Urwaga Banana Beer

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Urwaga is a banana beer, an artisanal beer made from the fermentation of the Musa acuminata variety of bananas that is very popular among the people towns in the area of Kivu Lake, in the Kibungo region of western Rwanda and the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo. In the regions neighboring South-Kivu there are modes of preparation quite similar to urwaga and that have different names. This drink is made for personal consumption, to be shared with family and friends, but not for commercial sales.   Fermentation of this drink takes place in a wooden tank covered in banana leaves. The juice to be fermented is obtained by stirring (or pressing) ripe bananas with the use of grasses (inshinge) that often grow on the mountain side. To prepare the juice, the brewer energetically crushes the bananas in the tank using his hands and the leaves. Once all of the bananas are crushed, he adds enough water to dilute the level of sugar, so as to obtain an alcohol content between 5% and 15%. The brewer continues stirring the contents of the tank (umuvure), and, at the right moment, he presses the mixture of leaves and bananas to extract the juice. Sometimes he must add water to the residue in order to extract any juice that is still present.   Next, a preparation of water and either millet or sorghum malt (sprouted, lightly toasted and ground) called mulolo or mujimbi, is then spread on top of the juice, all of which is then covered in banana leaves and conserved in a warm area for three days. The enzymes present in the millet or germinated sorghum allow the residual starch in the bananas and malt to continue the fermentation process, which takes place thanks to the presence of yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisae) and lactobacilli bacteria. At the end of the fermentation process, the urwagwa is filtered again and must be consumed within a week.   When mixed with other products the beer changes its name; for example, when honey is added the product becomes inturire. When the juice used to make urwagwa is fermented without the addition of water, it is known as butunda. On the other hand, when honey is added to the slightly diluted banana juice before being fermented, the resulting drink is called inkangaza. Today, urwagwa, and related drinks, are at risk of extinction due to the introduction of European bananas to the detriment of traditional, local banana trees.

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