How to make umqombothi at home

What’s a celebration without umqombothi?

This has become one of my favourite recipes to share, especially since I went to a friend’s family event where there was no one to brew the beer ¬– that’s because no one knew how, except an aunt who wasn’t there!

Yet umqombothi is an important beverage that is essential in celebrations and communication with the ancestors.

I found it sad that we’re losing so much of our heritage and culture because we’re not learning, and working to preserve it.

So here goes: when the time comes, here’s the recipe.


  • 2kg maize meal
  • 2kg sorghum + 1 kg extra – King Korn umthombo (green packet)
  • 11 litres water
  • Brown sugar (optional: it helps beer ferment more quickly)
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Day 1

In a plastic container or bucket, combine the maize meal, 2kg sorghum and six litres boiling water to make a paste. Seal tightly. Put mixture in a dark, warm place to ferment over two to three days.

Day 2

By the second day, the mixture should have started fermenting and bubbles will appear on the surface. Set aside 2 cups of this fermented mixture (imithombo).

Boil 2 litres of water in a pot and add all the paste from the bucket slowly while stirring continuously. Reduce heat and allow to simmer for an hour to a porridge consistency. Allow to cool completely.

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Pour back into bucket and add the 2 cups of fermented liquid you set aside. Stir with a wooden spoon and add 3 litres of cold water and another 1kg of dry sorghum to the mixture. Stir till well combined (drinking consistency). Seal container, cover with a blanket to insulate and return to a dark, warm place to ferment.

Day 3

By the next day, the fermented mixture should smell a little pungent and tiny bubbles will be popping on the surface. Strain the mixture through a kitchen sieve and serve.

Tip: The solid bits of sorghum left behind in the sieve are called izinsipho and may be frozen and used to make a new batch of umqombothi. They help to ferment the beer more quickly.

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