Although in the United States, we often think of desserts as different variations of sweet, there are many different alternatives across the globe of desserts that feature ingredients and flavors we might not typically associate with many people’s favorite part of a meal. Some countries may layer on the sweet stuff, which can come in countless different textures, but other countries rely more on natural sweetness and incorporate a lot of fruit into their most popular dessert dishes.
While some of the desserts featured on this list are relatively easy to make, others require specific ingredients that may be difficult to find in a regular grocery store since they use items that may be readily available in their country but not necessarily anywhere else.
Many of the dishes also have a cultural heritage and are made during social gatherings to be shared with friends and family or for specific occasions and purposes. Holidays will often bring about traditional dishes of all kinds, and special occasions like weddings might have their own dessert dish that's meant to be symbolic. Variations of certain dessert dishes are inevitable as people spread out from their home countries, but oftentimes, the main ingredients and intent still remain the same, which is a testament to how important food is to cultures all over the globe.
In this list, we take a look at some of the most popular desserts in countries across the world to see just how different—or similar—some of the traditional dishes are and what ingredients make them so special.
25 Cuba: Dulce de Leche
"Dulce de leche" means "candy of milk" and is popular in many countries from South America where different regions have slightly different ways of preparing it. In Cuba, dulce de leche is often made from curdled and sweetened sour milk and is a slow process because the ingredients must be heated up slowly. The ingredients are simple and primarily include only milk, eggs, and a lot of sugar to make a caramel-colored and caramel-textured confectioner's treat that can be eaten plain or drizzled on something else!
24 China: Tangyuan
Tangyuan is a traditional dish in China that's typically served during the Lantern Festival, wedding days, the Winter Solstice Festival, or family reunions since the round shape of the balls are meant to symbolize family togetherness. The ball itself is made with glutinous rice flour and water, which are formed into balls and boiled in water with fermented glutinous rice or sweet syrup, or they're even fried. Tangyuan can be left plain or filled with a variety of different ingredients such as chocolate paste, fruit preserves, or red bean paste.
23 Denmark: Wienerbrød
"Wienerbrød" means “Viennese bread” and is a traditional pastry braid from Denmark. It was brought over by bakers from Austria. It's very popular as a companion to coffee since it's light and airy but still offers sweetness. The yeast-leavened dough is mixed with a lot of butter and creates a layered texture that makes the pastry look puffed. Chocolate or vanilla icing is a popular topping, as it can give the pastry a beautiful design as well as some more sweetness. Sometimes, chopped nuts are sprinkled on top.
22 Australia: Pavlova
For those who love fruit in their desserts, Pavlova is a great alternative that provides natural sweetness in a light texture. Because it's so easy to make, Pavlova is common in Australia and is frequently made during celebratory occasions and for holiday meals. It's a meringue dessert that's made with a crisp crust and topped generously with a lot of whipped cream and different fruits. One notable ingredient is the addition of something acidic to the meringue. This addition might be vinegar or cream of tartar.
21 Finland: Kiisseli
The popular dessert from Finland, Kiisseli, is probably one of the healthier alternatives for dessert on this list because of its use of fruit as the main ingredient. Most commonly made with strawberries, it's possible to make this dessert with many different kinds of berries like blueberries, raspberries, or blackberries. After pureeing the fruit, apple juice, water, and a bit of sweetener are added, depending on the taste you want to achieve. Kiisseli can be served on its own or added to ice cream.
20 Canada: Maple Taffy
Making maple taffy is all about timing. The sugar candy popular in Canada is made by boiling the maple sap from the trees abundant in many areas of the country. Depending on how long you boil it slowly, the sap can be made into maple syrup, maple butter, or maple sugar. There are many different ways to enjoy maple taffy, including eating it after it has hardened, but traditionally, some parts of Canada have the custom of taking the maple taffy and pouring it onto clean snow before eating it.
19 Egypt: Basbousa
Basbousa is a traditional sweet cake made with many different regional variations. The simple recipe only calls for cooked semolina, purified wheat middlings of durum or farina, and milled wheat soaked in simple syrup. Many people add their own preferred flavors to the sweet cake mixture itself, and coconut is a widely popular addition, as is orange flower water or rose water to give it a distinct but subtle flavor. Other people add different ingredients like cinnamon to the simple syrup to make this dessert their own.
