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May the wors be with you...

11 March 2017 11:00 AM
South Africans in all sorts of situations love boerewors. Surely nothing says South Africa quite like boerewors on a braai.

Click below to hear Anna Trapido in conversation with Phemelo Motene while reading the notes...

Regardless of colour, class or creed, the sizzle and smell of our national signature sausage induces a Pavlovian response in patriots from Atteridgeville to Zebedela. It is impossible to imagine a shisa nyama, an agricultural show, a school fete or sporting event without a boerewors roll.

Bishop Tutu says it is the thing that unites us

  • The ultimate boerewors king is actually Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Speaking at the 2007 inaugural National Braai Day (with a boerewors roll in one hand and a braai grid full of scorching sausage in the other) the cleric confessed that "boerewors is really my favourite thing for a braai. More than chops or mealies, what I like is the wors. It's lekker, lekker, lekker. It is something that can unite us. It is so proudly, so uniquely South African."

But what exactly is it?

  • Most of us agree with the Arch that boerewors is lekker, lekker, lekker but what exactly is it?

  • On one level everything you need to know is right there in the name. It's a boere (farmer's) wors (sausage).

  • We all think of it as Afrikaans in origin.

  • We all know what taste (beef and coriander), texture (relatively coarse) and diameter (approximately 2cm casing) of sausage we mean when we say the word.

  • It is one of the few South African food items with a very clear legal description. These are to be found in <u>The Regulations Governing the Composition and </u><u>Labelling of Raw Boerewors, Raw Species Sausage and Raw Mixed Species </u><u>Sausage. (published under Government Notice No. R. 2718 of 23, November </u><u>1990 by the Minister of National Health and Population Development in </u><u>terms of section 15(1) of the Foodstuffs, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, </u><u>1972 (Act No. 54 of 1972).</u>

These essentially say it should be: Ø predominantly beef, Ø it should have an edible casing,

Ø It should have no more than 30% fat,

Ø there should be no fillers,

Ø there should be no offal except in the casing

Ø and “it shall contain no mechanically recovered meat."

Ø As to seasoning and fillers the act is very specific that "no ingredients shall be added except cereal products or starch, vinegar, spices, herbs, salt, other harmless flavourants, permitted food additives and water."

So if it doesn’t actually say boerewors on the package be afraid be very afraid

So, now you know, if you see a suspiciously cheep supermarket sausage marked ‘wors’ or ‘braai wors’ you can assume that it does not meet the criteria set out above. Think soya and cereal fillers and then walk away.

What about sub-genres of boerewors?

There are no legal guidelines as to the specific contents of regional sub-categories but convention generally dictates that the prefix of 'Ossewa' boerewors implies a strong clove flavour while Grabouw indicates mild spicing and Cederburg suggests a sausage that is highly spiced.

Food history – we all think of it as the quintessential Afrikaner sausage but how old is it? Actually probably not very old.

  • We all assume that it has been with us since time immemorial but a scan of South Africa's most significant historical cookbooks reveals no published use of the term ‘boerewors’ prior to the mid 20th Century.

  • More curious than the lack of the word is a seeming absence of the actual sausage as we understand it today.

  • Neither <u>Hilda's Where is It?</u> (1891) nor <u>Diary of a Cape </u><u>Housekeeper</u> (1902) by Hildegonda Duckitt uses the term (although she does supply a jolly nice sounding mutton ‘sausage’ recipe which includes mace and a pint of claret).

  • Elizabeth Dijkman <u>Die Suid Afrikaanse </u><u>kook-, koek- en resepte boek byeenversameld en geskrywe deur mejufvr. </u>(1891) refers to ‘wors’ (no boere) and does suggest the use of ground coriander but recommends a mutton and pork melange (no beef).

  • The only sausage to contain beef appears in Ally Hewitt's book, <u>Cape Cookery - </u><u>Simple yet Distinctive </u>(1890) and even then the pork and pork fat make up 75% of the meat content.

Its Mrs Dijkman’s failure to talk about it that is most curious

It is E.J Dijkman’s failure to cite the sausage that is perhaps most significant. Her publishers, the Patriot Press of Paarl are best known for having founded Die Afrikaanse Patriot newspaper, the earliest newspaper to be published in Afrikaans. This newspaper was dedicated to the cause of promoting an Afrikaaner identity as being distinct from that of a Dutch identity and as a proud alternative to a British colonial identity. Mrs Dijkman's work is the first cookbook ever published in Afrikaans and represents a proud assertion of Afrikaner culinary identity. The book was so popular that seventeen editions appeared. It contains numerous nationalist oddities: for instance, a Patriot pudding, an Afrikaner Bond cake, and various other dishes named after well-known local personalities.


First found in published form only in 1945!

  • The first published use that I can find of the term boerewors is C Louis Leipoldt in <u>Culinary Treasures </u> (1945)

  • My guess is that somewhere between the 1910 edition of Mrs Dijkman’s book and Leipoldt’s 1945 publication several recipes were consolidated.

