What makes South Africa so special, is the melting pot of diversity seen in all facets of daily life. From culture and heritage to different national foods and cuisines. This includes South African desserts with a beautiful array of distinct flavors and taste pallets.
For anyone traveling to South Africa, food plays an important role and offers you an exciting adventure if you decide to explore the different cultural cuisines. Food is also a great way to bond and connect with the people you encounter.
What’s Special About South African Desserts?
South African desserts are as diverse and different as the people that live there. As a melting pot of the world’s peoples, you can be sure to find cuisine from almost all nations and empires.
Because of the vastly different ethnicities that settled within South Africa over the last few hundred years, you will observe the divergent traditions and culinary tastes in the country.
While the history of South Africa’s Apartheid and colonization is a painful blemish on their history, there’s one thing most South Africans are proud of today: their ability to embrace hope and diversity. The cultures, traditions, and foods that were brought to South Africa have become what the world now knows: a Rainbow Nation of people and foods.
From the Dutch and French to the Cape Malays and Indians – South African desserts have it all. But with a South African twist! These are some of the South African sweets you should get your hands on.
Most Famous South African Dessert
Melktert (Custard Milk Tart)
By far one of the most beloved South African desserts is the Melktert. Made from simple traditional ingredients of sugar, eggs, milk, and flour, you can serve this light and buttery-soft dessert with a generous amount of cinnamon sprinkled over the top.
The contrast between the soft filling and the biscuit-crumble base has a beautiful effect, leaving you craving more. Served warm or cold depending on your preference and topped with caramel.
South Africans would argue that cold is the only way to eat this yummy dessert. Luckily, there’s no wrong answer, because South African desserts like Melktert have roots in many cultures, and are delicious regardless.
Popular South African Desserts
Lemon Meringue Pie
We can all agree that Lemon Meringue is one of the most delicious treats if you enjoy sweet and subtle sour.
Like many sweets in South Africa, Lemon Meringue did not originate in this country despite its popularity here. Rather, it originated in the 1800s by an American cook, Elizabeth Goodwell. And we thank her from the bottom of our hearts!
This sweet, zesty dessert is made from cornstarch, egg yolks, sugar, fresh lemon juice, and you guessed it, zest! The crumble crust is traditionally made from Tennis Biscuits in South Africa, egg whites, and powdered sugar.
The sweet condensed milk center contrasted with the crunch of the biscuit base is out of this world! You certainly don’t want to miss out on this delicacy.
Pampoenkoekie (Pumpkin Fritters)
When savory and sweet meet, you get the Pampoenkoekie, also called Pumpkin Fritters. This South African dessert is commonly enjoyed in daily life for good reason! They offer a diverse taste pallet and can be used as desserts, savory appetizers, or quick snacks.
Made from pumpkin, flour, sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract, the reason they’re so loved and common in South Africa is that they’re easy to make. Once deep fried, you can add lemon juice and caster sugar mixed with cinnamon, and drizzle the syrup over the fritters before you serve. The crunchy outside and soft warm inside makes for a powerful and delicious treat!
Melkkos (Milk Food)
The Afrikaans are known to love porridge, and Melkkos is a superstar. When it comes to traditional South African desserts, Melkkos can be enjoyed in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Made from simple and easy-to-come-by ingredients like flour, milk, sugar, and butter, you won’t be sorry that you tried this household staple.
Quick and easy to prepare, Melkkos is the perfect meal in the cold mornings of winter when you crave something hot, sweet, and delicious. Yes, this means it is a relatively popular breakfast in South Africa!
Peppermint Crisp Tart
When you say South African desserts, a few will pop to mind immediately, and Peppermint Crisp Tart is almost certainly one of them.
The delectable treat checks all the boxes for cold desserts: It looks amazing, it smells delicious, and it tastes like all the best desserts combined into one powerful sweet treat.
Made from a blend of biscuits, fresh whipped cream, caramel or chocolate of your choice, and Peppermint Crisp chocolate. The combination of delicate and rich fillings with the crunch of biscuit layers will leave you in a state of wonderful euphoria.
It’s no wonder that Peppermint Crisp Tart is one of the most beloved South African sweets in the dessert category – you simply have to try it to understand.
While pancakes date back to before 600 BCE in ancient Greece, they’ve been such a staple in the food and cuisine of South Africa – for many natives, it’s hard to imagine a life without this delicacy.
