Indigenous Brewing – Tchapalo Millet Beer

There is no official name to designate the traditional beers ( indigenous, native, ethnic or ancestral ), brewed from ancient times by many indigenous peoples spread across all continents. Although today the beer, in its legal definition, refers to a product containing a minimum of water, malt, barley, hops and yeast as ingredients, in the Middle Ages the gruit replaced the hops and the yeast wasn’t discovered yet. Also we have to remember the function of liquid bread [ 1 ] in many societies that consume these beers (which children often have access), in addition to social and ritual roles that may be involved. Individual consumption of these beers is very important in some African countries too.

The Tchapalo is a traditional, Aboriginal beer manufactured in West Africa ( Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso ), from sorghum [²]. It is consumed by the SenufoLobi and the Koulango tribes. It contains 89-95% water, 5-11% dry matter, 0.27 to 0.47% ash, 4.3 to 5.8% of alcohol, 0.39 to 0.71% protein and 0.04 to 0.10% sugars. Its density is between 1.00 and 1.02 and an acidic pH (2.8 to 3.2)

The grain is first soaked in water. and then allowed to germinate, scattered in air, on a plastic sheet or a bed of straws. It is humidified twice per day. On the Ivory Coast, germination takes place indoors. The grain is then covered with sheets or leaves in order to conserve the moisture. The germination process takes three days. Then it is dried for three days in the sun. The cereal is then grounded, placed in a canary (cooking container 15 to 20 liters) and water is added on top. The drink is then boiled over a traditional wood fire for six to eight hours. Then the yeast is added and let to ferment overnight in a closed canary. The wort is drained and collected in a special cone. Some water is added to make unfermented Tchapalo (good for pregnant women and children). After this second step, the mash is dried and used to feed the animals.
The alcohol content is between 4.3 ° and 5.8 °and varies by region and by the cooking time. Served early in the morning, Tchapalo have a low alcohol, but during the day, the fermentation continues and the alcohol content increases.

Traditionally, the preparation takes several days, the different stages of the preparation are prepared by women over forty, dolotières, who received the manufacturing recipe during their initiation into Authoritative Women’s Society, Sandogo [ ³ ] .

The Tchapalo is used in rituals performed in honor of the ancestors. It is used to establish communication between the visible world and the invisible world. It can be consumed by the living after being offered to residents of the spiritual world
Tchapalo has beneficial effect on health such as: it provides one with energy, it is healthy and nutritious and it fights constipation, fever and malaria. Senufo women also drink it during the pregnancy, including Tchapalo spicy chili. The therapeutic effects have not been proven by clinical studies yet.

Since it doesn’t last long after brewing, Tchapalo is only sold locally and has to be drunk shortly after its production. This, and competition with imported beers makes it difficult for the tradition to keep on going, as people tend to consume products with a longer shelf life.

[¹] A beer with a high specific gravity at the end of fermentation resulting in a dense beer.
[²] Sorghum is a genus of plants from the Poaceae family. Its main representative, Sorghum bicolor, is the main cereal for bread in Africa, South of Europe, Central America and South Asia. Sorghum is originated from Equatorial Africa and it is adapted to the hot and dry climate.
[³] Membership in the Sandogo society is almost exclusively hereditary as only one female from each matrilineal group is initiated into the Sandogo society.

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