicken the mix.
Boober is traditionally served on the 15th day of Ramadan to mark the middle of the fast, but it is so loved that it is enjoyed year round and by people of all religions.
10. Cookie Sisters
Although it has a somewhat controversial past, most agree that the recipe for koeksisters was brought to South Africa by the Dutch.
Donut dough well risen, then rolled into twine and braided, deep fried and dipped in ice cold sweet syrup while still hot. While a little tricky to perfect, they are worth the effort. Dough and gooey sweet syrup – even the imperfect ones should be delicious!
This is the more relaxed and exotic cousin of the cookie sisters. No need to braid or rush for syrup, this donut is simply formed into a large ball, baked and cooled for final dressing and revealing.
Being of Cape Malay origin (brought to the Western Cape from South Africa by Malaysians and other East Indians), fragrant spices such as ginger, cinnamon and cardamom are added before being soaked in syrup, complementing the appearance with a dusting of desiccated coconut to make it an attractive and elegant treat.
12. Fat cakes
In general, these fried dough balls are a very popular treat in many African countries. They are basically a lazy donut, crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside, without the hole. They are a common sweet breakfast or snack for many South Africans.
However, the name fat cakes inspire many different thoughts about what they are cooked in and how good they are for you if you eat too much of them. Oops!
South Africans love their tea time treats and crunchies are high on the list. With base ingredients of oats, desiccated coconut, and golden syrup, you’ll have a blast tasting this recipe as you make it.
Just like a simple granola bar, but much better, they can be crunchy, chewy, or anywhere in between and made into countless healthy and not-so-healthy flavor combinations. Oh, the fun you’ll have!
14. Peppermint Crispy Pie
In addition to being famous for the first heart transplants and inventing the CT scan, South Africa changed people’s lives with the invention of the Peppermint Crisp.
This creamy mix of caramel, coconut biscuits and Peppermint Crisp chocolate bars comes together with dollops of whipped cream for a super sweet, precise dessert.
15. Pancake (Pancake)
Of course, pancakes are not South African in origin, but they play such a big part in the kitchen here that they might as well have been.
Thicker than pancakes but thinner than flapjacks, they’re rolled with many kinds of sweet and savory fillings, but mostly just cinnamon sugar. However, you can use a knife and fork if you feel like it.
Some Indian dishes can only be found in South Africa, especially in Durban (try the Bunny Chow!), which has the greatest concentration of people of Indian descent in the country, and one of the largest Indian-populated cities outside of India. Of course, with such a cultural influence, you will find many traditional Indian sweets.
Jalebi is one of the best known, found in shops, home kitchens and restaurants. It’s just deep-fried batter soaked in honey or sugar syrup. You can infuse the syrup with spices and scents such as cardamom or rose water. It is crunchy, crunchy, syrupy and sweet. yum!
17. Queen Cakes
These simple cakes are as elegant as their name suggests. A soft doughy batter is mixed with basic baking ingredients to create a light and airy cross between a vanilla muffin and a scone.
You can spice it up with currants or powdered sugar, or just leave them alone. A fixture in many households.
South Africans love their custard and eat it with cake, biscuits, fruit, jelly or whatever. Of course, if you can have all this deliciousness together in one dessert, even better! And then voila! trifle!
Rusks are simply double-baked biscuits and are a staple in many South African homes, especially in African communities, another legacy of the Dutch.
While not technically a dessert, you can now find this cookie in a variety of tempting, sweet flavors and the best way to get them is by dipping them into your tea or coffee for the perfect amount of time. Too short and you’ll gnaw away, too long and you’ll fish it out of your cup. Sweet and fun, sounds like dessert to me!
20. Bombay Crush
Another tip of the hat for Indian culture rounds out this list. The Bombay Crush is said to have originated in Persia, but has undergone a modern revitalization in Durban.
It’s basically a milkshake, but much better! Milk or cream, rose water or syrup, elachie (cardamom) syrup, sabja seeds (these resemble chia seeds but are from the sweet basil plant), and lots and lots of vanilla ice cream make this a refreshingly heavenly dessert drink on a hot day.
These are just 20 reasons to plan your trip to South Africa! Oh, but one last treat for you. Make sure your visit to SA is complete by trying Amarula. Undoubtedly, nothing is more quintessentially South African than the creamy amarula, the beloved liqueur made from the marula fruit. Add it to cocktails, your morning coffee by the fire, drink it right on the rocks after dinner, or browse the many recipes for Amarula infused desserts such as Amarula Ice Cream, Amarula Cheesecake, Amarula Tiramisu, Amarula Malva Pudding or Chocolate and Amarula trifle. You can’t really go wrong!
No matter where you end up in this vast and luscious country, you are sure to be welcomed with warm smiles and amazing desserts.
If you’re interested in South African cuisine, check out our story on the best South African dishes (sweet and savory).