Mahewu! A Healthy Fermented African Beverage
There is a huge interest in the role of fermented foods for overall health. Social media, magazines and health food stores all tout the benefits of foods such as kefir, kombucha, kimchi and yogurt as functional foods whose benefits in overall health extend beyond nutrition. The African diet is rich in fermentation with foods such as sour uji (East Africa), Ben-Saalga (Burkina Faso), Ogi (Nigeria) and Kenkey (Ghana) constantly being served. Two of my personal favorites are soured milk which tastes almost like a thickened kefir and Mahewu (Amarewu, Togwa , Mabundu, Mapotho), a porridge based drink fermented with sorghum or finger millet malt. I had some left over sadza (ugali/posho/pap/nshima /isitshwala) and being the middle of summer the weather was just right to brew Mahewu- a Zimbabwean childhood favorite.
Maize (corn) meal, water, sorghum with finger millet malt and a lot of sunshine.
Most recipes call for a porridge made from 1 part maize meal/sorghum/millet to 9 cups water. I had some left over sadza so I used that. (No measurements, just eyeballed it as I went)
To make it into a porridge, I tore the sadza into small pieces and added water. How much water to add is a matter of preference. Add more if you prefer a thin beverage, less if you prefer it thicker.
I used an immersion blender to blend the sadza to a thin gruel. A blender works just as well or you can go the traditional route of crumbling and mashing with your fingers. (Get the kids to join in the fun….they will love it).
Next it was time to add a few spoonfuls of malt (Sorghum and finger millet) to the blended porridge. While I used a two-grain malt, single grains such as finger millet, sorghum, wheat and maize meal ferment well too.
After thoroughly blending the mixture , I transferred it to a pot, covered it , placed it in a sunny spot and allowed the fermentation to begin. My aunt had a dedicated clay pot for Mahewu brewing. She claimed that it had a “memory” of the process so her Mahewu brewed a lot quicker. I now know that the clay pot had residual fermented malt from previous brewings and this added mature malt which hastened the process. I do subscribe to her notion and use the same pot every time I brew. However, in addition to matured malt, my pot is seasoned with all the curries and stews I cook in it. I guess that adds hints of turmeric and garlic to my beverage. Yum?????
It was really hot when I made this batch and within 2 days bubbles formed on the surface of the liquid and a strong smell of fermentation filled the pot. The Mahewu was brewed and ready for serving. I transferred it to a pitcher and placed it into the fridge for some chilling.
Later that same day, I had a cup of chilled goodness and memories of my childhood flourished. While I like my Mahewu a little on the sour side many can not take the strong taste and add a spoon of sugar. Feel free to do so if that helps you chug a little down, but watch the quantity. Sugar adds empty calories and can negate the overall benefits of the Mahewu if used in excess.
(P.S: During the cold winter months Mahewu takes longer to ferment but makes a deliciously healthy hot beverage.)
Here’s to your health (and childhood memories)!
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(Photo image courtesy of Erich Ferdinand/Flickr)