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 had the choice of cereal, bread, and boxes of something called rusks. The rusks were rock hard, beige nuggets of bready-ness that we had to dip into our morning camp coffee to make them soft enough to eat.

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 to you, it should: this is also how to make biscotti. 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 they’re also mostly nondescript and a bit bland, to be honest. 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 became accustomed to eating 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. We found a few products called “rusks” but they weren’t the same thing that we had on our holiday.

Then we discovered a South African import store in Edmonton called Serengeti Imports.

Lo and behold, this little grocery store had many of the products we tried on holidays, including biltong, Simba brand potato chips, and, yes, even rusks. In fact, Serengeti Imports carries a few rusk brands and a handful of different flavours.

Ouma rusk boxes

The most famous rusk brand in South Africa are the 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: https://www.foodstuffsa.co.za/molteno-a-town-saved-by-foodcorp-and-ouma-rusks/

One day when we went to Serengeti Imports to stock up on South African treats, we came across this special Ouma Rusk tin box. The Ouma boxes slide into the decorative tin perfectly. We keep it on top of the fridge so the rusks are always within easy reach.

Ouma Rusks

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

If you can’t find rusks where you live but want to give them a try, never fear. You can find several rusk recipes with different variations/ingredients/flavours on the Internet. I tried one homemade recipe recently that came close to the real thing, but to be honest the Ouma brand still can’t be beat. But with a few tweaks, maybe the recipe will become a keeper.

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9 Replies to “Rusks for Breakfast – The South African Way to Start the Morning”

  1. Mercy Camrudine Banda

    A way to start my morning. Perfectly delicious with a cup of tea…

  2. Darlene Post author

    One of the friends we made on our trip to South Africa is from Belgium, and they couldn’t find Oumas anywhere. So when we went to visit them years later, we brought them two boxes of Oumas as a nostalgic treat. 🙂

  3. TRUD\iE GELDENHUYS

    Rusks are the best – my son and his family lives in Germany now – whenever anyone goes over – the first thing they ask for is rusks and of course chutly – Mrs Balls

  4. 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!

  5. 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!

  6. 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

  7. 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!

  8. 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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