Pannenkoek is the original Dutch word, it then merged into Afrikaans, called Pannekoek, and quite literally means pancake.
The ingredients are simple and easy to make, consisting of flour, eggs, butter, and milk. Fried in a pan and served rolled up, many South Africans sprinkle lemon juice, sugar, and cinnamon before rolling their pancakes into lovely wraps.
The beauty of pancakes is that you’re only limited by your imagination when it comes to the fillings. Savory, sweet, or both!
The Cape Malay people play an important role in South African desserts and cuisine. A family favorite that’s popular in many households is Boeber. This porridge is similar to Melkkos and is a regular choice during the celebrations of Ramadan, served to observe the halfway point of fasting on the 15th day.
Made with coconut milk, vermicelli, cinnamon, sago, and sugar, many people in South Africa from many cultures enjoy this delicious porridge because it is both simple, sweet, and delightfully tasty.
Custards and biscuits are almost essential when it comes to desserts in South Africa. The trifle is the best of both worlds, filled with cake pieces, jelly, biscuits, custard, and even fruit.
Originating in Britain, South African sweets and desserts often feature flavors and themes from their old settlers, and the trifle is one of those.
Around Christmas time, many households start stocking up on their ingredients, getting ready to make the perfect trifle for the whole family. Brandy and other alcohol are also favorite ingredients for many, which is always a bonus around the holiday season.
If you have a sweet tooth, this rich and varied dessert with its many sweet fillings is a perfect choice.
South Africa proudly has one of the largest populations of Indians outside of India, and their diverse and rich cuisine has heavily influenced the foods of South Africa. The Bombay Crush, while not a typical dessert, is a rich part of South African desserts. Most often called a milkshake, it’s made up of milk, rose syrup/rose water, cardamom powder, sabja seeds, and a good amount of ice cream.
Sweets in South Africa are so diverse and often come in the form of electrifying and sweet drinks. The sweet, refreshing effect of the rosewater and the cold from the ice cream makes the Bombay Crush a divine drink on a warm summer’s day.
If you’re looking for a cold dessert shake that will make you fall head over heels in love, you can’t go wrong with this traditional drink. Grab one and chill at the beautiful beaches in Cape Town.
Sweets In South Africa
It’s not exactly settled facts, but all we know for sure is that Koeksisters came to South Africa in the past, some say by the Dutch settlers. It seems almost irrelevant now, as this is one of the most common South African desserts.
Made from dough that’s twisted or braided and deep fried – once cooked, it’s soaked in a perfect sticky syrup. The crunchy dough absorbs all the sweet, syrup goodness, and you’re left with a perfect little pick-me-up treat.
As far as Sweets in South Africa go, Koeksisters are the most delicious (according to many South Africans, of course). And once you’ve tried one yourself, it’s difficult to disagree!
Amagwinya / Vetkoek (Fat Cakes)
In South Africa, you’ll find Amagwinya or Vetkoeks (translated unironically to Fat Cakes) on many street corners, cafes, and shops.
This snack is one of the most common and popular South African desserts and quick meals. It’s a doughnut but without the hole. The dough is rolled into a perfect little ball. shape and deep fried; this little sweet treat can be enjoyed plain or with various fillings.
If you’re looking to try the cuisines of South Africa, Vetkoeks or Amagwinya is at the heart of traditional South African sweets and foods. It’s hard not to eat too many, and where the name most likely comes from!
Jalebi (Fried Batter Infused With Syrup)
Another cuisine influenced by Indian culture is Jalebi. Some of the most loved and sought-after sweets in South Africa are known to be Indian in origin, like the delicious sweetmeats during Diwali.
Jalebi can be found in many cafes, shops, and restaurants. Made from a batter, sweet syrup (honey or sugar), and often infused with spices and rosewater, and then deep fried.
The snapping crush of the base and exploding sweetness of the syrup is the absolute best combination. The only problem is trying to stop yourself from eating too much!
Tameletjie (Traditional South African Toffee)
Tameletjie appears in many cultures and cuisines under different names and variations. Regardless, it is one of the most popular South African candy.
While the ingredients may vary, it originally used pine nuts, sugar, butter, water, and vanilla essence to make a snapping and crunchy toffee. You can also use almonds and other nuts to create your version of this traditional South African toffee. Peanut Brittle is a popular spin-off of this classic!
The caramelized, sweet, nutty, and delicious treat is perfect for a quick snack or sweet treat and is often a must-have during long car rides and travel for South Africans.