18 Haiti: Pain Patate
Pain Patate is also called "sweet potato bread" and requires time and patience to make, especially if you're trying to make it the old-fashioned way and grate the coconut and sweet potatoes by hand! The type of sweet potato is important because it's a specific kind of potato that's only found in tropical or warm temperate regions, which means they're not readily available in regular grocery stores. Other ingredients are much easier to obtain such as bananas, raisins, and different spices like nutmeg and cinnamon.
17 Nicaragua: Turrón
In Nicaragua, turrón can easily be found pre-made in the stores and on the streets since it's such a popular and portable sweet treat. The confection can be shaped into a ball, a rectangular bar, or even a round cake. It's made with honey, sugar, and egg whites, and different toppings can be added with the most common additions being toasted almonds or other nuts. The mixture is cooked very slowly until it becomes breakable and malleable to whatever shape is desired.
16 Bahamas: Guava Duff
Guavas are an incredibly healthy and plentiful fruit in the Bahamas, which is why the popular dessert Guava Duff includes both the guava chunks and guava juice. After a soft dough is formed from flour, the guava chunks are rolled into the dough so that the final confection is sprinkled throughout with fresh guava. Rather than being baked, the dough is wrapped and tied into a cotton or linen bag and boiled, which gives the dessert a much airer taste than most other cake-like desserts.
15 Guatemala: Mole de Plátanos
Declared part of the cultural heritage of Guatemala, Mole de Plátanos is a relatively easy dish to make. The recipe combines both fruit and chocolate by frying sliced plantains until they're golden brown and covering them in a chocolate sauce that's also handmade. Chocolate chips, as well different kinds of seeds like pumpkin and sesame seeds, are mixed together with cinnamon and sugar in order to create a mole sauce, which coats the sliced plantains as they're cooked once more to really integrate the flavors before being coated in any leftover seeds.
14 Burma: Banana Shwe Gye Cake
The popular dessert of Burma, Shwe Gye, is also called "Semolina Cake" or "San Win Ma Kin," but the flavor is still essentially the same. The simple semolina or cream wheat cake is flavored with coconut cream, rum, white and brown sugars, and poppy seeds or honey as an optional drizzle. The mixture has to be stirred consistently over medium heat until it thickens without burning, which means that this particular dessert is time-consuming and will also give your arm quite a workout.
13 Dominican Republic: Bizcocho Criolla
Bizcocho Criolla is a very popular cake in the Dominican Republic because of its simply airy texture and the endless possibilities to customize the cake according to the occasion and personal preferences. It's commonly found at special occasions such as anniversaries, baby showers, birthdays, and communions. The cake is decorated with a special kind of icing, “suspiro,” which is made from egg whites and sugar, and the icing can really add a lot of color to the finished product. Inside the cake, pineapple is the most popular filling, but other fillings include guava and sweet condensed milk.
12 Brazil: Quindim
Quindim is a baked dessert that's popular in Brazil and has a very distinctive and bright, shiny yellow color. The mixture itself has a custard-like consistency and is usually served in small pieces. It consists primarily of sugar and egg yolks, but coconut milk might be added, and ground coconut is also a popular ingredient either in the mixture or sprinkled on top of it. The result is a smaller-sized, airy dessert that's very flavorful and is sure to stand out because of its bright color.
11 Greece: Galaktoboureko
Made with many layers of filo, a thin unleavened dough, Galaktoboureko is a traditional pastry from Greece that's very rich. In between the layers of filo, the pastry is also filled with melted butter, creamy custard, and a syrup made with both sugar and honey, optionally flavored with lemon and/or cinnamon. After the cake has cooled but before it's cut into slices, the syrup is slowly poured on top of it so that it seeps throughout the entire pastry to saturate and coat it.
10 Mexico: Arroz con Leche
The arroz con leche that's a popular dessert in Mexico is very simple to make and, depending on the desired consistency, can also be similar to rice pudding. Most of the time, when arroz con leche is traditionally made, however, it's served as a kind of hot soup with milk, rice, sugar, cinnamon, and raisins to top it off. The milk and sugar can be boiled very slowly in order to achieve a thicker consistency, or condensed milk can be used when time is limited.
