Rusks for Breakfast? The South African Way to Start the Morning

A few years ago, when my husband and I were travelling through South Africa, our tour guide/driver/cook/counsellor/drinking buddy had the truck kitchen stocked with a variety of local foods. For breakfast, we were given the choice of cereal, bread, and boxes of something called rusks. The rusks were rock hard, beige nuggets of bready-ness that were meant to be dipped in our morning camp coffee.

Their creation goes all the way back to the late 1600s, when travellers needed a way to preserve bread for long journeys without refrigeration. Rusks are basically double-baked bread chunks. If the double-baked process sounds familiar, it should: this is also how biscotti is made. Several countries have similar “rusk” products, such as melba toast (US and Canada), zwieback (Germany), skorpor (Sweden), and so on. But they’re not really the same product, it’s just a general term for a hard biscuit, with numerous variations.

South African rusks can be an acquired taste, mostly because they don’t really have much of a distinct flavour. But you know what? This is why they complement a morning cup of joe so well.

close up of rusks

Rusks are crunchy and slightly sweet, but mostly nondescript and bland, truth be told. But they don’t conflict with the coffee flavour, and instead absorb it as you soak the tough biscuits in your mug of steamy hot java. Before we knew it, we found ourselves shunning the pedestrian bread and cereals to grab a couple of rusks every morning on our vacation.

oumas on our South Africa trip

This became quite a problem once we came home, however. We don’t have rusks in Canada (not like the South African version, anyway). And we had become, well, addicted is too strong a word. But we had become accustomed to having a rusk or two with our morning coffee. And we found that we missed them.

We searched the local grocery stores but had no luck; a few products were called “rusks” but weren’t the same thing that we had on our holiday.

Then we discovered a South African import store in Edmonton called Jacaranda Imports (now called Serengeti Imports). Lo and behold, they had many of the products we tried on holidays, including biltong, Simba brand potato chips, and, yes, rusks. Hooray!

Ouma rusk boxes

The most famous rusk brand in South Africa are Ouma brand. They come in a few different flavours, such as muesli, buttermilk, and condensed milk. A woman named Elizabeth Anne Greyvensteyn started the company during the Great Depression. She lived to the ripe old age of 98, so there must be something special in her family recipe! The company history is quite interesting and worth a read:

If you can’t find rusks where you live, never fear; there are several recipes on the Internet. I tried one homemade recipe recently, but to be honest the Ouma brand still can’t be beat. But with a few tweaks, maybe the recipe will become a keeper.

Ouma Rusks

Yes, we bought a special Ouma tin box to house our rusks.

Until next time!

6 Replies to “Rusks for Breakfast? The South African Way to Start the Morning”

  1. Sue Lamb

    They are delicious buttered as long as you have strong teeth and also dipped in chai latte and very strong tea. Love em!

  2. Darlene Post author

    Absolutely Sam, whenever I have one I remember our visit to South Africa and it brings back great memories of sitting around camp getting to know the other people on our tour. I tried to make them once, but they weren’t anything close to the way Ouma’s rusks taste!

  3. Sam Brewer

    Ouma’s Rusks are iconic. They define South African culture. The friendly approach of the “Dip ‘n Dunk” togetherness whilst sharing your coffee with other people or the comfort of just reflecting on others whilst enjoying your cup of coffee.
    I miss them and I buy them whenever I can at the South African store or the British store in London, Ontario

  4. Darlene Post author

    Please do give them a try and let me know what you think! I like them because they’re satisfying, and they have just a touch of sweetness. The Ouma brand are the ones we had on our trip, but there are other companies that make them too. Just be warned that if you soak them for too long, they fall apart and leave goo in the bottom of your cup. 🙂 Just a second or two should do it. Enjoy!

  5. soraya asmal

    I’m from south africa but never tasted rusks! I think I’m going to buy myself a box and dunk it in some coffee.

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