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Teens win prize for their 'instant' African beer

By Loyiso Sidimba | 2017-10-10 06:38:10.0

Two enterprising Eastern Cape high school pupils have found a novel way to make umqombothi ferment faster using bananas.

Nomawethu Kondile and Chwayita Gula, Grade 11 pupils at Nathaniel Nyaluza High School in Grahamstown, have eliminated the use of a thick cloth or blanket to cover the calabash used to brew umqombothi in order to help the beer ferment timeously.

Nomawethu and Chwayita, both 17, won bronze in the food science, food technology and healthy eating senior category at this year's Eskom Expo for Young Scientists on Friday.

Don't push shy kids into the spotlight 

Their project, titled A More Efficient Way To Make Umqombothi (African beer) Ferment Faster, was among hundreds on show at the Birchwood Hotel and Conference Centre over three days.

Nomawethu said at her home it usually took two days for umqombothi to ferment, an indication that the brew was ready to be served.

"We will tell neighbours about our project. At other homes it took up to five days for it to ferment," she said.

Explaining how their method worked, Nomawethu said they sliced ripe bananas after mixing the ingredients used to brew umqombothi.

"We used a 10-litre container but we poured the contents into two-litre jugs and placed them on top of the sliced bananas without peeling them. The containers were left open and the umqombothi fermented in three hours."

The teenagers said they stumbled upon the idea while reading their life sciences textbook, which revealed that the fermentation process could be assisted by bananas.

Nomawethu said in Italy the fermentation process is done using rotten bananas but they decided against this method.

According to Chwayita, they knew the experiment they started in May was successful when brown bubbles began showing on their brew.

"Brewing umqombothi takes too much time and sometimes delays traditional ceremonies," she said.

Nomawethu added that in some cases traditional ceremonies are delayed or even cancelled due to lengthy fermentation.

"It's a waste of money as the ingredients used must be thrown away," she said.

Of the six subjects they are doing at school, Chwayita said she preferred physics while Nomawethu enjoys maths.

When Nathaniel Nyaluza High School reopens after the spring holidays today, the duo will inform principal Zakunzima Tyala of their part in fulfilling the school's motto "Thina sisukile saphakama (we have risen up)".