These beautiful multi-colored treats are well-known and well-loved by both children and adults. What can we say, there are just addictively tasty, and visually pleasing. Originally from Britain, this is now one of the most loved South African desserts and can be found in almost every shop.
Coconut Ice is also very simple, made from condensed milk, coconut, icing sugar, food coloring, and sometimes cream of tartar. As easy as it is to make, the sheer wonder of this delicacy’s taste will make you wonder how something so simple can taste so good.
When it comes to snacks and lunchtime treats, South Africans love something they can dunk in their coffee or tea. And Crunchies are high on the list of South African sweets that fulfill that need perfectly.
Made mainly from oats, golden syrup, and desiccated coconut, you can be sure that almost every South African has a fond memory from childhood associated with the smell and taste of Crunchies.
The beauty of South African desserts like Crunchies, is that they come in a variety of flavors and forms. Some are crumbled and crunchy, while others are more soft and chewy with a syrup infusion. It’s all about preference and how you enjoy your sweet treats.
When you say Rusks near a South African, you better have tea or coffee ready. As one of the most popular and beloved South African sweets, you will often find a box in the cupboard, ready and waiting for the morning tea or coffee, or an afternoon snack.
Originally from the Dutch, Rusks are now baked into the culture of South Africa as part of the common desserts and morning snacks.
Simply put, they are biscuits that have been double-baked, to make them hard and compact. During the settler times, goods had to be kept for long periods and Rusks were the perfect food for that. And while some will argue that Rusks are not desserts, the range of sweet flavors and delectable varieties you’ll find, make them a perfect ending for a fulfilling meal.
But who cares when you have them; good food knows no timing. These hard, tasty, and crunchy biscuits will also turn your morning coffee or tea into a party for your taste buds!
Popular South African Cakes
It’s hard to say which is the most legendary when it comes to South African desserts, but many will wager that it’s the Malva Pudding. And you’ll find it hard to disagree once you’ve had a taste of this sugary treat!
Made from common ingredients like flour, sugar, eggs, and milk, the result is a soft, spongy cake infused and soaked in a delicious caramel sticky toffee sauce and topped with a caramelized apricot jam.
It’s always best when served hot, as the caramel sauce is poured over the top, and served with ice cream to contrast and melt with the warm pudding.
If you’re stuck on choosing which of the cakes in South Africa to try first, you can’t go wrong with the Malva Pudding!
Aartappel Poeding (Potato Pudding)
This simple but delicious dessert is high on the list of popular South African cakes. Brought to the country by the Cape Malay community, this unique and creamy pudding is now a staple in South African desserts and cuisine. Made from potatoes, cinnamon, and spiced fruit, it is both simple and heavenly.
As strange as it is to hear potato in the same breath as pudding, you won’t want to miss out on trying this fantastic dessert. It’s the perfect blend of traditional flavors and tantalizing tastes.
Tipsy Tart (Cape Brandy Pudding)
When it comes to holiday cakes and South African desserts, the Tipsy Tart (or Cape Brandy Pudding) is something you don’t want to miss out on.
As one of the most popular traditional South African cakes, it’s both easy to make and mouth-watering. It is very similar to Malva Pudding but has dates featured in the batter. Tipsy Tart is exactly what you’d expect out of the name, made with a generous amount of brandy sauce.
When the sponge cake is warm and steaming, that’s when the creamy rich sauce is poured and soaked into the base, often served with ice cream to create a beautiful contrast of hot and cold.
Asynpoeding (Vinegar Pudding)
Don’t be fooled when you see the word vinegar. Asynpoeding (also called Vinegar Pudding) is probably one of the best and most beloved South African desserts.
Quite similar to Malva Pudding and Tipsy Tart, this pudding has vinegar added into the sauce to balance out the richness of the sweet, syrup sauce. You don’t taste the vinegar, and many South Africans aren’t even aware that this pudding has vinegar in the ingredients.
When it comes to South African cakes, there’s a reason it’s so popular – and you won’t be sorry when you try them.
The Vast World Of South African Desserts
South Africa represents the beautiful coalescence of cultures and cuisines, coming together under one nation to celebrate the diverse roots and connections they share and enjoy together. These are just some of the delicious treats you can find in the country.
From the mouth-watering Malva Pudding to sweet and spicy Jalebi, South African desserts showcase the wide range of choices available when you are hunting for something sweet in South Africa.