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Jun 20, 2007 08:24 AM

Where to Buy Malt for African Drink?

Hi all

As part of my ongoing attempts to make the various foods and drinks I'd enjoy back in South Africa, I'm in the process of trying to make a favorite drink of mine called 'mageu'.
And no I couldn't begin to tell you how to pronounce it :)

It's a thick fermented-maize drink, with the consistency of wet porridge or gruel - and its very big amongst the local SA population. (Not so much amongst white folks, as the taste is somewhat of an acquired taste). Its a very filling drink/meal substitute that's got a taste that I've always enjoyed.

I have a recipe which seems fairly simple - however it calls for 'malt'. With no explanation of what kind of malt, or even where one can find it. In US stores I've looked through various baking sections, to no avail.

Here's the recipe as I've found it:

2 1/2 oz mealie meal (fine maize meal) about 72g
3 cups malt
1 cup water


Grind the malt and sift it. Place the water in a pot and bring to the boil. Add the mealie meal stirring to mix. Cook until the meal absorbs the water and a soft porridge is formed.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
When the porridge feels cool to the touch add the malt, stirring to mix well.
Leave covered for 24 hours to ferment.

And that's it. Can any of the forumites advise me on the 'malt' aspect? Or am I looking for the wrong thing locally by trying to find 'malt' - is it called something else in the US?
Thanks in advance.

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  1. I'm unfamiliar with this African drink, so this is a guess, but it sounds to me like you want the same type of barley malt used for brewing beer, which you can get many varieties of at any homebrew supply store. Grind it up and sift out the husks. Good luck.


    1. I second Jim's suggestion; a homebrew shop is probably your best bet. The one I go to has a grinder on site; if this is standard practice, you'll be able to grind your malt when you buy it.

      And that drink does sound intriguing--kind of like a fermented version of Mexican atole. Post back and let us know how it turns out!

      1. There are many different types of malt at the homebrew shops. I would go with standard ale malt. Have them crush it for is a bear to do yourself.

        I don't know how sweet you need/want this to be but if you steep the malt in water at 150-158 deg F for about an hour, enzymes in the malt will convert the starches to sugar. So you might want to have a thermometer handy and wait until the temp drops post boil before adding the malt.. If you don't do this, you may end up with a pasty tasting concoction that won't ferment. Properly converted, the grain will taste like sweet grain cereal.

        If you want a bit more convenience, you can buy spray dried malt powder...

        2 Replies
        1. re: Jimmy Buffet

          thanks for the info. There's a homebrew store near me, I'll go give them a try and report back on the mageu experiment :) The drink itself isn't very sweet to begin with, it's - well, it's hard to describe - but its not a 'sweet' or 'sugary' drink at all.. I love the stuff personally, in South Africa its found in most corner stores, and is either 'banana flavored' or 'plain'- and both ways taste great. Hopefully I can experiment with malt fermentation+maize (corn) without ending up in intensive care :) Given that its a staple kind of food/drink in Africa, it shouldn't be too difficult to reproduce..

          Thanks for the info, I'll report back when I try to do it..

          1. re: TheFamine

            Please let us know how it comes out. If you need more info, you MIGHT want to go to the website of the American Homebrews Association and poke around. I have been a member for about twenty years and their magazine "Zymurgy" occasionally has articles about fermented beverages of different cultures. Plus, they have a bbs.

        2. It seems from your profile that you might be in the Boston area. Have you asked about local African markets in your area?

          If you don't have one available, here's a link to an online source

          The store is located near me and they have more than is listed on-line, so you might email them and see if they have more. This isn't a grand store, so if no email response, give them a call.

          3 Replies
          1. re: rworange

            just a report back, semi failure. don't use this recipe.

            the quantities suggested in that recipe seemed wildly excessive to begin with. (two cups of malt is a LOT)- I did note that after a day or so, I had in effect a clone of what folks who know the British hot drink Horlicks smells like.

            But after more searching online, it seems that sorghum malt is what is used in Africa for the fermenting, whereas the generic UK import malt I bought from a homebrew store, pretty much did nothing except supply a certain Horlicks-like sweetness to the mess.

            However, I did notice that using the cornflour - (pouring it into boiled water and stirring till it thickens) gave me an exact very simple basic porridge that tastes almost exactly like the standard porridge done in Africa by villagers, and which tasted instantly familiar to me.

            For those interested, simply boil up a cup of water, then pour in the corn meal, and stir. It'll start to thicken almost immediately, keep stirring for a bit to let it cook slightly. Then depending on whether you like your porridge 'dry' or 'wet' add a tiny bit of water, and keep on stirring. Remove from heat, dump the corn meal into a bowl, add milk (and/or cream) and sugar (or salt depending on your palate) and there's your basic African morning meal. Very simple and basic, but filling.
            (It might be taste too 'basic' (bland) for a Westernized palate, so don't expect anything special, it isn't. But it's a standard simple dish to fill an empty stomach.

            I've never had 'grits' - the Southern dish, so I'm not sure if I'm reinventing the wheel here, but coming from Africa, it was fun to have discovered a common African taste without even trying.

            Looping back to the Mageu experiment, the next step is trying to hunt down 'sorghum malt' - which is apparently the specific malt used in combo with corn meal, to produce mageu.
            Incidentally, if/when I can find it, I'll have most of the basics for making another African staple - African beer, although its seriously an acquired taste, as it really doesn't taste like anything even approaching 'regular' beer. It has a weird fermented taste that, when I tried it while growing up, appalled me and made me think of something of a mix between fermented brown milk and some sort of muddy swamp water :)

            I'll report back on the sorghum sourcing..

            1. re: TheFamine

              bought both an East African corn flour, as well as two bags of 'regular' sorghum corn flour (from a South African food supplier I found while in Toronto) - will experiment and report back :)
              Found an African store in Hartford CT - and they sold a thick gruel type drink made from their local flour - however, they added serious quantities of cloves and ginger, which to me, made the simple taste of the fermented flour into a fairly weird drink. Even with my Africanized palate, it wasn't too pleasant - so 'regular' American palates would probably have freaked out at the sour clove taste.

              It was mentioned that no additional malt is added, and that simply putting water with the flour and leaving it for a few days to ferment, provided the next step.

              I guess there's a big difference between local US Monsanto-frankenfood style GMO crop flour, and the real African thing. The former isn't alive, and the latter is.
              Hopefully the sorghum will result in the simple porridge-like drink that I know. I'll report back with pix, when I get around to it.

              1. re: TheFamine

                Were you able to make it with the sorghum?

          2. Hmmm, where to find your malt? There are quite a few African (and likely South African) stores and restaurants in Chicago...some on the southside and many in Rogers Park.

            As an alternative; Have you ever tried any of the middleastern or Indian yogurt drinks? There is a maize/masa based Mexican drink called Atole. Why not give these a try just for kicks?
            Anyway, here are two South African Food sites I found;



            Hope you find you malt.