Monkey gland sauce: why the name?

By TASTE, 15 October 2018

It’s the sweet and tangy sauce that South Africans love to serve with steak and burgers. But contrary to what its name suggests, the glands of primates are not on the ingredients list. So hey, monkey gland sauce, why the name?

A classic monkey gland sauce consists largely of items you almost have lurking in your pantry. It’s typically served with steak or burgers, but can also be used as a marinade, a dipping sauce for onion rings or smothered over roast potatoes.

How to make monkey gland sauce

It’s a sweet-and-sour mix of garlic, onion, tomato, chutney, Worcester sauce and Tabasco sauce, among others. Follow this recipe to make the best-ever monkey gland sauce.

Why is it called monkey gland sauce?

There are two theories behind the origin of the name, both stemming from a controversial 1920s medical experiment. French scientist, Dr Abrahamovitch Voronoff, (understandably!) rattled the scientific world by grafting monkey testicle tissue onto the testicles of men, in the belief that it would keep men young.

Voronoff was a regular patron of the Savoy Hotel in London and, the first theory has it1 is that a brandied steak was his dish of preference. Restaurant staff soon nicknamed the dish “monkey gland sauce” in an ode to his infamous experiements. Italian waiter, Cavaliere Bagatta, brought the dish to the South African restaurant scene, and over time, the sauce evolved to its modern-day form and by the 70s, was a staple condiment.

Another (somewhat looser) theory takes us back to the old Carlton Hotel in Johannesburg in the 50s. Word is that the French chefs found it distateful when South African patrons covered their finely prepared French cuisine in the likes of tomato sauce, chutney or Worcester sauce. And so, out of frustration, they combined the pantry condiments to create a sauce and named it “monkey gland”, after Voronoff. This is where the theory ends – the connection between the sauce and the scientist is glaringly unapparent.

While the origin of monkey gland is largely speculative, there’s little denying that it’s firmly entrenched in South African culture.

What’s your favourite dish to serve monkey gland sauce with? Have you ever made your own? Let us know by commenting below!

1. Numerous sources reference a Times Live article as the source of this theory. The article, however, is no longer available online.


Article by TASTE

The TASTE team is a happy bunch of keen cooks and writers, always on the look out for the next food trend or the next piece of cake.
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