Overcoming oliebollen: how to rise above the childhood trauma of deep-fried oily balls

by | Feb 15, 2023 | Opinion

Food That Changed My Mind: In the first of an occasional series we explore foods we misunderstood, misrepresented or mansplained away. Today Vincent revisits oliebollen.


What is it: Literally translated as ‘oily balls’, Oliebollen are an egg-and-flour batter mixed with raisins and shredded apple, that is then deep-fried, and dusted with icing sugar.


How did it go so wrong: Growing up, every Dutch person I knew (and that was pretty much every person I knew) would go ga-ga over Oliebollen, traditionally served on New Year’s Eve.

Dripping in oil, with raisins and shredded apple embedded like shrapnel in the dense inner-core, these depth-chargers are regarded by the Dutch with an affection reserved only for that other great Dutch offence, Black Pieter.

I hated them. My main memory is vomiting at the 1978 family camp in Finlay Park, Cambridge, after my friends forced me to eat several in one sitting. There’s no other way apparently. I can still remember what it tasted like to send them back to the source.



So, what changed then? About 8 years ago my (English-born) wife Sarah accidentally tasted one and accused me of hiding these delicacies for decades. You’ll thank me for it, I said. Being a dedicated foodie she set about perfecting her own version over a camp stove during a New Year’s Eve cyclone. They were a hit. I felt chastised as fellow campers formed a queue outside our tent. It became an annual ritual with relatives and friends joining in Sarah’s incredulity at my years of deception.

And, dear reader, she was right. They were delicious: crunchy on the outside, fluffy in the centre, with the apple providing a tart counterpoint to the icing sugar.


Key lesson: Cover and allow enough time for the dough to rise (the car dash is a good place if you camping and it’s cold outside). Don’t overheat the oil. And don’t wait 30 years to overcome a childhood trauma.


About the Author

Vincent Heeringa

Hi, I'm Vincent! I'm a co-founder of The Feed, a writer, marketer and PR expert specialising in food, tech and sustainability. In a previous life I was publisher of Idealog, Stoppress, NZ Marketing and Good magazines and helped establish the Science Media Centre. I'm also the host of a podcast ‘This Climate Business’. When I'm not burning the midnight oil, I'm hitting the town or planting trees with my wife Sarah. Ping me to talk about all things food. @vheeringa

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