Umoja Adds Innovation to SA’s Umqombothi Heritage

Umoja Beer Powder looks set to give beer brewers more options as they face the time pressures of modern life…

The festive & holiday season is approaching, and weddings, family gatherings, braais and other forms of festivities will be sparking across the country throughout the month. But while the festive season is a rightfully celebrated part of local life, in most South African communities it’s home brewed beer, umqombothi, that is the deeper and more meaningful cultural force.

Every family has their own way of making it, with secrets, tips and specialities passed down from generation to generation. But regardless of who oversees the brew, umqombothi is universally appreciated in South Africa. It’s a way of celebrating the return of younger generations after initiation ceremonies and plays a central role in amadlozi – the contacting of the ancestors. And then, of course, it’s also a vital part of any important community event, including weddings, funerals and imbizos.  

‘Umqombothi plays a huge role in African spiritual life,’ says Maanda Mphaphuli, Sales Executive at Sorgho, the company behind Umoja Beer Powder and Umoja Sorghum Malt. ‘The preparation of the beer is as important culturally as the drinking of it. Because our company supplies some of the key ingredients, we’ve been at the heart of this uniquely South African experience for over twenty-six years. It’s been a great journey.’

Sorgho has manufactured and supplied high quality sorghum malt to the local food and beverages industry since 1993. One of only two industrial maltings companies in the country, Sorgho recently brought innovation to the age-old tradition of African beer brewing with its launch of Umoja Beer Powder, a product which dramatically reduces the time it takes to produce umqombothi.

Sorgho began life in 1993, as Nkosi Foods. Over the next twenty-six years the company grew a reputation as one of South Africa’s leading manufacturers within the Sorghum Malt industry. Today, with its head office and factory based in the West Rand, Gauteng, Sorgho is known for its competitive prices and outstanding customer service.

‘Our lives are always changing,’ says Mphaphuli. ‘Obviously in an ideal, traditional world families love to go through the full umqombothi process, and to enjoy it over several days. Umoja Sorghum Malt has always been at the heart of this, and still will be. But the reality for many people who live in cities and have demanding lives and careers is that they are only able to gather over short time periods, like weekends. Time is especially precious when family members live in different parts of the country and must travel long distances. In these situations, Umoja Beer Powder allows the brewing process to happen in 24 hours, which can be a real blessing.’

Umoja Beer Powder has been a big hit in the South Africa market since its launch, especially with city dwellers trying to balance the demands of urban life with the need to gather for family events and prepare for traditional rituals.

‘It meets an important need because the speed of preparation doesn’t take away from umqombothi as a cultural and social experience,’ says Mphaphuli. ‘It actually adds to it, by creating more opportunities for us to gather together and celebrate where we come from, and where we are going to.’

Using traditional methods, umqombothi preparation takes several days and requires repeat bouts of cooking and long periods of rest, as well as the addition of ingredients such as sorghum malt, mielie meal and yeast. Umoja Beer Powder cuts these out completely. The powder is simply mixed with tap water and left for 24 hours, without any other steps required.

‘Obviously brewers will still use all their traditional family recipes and mixes to get the beer how it should be for them,’ says Mphaphuli. ‘Using the beer powder really just allows the brewer to get right into the important parts, rather than being forced into spending many hours in the build-up. For people facing time challenges, it means a vital cultural experience can still play a big role in their life.’

There’s no doubt that families across South Africa will be celebrating this Heritage Day by brewing a special batch of umqombothi. But when it comes how long it will take them… now that Umoja Beer Powder is on the market, that really is a matter of choice.

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