Shakparo: a Traditional West African Sorghum Beer

Richard Okambawa, Dear zymurgists,

This discourse presents the preliminary results of my experiments on brewing shakparo beer at home in North America. I hope you find this document useful. Feel free to ask any question about it. Comments and suggestions are welcome.

I      Theory 
II     Traditional process
III    pShakparo brewing process


I'm trying to clone shakparo, as the beverage is an important part of my culture and non availability of shakparo is like non availability of bread. I want to "rationalise" and standardise shakparo brewing process by a moderate use of scientific methods, design and build a pilot microbrewery of shakparo here in Canada and move the plant or it's copy to Benin.

I would like to thank the anonymous brewmistresses of shakparo for handling the liquid bread alive and resisting uniformisation. They gave me description of the malting and brewing processes. Thanks to my family, my friends and Dr Ogoubi Dainou, Universite nationale du Benin for enthusiastic help on a preliminary systematic study of the biochemistry and microbiology of shakparo beer, Jean-Luc Brousseau and Renaud Levesques ("good" beer lovers and lambicophiles) who tasted some of my pseudo shakparo and exclaimed: "J'aime ca!". Many thanks to Russell Mast, probably one of the most intelligent man in the northern hemisphere for discussions on the subject. He strongly recommended the publication of this preliminary report and proofread the text.

I Introduction

Fermented foods constitute a substancial fraction of the diet in Africa and other parts of the world. Cereals, tuber roots, and beans are biologically "ennobled" by biological agencies. The transformed products have higher nutritive value, palatability, flavor and in some cases, are detoxicated, and protected from attack by pathogenic microbes.

One exemple of the use of of traditional microbial biotechnology to produce ennobled foods is Shakparo beer, which have an immense social, economic, ritual, nutritional, sanitary role in the Idashaland, Dassa-Zoume, in the savanah region of Republic of Benin, West Africa. It is brewed mainly from malted guinea corn (Sorghum vulgare, S. bicolor) is an exemple of the use. Sorghum, also called gros mil in french, seems to be the best cereal for shakparo brewing. Shakparo is a green beer, "wild" fermented,but not so "wild" as Russell and I concluded after private e-mail correspondance; shakparo yeast is somewhat cultured or maintainedon an immobilised form on the fermenting vessels(clay pot or vegetable gurd). The beverage has a full body, long aftertaste, a fruity, pleasantly sour taste ( I'm as objective as I can),with a complex estery and organic acid flavor and yoghur and sorghum aroma. It is very thirst-quenching, and it is cloudy and yeasty, with a brownish pink color. The alcohol content ranges from 1 to 8% by volume. A fresh beer bubles, contains 3 to 4 % alc. / vol and 6 % solids. The enjoyer burp and the typical aroma come back. The traditional form of the product has a short shelf life and must be consumed within a few days after ~ 24 h fermentation.

Shakparo is a traditional sorghum beer brewed by Idasha women, the "grand cru corse" version being consume mainly by man. Long before the rise of western feminism, women of the generally matrilinear beer drinkers's tribes used beer to ensure their power in the society. An Idasha myth reports that a gratful heroic ancestor build the first market for his mother to sell the fruit of her work, most notably her beer. Before "modernisation" it was easy to find good shakparo in Dassa-Zoume and the region around region. Every "normal" home has it's brewery (a part of the kitchen). Mothers teach brewing art and science to their girls before mariage. An Ifa verse which sets the temperance rule report that Beer and his brothers Palm Wine and Raphia Wine consulted the oracle. These beverages are highly esteemed by the thirsty gods of the Voodoo / Orisha based civilisations.

Shakparo can be considered to be in the same family as bantu beer (called kaffir beer before the south african revolution), pombe (East Africa) dolo (Burkina Faso, Mali), burukutu (Nigeria), pito (Ghana and Nigeria), bouza (Egypt, Ethiopia), merisa ( Soudan), hemeket or zythum or zythos, last word of the dictionnary (Ancient Egypt), shukutu (Benin and Togo), Tchakpalo (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire), bil-bil (Cameroon). Tourists and culturally alienated Africans often look upon those products as primitive dirty and harmful stuffs and prefer to drink Becks, Heineken and Kronenbourg.

Despite the cultural importance of traditional sorghum beer, scientific investigations are few and often contradictory and there aren't any geared towards shakparo specifically

A suivre