Zulu Rainbow maize is a flint type of corn that bears large cobs (20-25 cm) with large multi-colored kernels of bluish-black, dark red, yellow and creamy white, hence the name rainbow maize. The plants can grow up to two meters tall. The maize grows in a region with high summer rainfall, and this is when the maize grows. The cobs are left to dry on the plant, and then picked for processing. This is an heirloom maize, and is not grown commercially, as the seed has been handed down over generations of subsistence farmers.
Maize is a staple food in the Zulu community. The main cultural dish is phutu, a crumbly maize porridge, usually eaten with amasi (curdled sour milk). Sometimes a bit of sugar is added. This maize is also combined with sorghum to brew an extremely nutritious, low alcohol beer (about 3%) This is traditionally the task of women. Sorghum and maize is soaked in water for a day. It is then boiled and allowed to cool. The next day the fermentation process has begun, the brew is filtered through a sieve and must be served fresh the same day. The maize gives the beer a gritty yet creamy look and consistency. The flavor is quite sour.
There is very little documented history of maize in South Africa, but it is commonly believed that Portuguese traders introduced it to this region in the 16th and 17th centuries. It became useful to African farmers because it was grown and used in a similar way to their traditional crop of grain sorghum. Maize displaced sorghum as the staple grain in many regions such as Kwa-Zulu Natal. Today however, it is mainly grown on small farms or by subsistence farmers, and is not sold commercially. In South Africa, most farmers grow genetically modified hybrid varieties, and cross-pollination from neighboring farms threatens traditional heirloom varieties like Zulu Rainbow maize.Back to the archive >