I always love to learn about new ferments. So, I was so excited when a new friend on social media told me about the traditional Southern African fermented beverage she makes. It is gluten and dairy-free and goes by the names mahewu (Shona, Chewa and Nyanja) or mageu (Tswana), mahleu (Sotho), amarhewu (Xhosa), or amahewu (Zulu).
What is mahewu?
Mahewu is a fermented maize(corn)-based non-alcoholic beverage that is one of the staple foods in southern Africa. It is common in South Africa, Zambia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Mozambique, Botswana, and Namibia. Rural and farm people traditionally brew it at home. While, if you live in the city you would make it at yourself at home or buy it commercially produced. Mahewu has a nice sour taste from the fermentation like kombucha and it is drunk with or without added sugar and flavours.
People in rural or farming areas normally drink mahewu during the day when they are working in their fields as it gives them lots of energy. It is convenient because it is readily available when they are too busy to cook. They make it in clay pots which keep it naturally cool no matter how hot the weather is. In the cities, most people buy the refrigerated commercially made version and drink it during their tea or lunch breaks.
Health benefits of mahewu
- Energy: Mahewu is fermented with corn and sorghum or finger millet malt, making it a good source of carbohydrates while working or working out.
- Easy to digest carbohydrate: Because the carbohydrates have been acted upon by bacteria, they are easier to digest in the body.
- Probiotics: Contains probiotics which are good for gut health, better digestion and overall health.
- Fibre: The sorghum or finger millet malt is ground whole grain, full of soluble and non-soluble fibre.
- Nutrients: Sorghum (the malt) is a good source of protein, vitamin B, antioxidants and minerals such as iron and potassium and it is gluten-free and non-GMO. It prevents certain types of cancer, builds strong bones, promotes red blood cell production, keeps blood pressure down, and contains compounds that keep cholesterol levels down. There is evidence that it even improves sensitivity to insulin in diabetics.
- More Nutrients: Finger millet contains amino acids, high levels of calcium, iron and potassium. It is gluten-free and non-acid forming. It strengthens bones, is antioxidant, slows down digestion and has a low glycemic index (which controls blood sugar levels), and it naturally relaxes body and mind. It is recommended for people with liver disorders, blood pressure, anxiety, depression, asthma and a weak heart.
I’ve included the recipe in this post and I am looking forward to trying this recipe myself. Stay posted for a follow up on how I make out, and I will let you know where to find the ingredients. If you try this yourself in the meantime, please take lots of photos and email your results!
As always, Happy Brewing!
Recipe: How to make Mahewu
Mahewu is best made in summer because the natural heat will help with fermentation. In southern Africa, it can be made in winter because their winters are mild, but it takes longer to ferment. In the northern hemisphere, the winters are too cold so your home-made mahewu will not ferment properly without the use of a heat strip and thermostat.
A 5-quart pot
A Wooden Spoon
2 litres (8 cups) of water
1 litre (4 cups) of water, separate
1 cup of maize (corn) meal
¼ cup of ground malt (sorghum or finger millet)
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 10 mins
Fermentation Time 48 hours
Total Time 48 Hours
Makes 3 litres
- In the saucepan, make a paste with a small amount of cold water and cornmeal, making sure there are no lumps. Add 2 litres of boiling water while continuously stirring to prevent any lumps from forming. Make sure it is thoroughly mixed.
Important Note: Use a pot that you use to cook rice or pasta. Never use a saucepan in which you cook savoury foods, you may get flavour transfer. Yuck!
- Heat to boiling over medium heat. Stirring occasionally.
- Once it boils lower the heat and cover it with a lid. If the porridge is too thick, add a bit of cold water.
- Let the porridge boil for about 10 minutes, then remove from heat.
- Add 1 litre of water to thin out the porridge. Allow it to cool down completely.
- Remember you are going to drink this, so if you think it is too thick, add a little bit more water.
- Then add the malt and mix thoroughly. If you have an earthenware pot, this is the time to put it there. It’s going to look like the picture below.
- Cover the pot and leave it for one or two days.
- After one day, your mahewu should be frothing, showing that fermentation is taking place. See the picture below.
- After two days, your mahewu will be ready. It will have a clear liquid on top and sediment at the bottom. Mix it with a cooking stick, pour some into a glass and taste it. It should be slightly sour. You can drink it as it is or improve the taste by adding a little bit of sugar.
Put your mahewu in the fridge to keep it cool and to slow down fermentation. If you leave it outside the fridge, fermentation will continue and the beverage will become too sour. Drink over the next few days. Rural/farming communities do not add any artificial flavours to their mahewu but the commercial manufacturers do. Feel free to experiment with flavours such as a banana.