Fermented porridge also Known as Uji Chachu(Kenya), Mahewu(Shona), Amarewu(Xhosa), Amahewu(Zulu), Togwa(Tanzania) or Mabundu(Venda) is a traditional African beverage enjoyed by millions. It is made from dried maize, millet or sorghum that is soaked in water for 24 hours to soften. The water is then drained off and the grains ground in a large mortar and pestle until a soft flour free from hulls and kernels is obtained which is mixed with water to create a porridge mixture. The mixture is placed in a clay pot to cook over a fire. After boiling, the cooked porridge is stored in a gourd, which is sealed with a dry ear maize cob. A plastic container with a lid can also be used instead of the gourd. This mixture is allowed to ferment for seven days, and is then served cold. It is a thirst quencher, meal replacement and weaning food.
It is low in high quality protein but high in carbohydrates making it an ideal source of energy. Commercial mahewu is often enriched with nutrients such as protein, iron, calcium and folate and is therefore more nutritious than the traditional version. Both traditional and commercial versions can be classified in the functional food category because they provide health benefits that go beyond their nutritional content. Fermented beverages such as Mahewu are high in probiotics, the good type of bacteria. Numerous studies show that including them in your diet not only improves your digestive health but also prevents disease such as heart disease and metabolic syndrome. A happy gut is a healthy body. There is a strong connection between the body’s ability to fight disease and the state of the gut. The more good bacteria you have, the better your immune system.
Fermented foods may reduce obesity. A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicated that people who included a fermented drink for 12 weeks reduced the amount of fat in their abdomen by almost 5%. Mahewu are a great source of probiotics- live microorganisms that provide the gut with good bacteria. Probiotics have been credited with:
1. Killing viruses and bacteria
2. Fighting some tumors and leukemia
3. Fighting vaginal infections and intestinal infections
4. Preventing and alleviating diarrhea related illness across all ages of life
5. Enhanced absorption of nutrients especially the B-vitamins (Niacin, Pantothenic Acid, Folic Acid, B1, B2, B6, B12)
6. Improved digestion as some studies suggest that the healthy bacteria found in mahewu helps the body obtain much nutrition from the diet in general. In addition, they help to prevent constipation.
7. In traditional medicine, Mahewu is used to increase milk supply in breast feeding mothers. While there is little research to support this practice, traditionalists still promote it. Given the many benefits of Mahewu this could certainly not hurt.
TIP: Limit the amount of sugar added to the porridge as it adds empty calories to a drink that is already high in energy.
By Cordialis Chipois a registered dietician and graduate of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) African Area Studies Program. She is the chief contributor for the health and wellness blog, The African Pot Nutrition (www.theafricanpotnutrition.com).