Brown onion soup powder: A South African national treasure

By Lynda Ingham-Brown, 12 September 2023

Brown onion soup powder holds a special place in South African kitchens. Lynda Ingham-Brown ruminates on its place here – and abroad – as a flavour shortcut.

We South Africans have some interesting (sometimes divisive) food traditions: condensed milk in potato salad (that’s a whole other column!), cooking chicken in Coca-Cola (yes, really), adding too many condiments (we love our sauces), but the most versatile (and pocket-friendly) flavour enhancer has to be a packet of brown onion soup powder. Tell me you don’t have a packet of it – or something similar – in your pantry right now? The TASTE team was recently reminded of this nostalgic ingredient when chatting to Mogau Seshoene, a.k.a. The Lazy Makoti, who uses it when cooking ox liver to make a super-quick, flavour-filled sauce. The late, great Dorah Sitole’s mashonza recipe also stars brown onion soup powder, and Faathima Manjoo’s celebratory saffron roast lamb uses white onion soup powder. It’s so iconic – and its influence seems to cross cultures in South Africa.Mopane-stew-(Mashonzha)Get the recipe for Dorah Sithole's mopane stew (mashonza)I remember my mom using brown onion soup powder in stews and casseroles as a thickener, which is pretty straightforward. But my favourite was when she made “apricot chicken”, which entailed sprinkling the soup powder over chicken pieces and pouring over a litre of apricot juice (usually LiquiFruit) or lemonade (it was the eighties…) to make a tray bake with potatoes nestled around the chicken. She served it with boiled frozen peas. The juice went deliciously sticky and the soup created pockets of salty flavour… I may have to recreate it soon! She also sometimes used minestrone soup powder for this dish to make something even more exotic!Saffron roast lambGet the recipe for Faathima Manjoo's saffron roast lamb.But it turns out that this is not a purely South African thing; the Americans use this pantry staple in many interesting ways, including mixing it with sour cream or cream cheese to make a dip to serve with crudités or chips; adding it to the mince for lasagne (don’t tell the Italians) and when making meatballs; using it in beef or savoury mince pie fillings; in savoury rice, and as a marinade for steak. Australians love it in a potato bake – they mix it with sour cream and layer it between the potatoes instead of using ordinary cream; add it to the egg mixture when making a quiche; add it to soups for a boost of oniony flavour; and they also use it to make apricot chicken but call it “miracle” chicken! An apt description!Psst: Woolworths stocks brown onion flavoured thickener, along with some other inspired dry sauces – from dry chicken a la king sauce powder to mushroom sauce powder.What’s your favourite way to use this iconic ingredient? Let us know in the comments. 

Brenda Harvey's apricot chicken

Serves 4 EASY GREAT VALUEPreparation: 10 minutes Cooking: 1 hour8 free-range chicken pieces 1 x 50 g packet brown onion soup powder 1 litre apricot juice (or lemonade) 4–6 potatoes, peeled and halved sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste frozen peas, blanched, for serving1. Place the chicken in a casserole or roasting pan and sprinkle over the soup powder. Pour in the apricot juice or lemonade and place the potatoes around the chicken pieces.2. Season to taste and bake for 1 hour, or until the chicken is cooked through and the liquid has reduced. Serve with the blanched peas.       
Lynda Ingham-Brown

Article by Lynda Ingham-Brown

TASTE's senior copy editor keeps a stash of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper and honey at her desk and can always be relied upon to save colleagues from bland meals. When she's not correcting spelling mistakes and tidying up dangling participles, she loves trying out new products at Woolies and believes that most situations can be improved with a good cup of coffee or a glass of bubbly.
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    larissa venter
    14 September 2023

    i always mix one packet of brown onion soup with cream. Pour it over butternut and sweet potato chunks in a oven dish and bake it untill soft. A beautifull side dish for the braai