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Dishes of stew and vegetables in different white bowls alongside flatbreads on a large silver tray

Sudan and sugar

11/07/2024 By Theresa Pereira in Recipes

The latest stop on our foods around the world tour is the north African country of Sudan. A sugarcane grower, the plant was cultivated here from as early as the 10th Century, but it only became an important commercial crop following independence in 1956. As a result, sugar has been introduced to more dishes, snacks and drinks. 

After independence, the Sudanese government wanted to reduce costly sugar imports and diversify agriculture while continuing to satisfy the population’s preference for white refined sugar. Kenana, the Blue Nile region and the Atbara Valley were established as sugarcane growing areas, refineries were built and, from the 1970s, the partly government-owned Kenana Sugar Company grew to become one of the largest producers of raw and refined white sugar in Africa.

Sugarcane production figures for Sudan on graph

The total volume of sugarcane produced in Sudan has increased in recent years.

Sudan’s sugarcane harvest falls between November and April. In recent years, the total volume of sugar produced has increased. In 2020/21, sugar production amounted to 351,000 tonnes, to 322,000 tonnes in 2021/22, in 2022/23 395,000 tonnes, and in 2023/24 400,000 tonnes.

In this article, we explore where sugar appears in dishes, snacks and drinks from both Sudan and South Sudan, and how sugar is used.  

Sugar’s use in savoury Sudanese foods

A main staple of the country’s cuisine is a fermented flatbread called kisra, often made from sorghum flour and wheat flour or corn flour, and served with a savoury stew called a ‘mullah’. Stews are eaten throughout the country and may be sweetened by an ingredient like peanut butter rather than sugar. However, some stews are eaten with a type of porridge, or ‘aseeda’, made from wheat flour, and this is made with milk and sweetened with sugar. Though refined white sugar may be used, soft brown light sugar can provide a better depth of flavour and colour.

Round, think pancakes piled on a white plate Toffee-coloured sauce or stew in a silver pot

Left: A main staple of Sudanese cuisine is kisra, a flatbread that is typically eaten with a savoury stew called a ‘mullah’.
Right: Some Sudanese stews are eaten with a type of porridge called ‘aseeda’, which is often sweetened with sugar.

One popular stew that is eaten with aseeda is ‘mullah ahmar’. This spiced tomato stew also features minced meat and ground okra. In some recipes, sugar is added to balance out or neutralise the acidity of the tomatoes and the pungency of the garlic and onions.

Sugar is commonly added to a homemade cereal called ‘rugag’. Rugag resemble cornflakes, only flatter, and are eaten in the same way. Sugar is stirred into hot milk so it can dissolve before it is poured over the rugag. For added crunch, a cane sugar like demerara sugar is ideal.

The Swahili food ‘mandazi’, a type of fried bread or doughnut, is a popular street food in Sudan and other countries in the region. Along with flour, yeast and water, sugar and/or coconut milk are added for sweetness. As mandazi can be eaten for breakfast or as a side dish or snack, they are subtly not overtly sweet, and a little sugar is all that is required. This could be a more refined white cane sugar or a product like soft brown light sugar, which will not affect the smooth texture but still impart sweetness and deepen the colour. If eaten as a dessert, mandazi is usually dusted with a sugar like icing sugar or confectioner’s sugar.

Triangle-shaped doughnuts dusted with sugar in a basket

Mandazi are fried doughnuts that contain sugar and are dusted with icing sugar. They are a popular street food and snack in Sudan.

Sudanese snacks and sweet treats

Ful Sudani are a traditional Sudanese biscuit or macaroon that we referenced in an earlier food around the world blog on the wider African continent. These sweet treats tend to be made with egg whites, vanilla, chopped or ground peanuts, and sugar. A toffee-flavoured but lighter sugar like light cane muscovado sugar is ideal for adding sweetness and volume, and giving the final product a more golden hue, enhancing appearance while not overpowering the peanuts. However, icing sugar may also be used.

Biscuits on a plate with almonds

Ful Sudani are biscuits or macaroons made with peanuts.

Also worthy of a mention are Sudanese Kahk. These are often eaten at Christmas in Sudan and South Sudan, which is marked as a public holiday. These are shortbread-like, sugar-coated cookies made with ghee or clarified butter, vanilla and sugar, and infused with flavours of sesame from sesame seeds. As the texture is intended to be delicate, a softer crystalline sugar is preferred. However, a sugar like demerara sugar can be used for dusting to provide crunch.

Sudanese cuisine has many influences, from the eastern Mediterranean to Egyptian to Arab to Turkish, the latter due to Sudan’s historical links with the Ottoman Empire. One sweet treat favoured in Sudan is Egyptian in origin: basbousa. This is a semolina cake that is soaked in a simple syrup. The syrup is made in the normal way by dissolving sugar in water. For this, demerara sugar can be used as the grains dissolve easily.

Desserts containing almonds (left and right)

Sudanese cuisine has many influences. The dessert basbousa (left and right), a semolina cake soaked in syrup, is Egyptian in origin.

Sugar in coffee and karkadé

Commercial sugar is more readily consumed in urban parts of Sudan, but less so in rural areas. Where it is consumed, Sudanese may add multiple teaspoons of sugar into tea, often enjoyed with a sweet treat like Ful Sudani. Sudanese cinnamon tea is usually drunk sweet, and easily dissolvable, richer sugars like soft light brown sugar or light cane muscovado sugar can enhance the cinnamon flavour.

Hot, infused drinks in glasses (left and right)

The Sudanese enjoy sweetened cinnamon tea (left) and hibiscus tea, known as karkadé (right), a traditional drink

In Sudan, hibiscus tea, known as karkadé, is a traditional drink that is served hot or enjoyed cold, with ice. It is often consumed during Ramadan or at weddings to toast the bride and groom. The tea is nearly always sweetened with sugar, and a soft light brown sugar is again ideal.

Coffee, often served in a vessel with a long spout called a jebena, is enjoyed across Sudan. Like Sudanese tea, the coffee is usually sweetened with generous amounts of sugar to balance out the concentrated, slightly bitter and woody flavours, and the spiced ginger that is often included.

Coffee being poured from a jebena into a series of cups on a table

Sudanese coffee, often served in a vessel with a long spout called a jebena, is sweetened with sugar.

Though coffee and tea are generally drunk sweet, the ingredients that typically make up Sudanese cuisine, such as peanuts, okra, maize and fava beans, and dishes such as stews and soups, only take smaller quantities of sugar. However, sugar remains an important flavour enhancer and balancer, and sweetener.  

Ragus manufactures speciality syrups and crystalline sugars for use in industrial food and drinks applications. To learn more, contact our Customer Services Team. For more sugar news and updates, continue browsing SUGARTALK and follow Ragus on LinkedIn.

Theresa Pereira

Theresa ensures that our customers’ orders are managed efficiently and works closely with our Sales Office Manager to deliver all orders on time in full.

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