Banana beer is a weak alcoholic beverage that is popular throughout Africa. It is made by fermenting
bananas with a cereal flour (often sorghum flour). It is sweet and slightly hazy with a shelf life of
several days under correct storage conditions. The processing method and ratio of ingredients used
varies widely from country to country and with personal taste. In Kenya, banana beer, made from
sorghum or millet flour, is known as urwaga. In Uganda, banana beer is known as lubisi. This
technical brief describes one traditional method, and suggests ways in which the hygiene and safety
of the product can be improved.
Roast ground cereal
Raw material preparation
Only ripe bananas (Musa species) should be used to make the beer as these have a high sugar
content, which is necessary for the fermentation. Over-ripe bananas should not be used as they may
spoil the flavour of the beer. Unripe bananas should be left to ripen before they can be used.
Ripening can be speeded up by warming the fruit. During the rainy season, unripe bananas can be
left to ripen laid on a hurdle over the fire where the cooking is done. During the dry season
bananas can be ripened by making a pit in the ground, covering the sides of the pit with green
banana leaves, packing the bananas into the pit and then covering them with banana leaves and
earth. On one side of the pit a little ditch should be dug for a fire so that warmth and smoke can
enter the pit. This takes about six days.
The bananas should then be peeled. If the peels cannot be removed by hand the bananas are not
sufficiently ripe and should be left for longer.
The first step is the preparation of the banana juice. It is important to obtain a high yield of clear
banana juice that is not spoiled by browning or contaminated by spoilage micro-organisms. Ensure
that the vessels used for pulping the banana and extracting the juice are clean before use.
Knead the bananas until they are soft and pulpy. Use a stiff grass to help knead and squash the
banana pulp and to extract the juice. The pulp residue will remain in the grass. Pour off the
extracted juice into a large clean bucket or similar container. This banana juice is non-alcoholic and
can be diluted and drunk at this stage if desired.
Add clean boiled water to the extracted juice (one volume of water for three volumes of banana
juice). It is necessary to dilute the banana juice so that the concentration of soluble solids is low
enough for the yeast to ferment the juice. Grind the cereal (sorghum or millet) and lightly roast it
over an open fire. Add the roast cereal (1 part cereal to 12 parts juice) to the diluted banana juice.
Cover the bucket with a clean lid and leave in a warm place to ferment for 18 to 24 hours. The
ground cereal improves the colour and flavour of the beer.
After fermentation the beer is filtered through a sterilised cotton cloth.
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Packaging and storage
Packaging is usually only required to keep the product for its relatively short shelf life. Clean glass
or plastic bottles should be used. The product should be kept in a cool place away from direct
Hygiene and quality assurance
Banana beer is made from raw material that does not undergo any heating or cooking at any stage of
the process. The banana pulp is an excellent substrate for microbial growth – both of the desirable
yeasts and the non-desirable spoilage bacteria. The fermentation is brought about by natural yeasts
that are present on the banana. Heating or boiling the raw material would kill these natural yeasts
and spoil the traditional flavour of the beer. It is essential that strict attention is paid to cleanliness
of the equipment and processing area and to personal hygiene to avoid contamination of the beer
with other bacteria that may form acid rather than alcohol.
It is best to sterilise the equipment prior to use with boiling water. Chlorinated water can be used to
clean the equipment, but this is not recommended as the chlorine can affect the fermentation.
Mix with water
Mix with cereal flour
Peel by hand
Use grass to knead or squeeze out the juice. The residue will remain
The water: banana juice ratio should be 1:3
Mix with ground and roasted cereals to local taste. For sorghum the
ratio should be 1:12
In plastic container. Leave to ferment for 18 to 24 hours.
Through cotton cloth
In one-litre plastic bottles with cork stoppers or equivalent
Improved method for banana beer
The process can be made more hygienic and the quality of product improved by following a typical
method for making a fermented beverage. This involves the preparation of a wort (which is a boiled
starter substrate), addition of a commercial source of yeast, fermentation under controlled
conditions (time and temperature) followed by pasteurisation to stop the fermentation. The product
made by this improved method will have a different taste and appearance to the ‘live’ beer produced
by the traditional method. The improved beer can be bottled and stored and will be consistent from
one batch to the next.
Beer making does not require any specialist equipment. All equipment used should be of food-grade
and should be thoroughly cleaned before use.
Filter bags (cotton cloth)
Fermentation vessel (plastic bucket)
General suppliers of brewing equipment
Note: This is a selective list of suppliers and does not imply endorsement by Practical Action.
Youngs Home Brew - Wholesale suppliers of
Cross Street, Bradley
Bilston, West Midlands
Tel: +44 (0)1902 353352
Fax: +44 (0)1902 354852
Brew it Yourself
Unit 4 Parkside, Potters Way
Temple Farm, Southend on Sea
Essex, SS2 5SJ
Tel: +44 (0)1702 614422
References and further reading
Grape Wine, Practical Action Technical Brief
Banana Beer, from Burundi
Traditional Foods: Processing for Profit, Edited by Peter Fellows, Practical Action Publishing 1997,
Useful organisations and contacts
P.O. Box 380
6700 AJ Wageningen
Telephone: +31 (0) 317 467100
Fax: +31 317 460 067
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
00153 Rome, Italy
Tel: (+39) 06 57051
Fax: (+39) 06 570 53152
Useful internet sites
Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Purdue University
Bioversity International: Bananas - processing and marketing.
This document was produced by Dr. S Azam Ali for Practical Action in March
2008. Dr. S Azam-Ali is a consultant in food processing and nutrition with over 15
years experience of working with small-scale processors in developing countries.
The Schumacher Centre
Rugby, Warwickshire, CV23 9QZ
Tel: +44 (0)1926 634400
Fax: +44 (0)1926 634401
Practical Action is a development charity with a difference. We know the simplest ideas can have the
most profound, life-changing effect on poor people across the world. For over 40 years, we have been
working closely with some of the world’s poorest people - using simple technology to fight poverty and
transform their lives for the better. We currently work in 15 countries in Africa, South Asia and Latin
By Sue Azam Ali, Published by Practical Action on 03/02/08