What Are Some Of The Most Popular South African Spices?

South African cuisine combines food traditions from various parts of the world including indigenous dishes from Africa as well as Dutch, Indian and Portuguese ones. While it is not as rich or as distinctive as the culinary cultures of older countries, South African cookery often produces complex flavors from its liberal use of spices. Popular South African spices include:


You will see peri-peri spelled piri piri or even peli peli in other parts of Africa. Derived from the Swahili term pilipili, it means pepper pepper and refers to bird’s eye chiles. These tiny peppers are used to bring heat to various African cuisines including South Africa’s cooking.

Peri-peri peppers are moderately hot with a savory and slightly grassy flavor. They may be served as a condiment at a braai, which is a South African barbecue. They may also be chopped up and used to season the spicy beef dish known as trinchado that was brought to South Africa by Portuguese settlers.

Peri-peri seasoning is a blend of dry spices that includes the peri-peri pepper along with other ingredients such as lemon peel, black pepper, and paprika. A sauce made with these peppers and traditional African seasonings was popularized by South African chicken chain Nando’s.

Durban curry powder

Durban curry powder comes from the city of Durban in the KwaZulu-Natal province. It is considered one of the best curry powders in the world. Durban is the home of the majority of South Africa’s Indian immigrants which is why many of the city’s dishes have such a heavy Indian influence. Most of these immigrants are from the states of Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, so the food from Durban tends to be on the spicy side.

Durban curry powder is red due to the liberal use of cayenne pepper. The cayenne ensures that it is very hot, but sweet spices like cardamom and cinnamon are used in it as well. The result is a curry powder that is highly aromatic along with being spicy.

Cape Malay curry powder

A milder and sweeter curry powder, keep Malay curry powder has more of an influence from Malaysia and Java than from Southern India. The influence comes from Malaysian and Javanese slaves brought to South Africa by the Dutch.

Cape Malay curry powder places more of an emphasis on sweet spices like fennel seeds and cardamom done on hot ones like chiles. As a result, it is sweeter and not as hot as Durban curry. You can use it to make traditional Cape Malay dishes like bobotie and in the marinade for sosaties, the South African version of Asian satays.

Braai salt

Braai is one of the culinary traditions that all of South Africa’s ethnicities have in common. Braai salt is a dry rub that can include ingredients such as mustard, coriander, and cumin. These spices may be used to cook meats ranging from beef and lamb to more exotic proteins like ostrich and kudu.

The ingredients can vary so there is no singles flavor profile but the typical braai salt will be savory and highly aromatic. In some cases, it will be spicy as well.

Bay leaves

Bobotie is one of the best known South African dishes consisting of ground meat seasoned with curry powder and topped with eggs. Among the key ingredients in bobotie are bay leaves, which give it an intensely woody and camphoraceous flavor. Some recipes suggest lemon leaves as a milder, citrusy alternative.