Umqombothi Recipe

Umqombothi, or African Beer, Recipe

Umqombothi: The traditional Zulu beer for holiday celebrations

Umqombothi or sorghum beer is an essential part of South African food and drink heritage, and well worth mastering.

Umqombothi Recipe

Umqombothi, or African Beer, Recipe

In the last few year’s we’ve been making more of our own drinks and we should never forget the traditional African favourites. Umqombothi, or sorghum beer, is as old as the African hills. it shares a couple of basic ingredients – sorghum, maize and sometimes millet – that, once fermented, results in a nutritious, heady and hoppy beer that bears little resemblance to commercial beer but is much cheaper and quicker to make at home.

Tips for making Umqombothi

  • Try your local grocery store, or health shops, for supplies. Or use equal amounts of maize meal and course sorghum following the method described below.
  • Using more maize malt will produce a lighter-coloured beer with a mellow flavour while using more sorghum will produce a stronger-tasting, darker beer.
  • You can add a cup of sugar to the final mix to increase fermentation.
  • Ensure all equipment and utensils are squeaky clean so you don’t ruin your brew.
  • The longer you ferment it, the higher the alcohol content will be, but don’t expect it to go much higher than 5% and it will go off if you keep it too long. Five days is normally the maximum time.
  • Use the solids – called izinzipho – left over from the brewing for your next batch of umqombothi to speed up the fermentation process. Or, feed it to the chickens.
  • It is considered rude to drink umqombothi while standing up.

Umqombothi or sorghum beer is an essential part of South African food and drink heritage, and well worth mastering and passing on to the next generation.

Last updated on 30 November 2022

Umqombothi recipe

3 from 67 votes
Recipe by Laura Swanepoel Course: DrinksCuisine: South AfricaDifficulty: Medium
Prep time


Cooking time


Resting Time

2 days

Total time






  • 2 kg 2 maize meal

  • 2 kg 2 sorghum

  • 6 litres 6 water


  • Combine maize meal sorghum with six litres of boiling water and mix until it is a smooth paste. Leave this to ferment for two days, in a warm, dark place.
  • After day two, scoop out two cups of the fermented mixture and set aside. Mix the remaining paste with two litres of boiling water in a pot, and place on the stove. Simmer, stirring often, for about an hour then let it cool.
  • Then place this mix back in your bucket, add the two cups of fermented paste and stir, finally adding another 1kg of sorghum to the mix.
  • The next day the mixture should be bubbling nicely, which means your beer is ready. Strain it through a sieve, chill and enjoy.

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