Banana Beer: An Introduction

Brewing and consuming alcoholic beverages are probably part of human nature. All over the world people are known to have produced their own brand of alcohol: in northern Europe several kinds of grain were used to produce beer and spirits, in southern Europe grapes were fermented into wine. Elsewhere apples were turned into cider, rice became rice wine and throughout Africa bananas were used to produce banana beer.

How to brew your own banana beer[1].
Banana beer is – of course – made from bananas, mixed with a cereal flour and fermented to an orange, alcoholic beverage. It is sweet and slightly hazy with a shelf-life of several days if stored under correct storage conditions. There are many variations in how the beer is made. For instance Urwaga banana beer in Kenya is made from bananas and sorghum or millet and Lubisi from Uganda is made from bananas and sorghum.
[Banana carrier in Uganda]
The first step is to select ripe, locally grown bananas, such as East African Highland bananas. These are then peeled. If the peels cannot be removed by hand then the bananas are not sufficiently ripe. The second step is to extract the banana juice. Local banana varieties can yield a good amount of juice without the need of excessive browning. Filtration with the aid of grass should produce a clear product. One volume of water is added to every three volumes of banana juice. This makes the total soluble solids low enough for the yeast to act.

Local cereals, such as sorghum or millet, are ground, roasted and added to improve the colour and flavour of the final product. The mixture is placed in a container, which is covered in polythene to ferment for 18 to 24 hours. As the raw materials are not sterilized by boiling they and therefore provide an excellent substrate for microbial growth. After fermentation the product is filtered through cotton cloth. The end result  is low in alcohol and its taste resembles a mix between wet bread and bananas. It's an acquired taste.
[Image by  Samauel Peters: Urwaga/Lubisi Banana Beer]
To prevent bacteria contaminating the brew, all equipment should be sterilized and strict personal hygiene is also essential.

Bananas contain natural wild yeasts. As with many other traditional fermented products, the micro-organisms responsible for the fermentation are largely unknown. However there has been some research to identify the micro-organisms involved in banana beer production. The one involved is Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is the same organism that produces grape wine.

[1] Battcock and Azam-Ali: Fermented Fruits and Vegetables: A Global Perspective in Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – 1998

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