Sweet and sour beans (sousbone)

Modern South African “sousboontjies” are made from a speckled bean known as a sugar bean, available in South African shops here in New Zealand.

Hettie Claassens describes the interesting history of this traditional South African dish in her book Die Geskiedenis van Boerekos. Sousbone (sweet and sour beans in sauce) was first made by the Romans, who used vinegar, spices and honey. The 13th century Arabs made a similar dish with sweetened mustart, vinegar and raisins.

In the 17th century, the Dutch used prune juice and syrup or honey to make their version of sweet and sour beans, which they brought to the Cape of Good Hope when they settled there in 1652. By the 1740's it had evolved into a salad made with black-eyed beans (swartbekboontjies), butter and vinegar.


We consulted some of our traditional South-African cookbooks, and it is interesting to note the small differences in ingredients, while the basic method stays the same.

Peter Veldsman, in "Kos van die Eeu":

  • 1 cup dried sugar beans
  • water
  • 1 tablespoon cornflour (to thicken sauce)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • White pepper to taste

Optional flavourings:

  • 1/2 chilli
  • 1 laurel leaf
  • Pinch of ground cloves

Sannie Smit, in "Suid-Afrikaanse Volkleurkookboek":

  • 1 cup dried sugar beans
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons butter

SJA De Villiers, in "Kook en Geniet" / "Cook and Enjoy":

  • 1 cup dried sugar beans
  • 1 tablespoon flour (to thicken sauce)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt


  1. Sort through the beans to remove any discoloured or damaged beans and small pebbles.
  2. Rinse the beans and soak overnight in tap water.
  3. Drain the beans and rinse well.
  4. Cover beans with water in a saucepan and simmer slowly until the beans are soft. This will take at least 2 hours, but might take longer. Add more boiling water if necessary to keep the beans moist.
  5. To thicken the sauce, mix a tablespoon flour or cornflour and a little water into a smooth paste, stir into the beans. Or, if you follow Sannie Smit’s method, simply mash some of the cooked beans and stir through.
  6. Add vinegar, sugar and salt and simmer for another 10 minutes.

It can be served warm, or bottled for future use.