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A history of African desserts

Africa is the second-largest landmass on Earth, and due to this it is home to hundreds of different cultural and ethnic groups. With this comes all kinds of desserts too. 


Across this great continent, you can find all kinds of different sweet flavours, from the incredibly sugary to those are that bit healthier. 


When you’re in the mood for something sweet, there will be an African dessert dish from one of the corners of the continent which will be able to satisfy your craving. With so many different cultural and ethnic groups, the origins of these are vast. Some of them have been handed down from generation to generation, some of them have been introduced and influenced by European settlers, whilst others may slightly vary from area to area.


In what is sure to get your taste buds going, we have detailed the history of some of our favourite African desserts.


Melkert


Melkert (Afrikaans for milk tart) is a South African dessert consisting of a sweet pastry crust containing a custard filling made from milk, flour, sugar and eggs.


Introduced to South Africa by Dutch settlers in the 17th century, Melkert originated at the Dutch Cape Colony and is believed to have developed from mattentaart, a Dutch cheesecake-like dessert. It is also very similar to Portguguese custard tarts and Chinese egg tarts. However, the difference is that Melkert has a higher ratio of milk to eggs, which makes for a lighter texture and a stronger milk taste. It is often eaten with cinnamon, this is either infused in the milk it is made from or sprinkled over it before eating. 


Today, Melkert is a much-loved dessert seen at church fetes and in family homes all over South Africa. It’s usually home baked or bought ready to eat from the supermarket, where it is commonplace. 




Puff-Puff


Puff-Puff is one of the most well-known desserts across Africa. A deep-fried dessert, it is made from a dough of flour, yeast, sugar, butter, salt, water and eggs, which is then fried in vegetable oil until it is a golden brown colour.


Very traditionally African, Puff-Puff is a dessert which has been prepared and eaten by Africans for many years. Its popularity is shown by its reach -  it’s very common in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ghana - where it is called boflot, Congo - where it is called mikate, and Sudan - where it is called ligemat. There is also a slightly different version of the dessert called mandazi, which is popular in the eastern and southern edges of West Africa. Whilst in Cameroon, it is known by both its English name and its French name of beignet, and is served at breakfast time with beans and coffee.


In Nigeria, Puff-Puff is a cheaply-priced and widely-available dessert, which can be found available for sale on street stands. This is often in the ‘small chop’ variety, which is essentially a smaller portion eaten as an appetizer.


Similar in taste and consistency to Spanish churros, Dutch oliebollen, and even doughnuts, to a degree, Puff-Puff are doughy, sugary and slightly chewy. These are often served simply rolled in sugar but across Africa, you can find Puff-Puff flavoured with cinnamon, vanilla and nutmeg, or served with a strawberry or raspberry jam.






Malva pudding


Another South African dessert, Malva pudding is usually made from butter, sugar, eggs, apricot jam, milk, flour, and salt. A creamy sweet sauce made with water, cream, vanilla, butter, and sugar, is often poured over it whilst still hot. Malva pudding is then often served with vanilla custard, ice cream or whipped cream.


Popular across South Africa, there are many theories for the naming of Malva pudding. One of these is that the dish is named malva pudding after the Afrikaans word malva, meaning marshmallow, referring to the similarities between marshmallows and the pudding's texture. However, Malva is also the Afrikaans word for geranium, so others believe the dessert received this name due to originally being flavoured with the leaves of the lemon- or the rose-scented geranium. Elsewhere, others say it was named simply because it used to contain Malvasia wine.


Whilst the name may remain a mystery, the popularity of this dessert won’t. It’s sweet delicious flavour means that it is very popular at South African special occasions.



Akara 


Akara is a dessert which plays a significant role in Yoruba culture and is prepared and eaten in Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Ghana.


Made from rice flour, mashed banana, baking powder, and sugar, it is moulded into balls, dropped in oil by hand and fried, and is then mainly eaten at special occasions. 


The most notable of these occasions is Akara’s role after the death of an elder in Yoruba  communities. After the death of anyone above the age of 70, it is traditionally prepared and distributed to their friends and families. Whilst historically, it was an important sign of victory, being prepared after victory in conflict.


In Sierra Leone, where it’s very popular, it is eaten at all kinds of special occasions. These include events like Pulnado (the event held due to the birth of a child), weddings, funerals and parties.


It is often eaten with millet or corn pudding.


It is also very popular in Brazil, having been taken there by enslaved people from West Africa.



Nkate


Popular the world over, nkate is a delicious sweet that originated in Equatorial Guinea and Ghana. Nkate or peanut brittle, as it’s known across the world, is a simple dessert which reflects the limited ingredients which were historically available in remote parts of Equatorial Guinea and Ghana.


Simply made from unsalted peanuts, lemon, water and caster sugar, nkate is prepared by crushing and baking the peanuts in the oven, before adding them to a hot sugar syrup. This mixture is then rolled out and cut into squares.


The name nkate comes from the Twi name for peanuts. This popular snack bar is eaten in schools, markets, festivals and churches across Equatorial Guinea and Ghana. It’s definitely something to try, just it’s very hard, so watch your teeth!