9 Paraguay: Passion Fruit Mousse
The Passion Fruit Mousse from Paraguay is primarily made from one ingredient that's very popular and native to the country: passion fruit. These fruits grow abundantly, so it makes sense that they're featured in one of the most popular dessert dishes in the country. In addition to the passion fruit pulp, it's mixed with gelatin, egg whites, sugar, milk, and heavy cream to create a thick mixture that's very tasty. The dessert is usually eaten with a spoon, and additional toppings can include different fruits, which make this a lighter and healthier dessert than most.
8 Malaysia: Kueh Bangkit
Kueh Bangkit, also known as Tapioca Cookies, is a popular favorite in Malaysia during festivities. The light and airy dessert only consist of 5 ingredients, but the making of the dish brings together families, as there are an endless amount of variations that can be made in terms of shapes, colors, designs. The ingredients consist of tapioca flour, pandan leaves, egg yolks, coconut milk, and sugar. Food coloring can be added depending on the theme and the occasion, and molds such as birds and stars are common.
7 Ethiopia: Destaye
With a name that means “my happiness,” Destaye has a lot to live up to and does it very simply. Popular in Ethiopia, Destaye is not overly sweet but made of thin dough shells that are filled with a variety of different fillings to create a unique flavor for each different pastry. Although it's a popular dessert, sometimes, they're also filled with meats. Some of the more popular fillings for the dessert version include healthy alternatives like raisins and nuts like pistachios or almonds. Other popular fillings are grated coconut and cardamom.
6 Czech Republic: Ovocné Knedlíky
Ovocné Knedlíky has long been considered a sweet dessert staple in the Czech Republic and is made with very simple ingredients. The main ingredients consist of eggs, flour, salt, milk, butter, and cottage cheese, which gives it a different texture. There are a lot of different variations in terms of fillings, and the most common are typically strawberries, apricots, plums, or plum jam. The dessert is so popular that it's offered at most meals throughout the day instead of just as a dessert or a breakfast pastry.
5 Holland: Vlaai
Vlaai looks like a very traditional pie with the criss-cross of dough on top of it. Although the pie dough is made with very traditional ingredients, the filling is what makes it unique. Some of the more common fruit fillings include cherry, apricot, strawberries, or plums. Although Vlaai can be eaten at any time of the year, it's most commonly found at events that represent a major life milestone such as birthdays or funerals. It's commonly enjoyed with some coffee.
4 Chile: Sopaipillas
The Sopaipillas from Chile are similar to a doughnut but are made primarily from pumpkin or squash. These pastries are very popular in nearby countries where they can also be made from flour. They're usually available as street food but are also common in homes and restaurants as an appetizer or something to eat while drinking coffee or tea. After combining just the few ingredients of pumpkin or squash, flour, baking soda, salt, and butter, the mixture is shaped into circles and fried in oil.
3 India: Galub Jamun
Traditional recipes for the popular dessert in India named "Galub Jamun" call for the ingredient khoya, which are the milk solids left after all of the water has been evaporated slowly over a low flame. Modern recipes substitute with dried or powdered milk to make this tasty concoction. Galub Jamun consists of doughy milky balls that are sweetened with sugar or cinnamon, among other options, and dunked in rose-scented syrup flavored with spices like saffron and green cardamom to give it a strong and unique flavor.
2 Hungary: Dobos Torte
Created in the late 1800s by a chef from Hungary who was trying to make a cake that would last longer than other pastries, the Dobos Torte soon grew to be a very popular dish in the country. The sponge cake is distinctly layered with cake and cream, both of which call for a lot of sugar, eggs, and butter. Variations for the ingredients vary from person to person, but the cake sides are usually covered in hardened caramel, which is coated in crushed nuts like almonds, chestnuts, or hazelnuts.
1 Cambodia: Sankhya Lapov
The dessert of Sankhya Lapov is popular in Cambodia and is primarily made with pumpkin and coconut custard to form a sort of flan that can be served in a variety of different ways. It's popular in other countries like Thailand and Laos, and sometimes, squash instead of pumpkins are used as a substitution. One of the distinguishing features of Sankhya Lapov in Cambodia is that the flan-looking custard filling is usually served inside of the pumpkin where it's cooked to make it a visually appealing dessert, too.