There are a number of different African desserts, some influenced by the foreign cultures that settled on the continent and others based on the ingredients that are naturally available in the area. By far, fruits are the most popular and widespread type of African desserts, whether they are served in a raw salad, grilled, baked or incorporated into another dish. South African desserts are sometimes influenced by Dutch and Portuguese cuisine, so tarts, cakes and cookies are popular, although the ingredients might be different than those found in their European counterparts. North African desserts often involve dried fruits and nuts in porridge or drinks made from milk or fruit juices. Some areas, such as Morocco, have a more varied and complex dessert menu derived from centuries of trade with surrounding countries.
Fruits are one of the most used ingredients in African desserts. Pineapples, bananas, mangos, papaya and coconut are all commonly chopped up and mixed into a refreshing salad that can serve as a dessert on its own. The fruit salad also can be served with homemade yogurt or cream and spices such as cardamom. Sweeteners that are often used include honey, cane sugar and beet sugar.
In areas of Northern Africa, the fruits that are used are often dried so they can be kept for a longer period of time and to concentrate their flavors and sweetness. The dried fruits can be added to fresh milk with simple syrup to make a refreshing dessert drink. They also can be mixed with couscous or tapioca beads to make a porridge known as caakiri that is drizzled with honey just before it is served. A baked cornmeal cookie called a kanyah also can be mixed and baked with the dried fruits.
The influence of European settlers on African desserts can be seen with dishes such as melktert, or milk tart. This is an egg- and milk-based custard that is baked to form a light dessert with a strong dairy flavor. Koeksisters are an invention of Dutch settlers and are a type of sweet bread that is braided in individual pieces and coated in a sweet syrup flavored with ginger.
Some dishes that are less common include a sweet dessert made from beans mixed with dried fruits. Cinnamon, salt, sugar and coconut can be heated to form a sweet candy called kashata na nazi. There are even African desserts that require no cooking at all; for example, the practice of just chewing on sugar cane as a more informal type of dessert is popular.