  • The timing makes it seem likely that the name and standardised ingredients that we associate with boerewors today arise within the fervour of Afrikaaner nationalism that surrounded the 1938 centenary of the Great Trek.

  • In this context there was a concerted political project aimed at defining Afrikaans specific material culture (including aspects of cuisine, sport and clothes) that harked back to a semi-mythical, rural past in order to inspire

urbanised, white, Afrikaans speaking workers with a view to creating a new social order.

  • I am not for a moment suggesting that a committee created boerewors rather that it is probably an amalgamation of a range of South African sausages that were combined and co-opted to further a cultural and political cause.

Even now, he who holds the boerewors controls the country

  • However far we have come, on some level, we do still all feel that he who holds the boerewors controls the country.

  • The nationalist appeal of boerewors has adapted over time but it is no less potent a gastro-political power tool today than it was in 1938.

  • When Zuma succeeded in ousting Mbeki at Polekwane 2008 ANC bigwigs celebrated with a banquet at which the starter served was ‘Jack Daniel’s honey-glazed beef boerewors on red onion and tomato salsa.’

  • In 2011 the AfriForum Youth wing and the Potgietersrus District Agricultural Union grilled 290 continuous meters of the sausage to earn a new world-record boerewors at the Windpomp Festival in Naboomspruit. The AfriForum Youth spokesman said that money raised from the sale of the record beating boerewors would be used to fund their Equality Court lawsuit against ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema.

  • Zuma’s 70<sup>th </sup>birthday party in 2012 at the ICC in Durban included boerewors on the menu.


In the light of the above it seemed only fitting that the boerewors recipe served up in this piece should come from a First Lady. Tragically not one of our current First Ladies have yet published a sausage recipe but Tini Vorster (wife of BJ Vorster and First Lady 1978 - 1979) did and here it is...

Ingredients - to make 3kg sausage (about 20 boerewors roll length pieces)

Important: this recipe has been modified - if you used the amount of fat Mrs Vorster recommends you could be dead within the week :)

Beef 1.5kg, use a fatty cut such as chuck head or the top part of the brisket. Pork 1.5kg, use a fatty cut such as top belly or shoulder Whole Coriander seeds 50ml

Cloves 3ml

Nutmeg 2ml

Pepper 5ml

Vinegar 50ml

Red wine 25ml

Brandy 25ml

Salt 25ml

85g Hog wors casing (the butcher will know these as '32 long')

(additions/ alternatives) Renata Coetzee’s <u>The </u><u>SA Culinary Tradition </u>(1977) suggest the addition of sage leaves and orange zest. Leipoldt recommends ginger, mace, fennel, thyme and a mixture of equal parts wine and vinegar be worked into the boerewors mixture. Lannice Snymann in <u>Rainbow Cuisine</u> (1998) adds allspice. Some other recipes call for Worcester Sauce.


  • Rinse the sausage casings in cold water.

  • Roast the coriander until light brown. Take care not to burn it as this will make for a bitter flavour. Grind and mix the coriander with all the other spices.

  • Combine all ingredients with the meat and then mince coarsely.

  • You can stuff sausage casings by hand or using the sausage making attachment of most kitchen mixers. Open the end of the casing and ease open the first 5cm in order to fit it onto the stuffing tube.

  • Pipe your mince mixture into the casing. Remember not to stuff too tightly or the sausage will burst.

  • If all the stuffing and fiddling around with casings seems too much bother Chef Heston Bloemethal has a recipe for a boerewors burger where he makes the spiced mince and then simply forms the mixture into a patty.

  • The sausage mixture is best left to stand in the refrigerator overnight in order for flavours to mix.

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Whether you are braaiing or cooking on the stove top the same broad principles apply. Do not ever poke boerewors while cooking – the aim is to keep all the juice in so as to retain the flavour. Braai over medium heat and do not clamp the sausage tightly into a grid as this will prevent the fat from mingling inside the casing.

When pan-frying, start the sausage in liquid to soften the casing and to prevent bursting. This method also has the advantage that it allows excess fat to be drained away. A 2cm diameter sausage should be simmered with about ½ cup of cold water, beer, wine or stock for approximately 5 minutes. Drain off any remaining liquid and cook over a medium heat until brown.


As to wine pairings, boerewors goes very well with the cinnamon, clove qualities of a Pinotage or the inherent black peppery, berry infused smokiness of a Shiraz.



  • Braeside Meat, Parkhurst, JHB. 0117883613. Grass fed beef boerewors. In addition to supplying superb sausages butcher Caroline McCann also runs braai courses for women who wish to wrest the control of the wors from the boys.

  • PJS Food; Kensington, JHB. 011 615 4184, 30% pork, 70% grass-fed beef, 100% delicious.

  • Groenkloof Butchery, Groenkloof, PTA 012 460 6449. Eddie van Niekerk is the regional boerewors champion.

11 March 2017 11:00 AM