Sorghum Beer

In Africa, as in many parts of the world, brewing uses vast amounts of grain. However, in Africa the raw materials are sorghum, maize, pearl millet, and finger millet, not barley, rice, or wheat. Also, the basic process is unique. African brewing includes a lactic-acid fermentation, known as souring. And the resulting beverage is something like a fermenting gruel and has the consistency of malted milk.

Normally called "sorghum beer" or "opaque beer," this drink already constitutes a considerable part of the diet in many areas, and it will likely become an ever bigger commodity. With so many people moving into the cities, it is even now shifting from an exclusively family enterprise to an industrialized one. In South Africa, for instance, sorghum-beer brewing is already a highly specialized industry. Annual production is about one billion liters.

Malting is the first step in brewing this or any type of beer. The grain is soaked and left to germinate. This activates amylases and other enzymes that hydrolyze the grain's starch and proteins to sugars and amino acids. After several days, when germination is complete, the sprouted grains are dried, ground to a coarse powder, mixed with cold water, and added to a preparation of ground-up grain that previously has been steeped in boiling water.* The enzymes continue working, this time turning the new source of starch into sugar. The souring process also takes place as bacteria act on part of the sugars to form lactic acid. The product—a thin gruel called "sweet wort"—may be drunk after less than a day. Its alcoholic content is negligible, but it contains some B vitamins and it is often given to children.

If the brewing is continued, various yeasts multiply, and within a day or so fermentation begins. This produces alcohol, B vitamins, new proteins, and more lactic acid. The resulting brew is normally drunk after 4 or 5 days. Suspended particles of starch, yeast, grain, and malt give it the characteristic milky body. High acidity (resulting from the lactic acid) prevents the growth of pathogenic microorganisms.

Brewing raises the nutritional value of sorghum. It adds vitamins, neutralizes most of the tannins, hydrolyzes the starch to more digestible forms, and increases the availability of minerals and vitamins. South African studies indicate that iron is 12 times more available in sorghum beer than in a boiled sorghum gruel; riboflavin may be almost twice and thiamine almost a third more available; niacin's availability remains unchanged. In principle, 2 liters of



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