The use of pineapples on pizza may be one of the more divisive culinary topics, but what everyone during lockdown did seem to agree on was that fermenting pineapples was the best way to create an alcoholic beverage to quench the booze-starved nation’s thirst.
The fermentation of pineapples, which are indigenous to Latin America, goes back to pre-Colombian Mexico. Mexico’s ferment tepache is usually made from pineapple waste – the skins – after consuming the flesh. This low alcohol-by-volume drink is usually mixed with light Mexican beer.
South Africa’s association with fermenting pineapples seems to run deep. Mfula
mfula is a Zulu fermentation of bread, oats, sugar and pineapple that gained popularity during Apartheid. SJA de Villiers’s seminal work on Afrikaans culinary culture, Kook en Geniet, originally published in 1951, contains a recipe for pineapple beer.
During our recent prohibition, pineapple beer went viral. Searches on Google
for “how to brew your own pineapple beer” surged by more than 500 percent.
“Sales of pineapples increased massively, by around 1 600 percent, in our store,” says Mike Egling, the owner of Hillcrest Spar in Durban. It would eventually lead to the scarcity of both pineapples and yeast.
Apiwe Nxusani-Mawela, founder of Brewsters Craft, a contract brewery, laboratory and training facility in Johannesburg, noticed a gap in the market and produced a commercial version. Tolokazi Pineapple Cider was launched as the ban on alcohol sales was lifted.
“I worked on my pineapple cider recipe during the first lockdown, based on the
hype around brewing with pineapple,” she says. “I posted a home-brewing recipe
on my Facebook page, which was shared hundreds of times.”
Google searches for how to brew pineapple beer surged by more than 500 percent
Apiwe theorises as to why pineapple supplied became the ferment of choice: “It’s easy to make (unlike umqombothi, which has many steps), pineapples weren’t that difficult to find, the taste is not that far off from the normal ciders, and most people had at some point in their lives probably tasted it before.”
She has fond memories of early inter-actions with this ferment. “I remember
when I was younger, we’d take the skin of pineapple after my parents had eaten it
and add sugar and yeast – a story probably similar to many other South Africans’.”
Tsikwe Molobye, a Gauteng-based entrepreneur and brewer, released a recipe ebook, Lockdown Dranks, during prohibition. It looked to safely empower
people to ferment at home. The home-fermenting of products such as pineapple beer during lockdown has given people a greater awareness of the different types of beers, ciders and wines and how they’re made, Tsikwe says. “I think this will create a greater appreciation for craft beer and people will appreciate the hard work that goes into making it.”
Home fermenting is 100 per cent safe, as long as nothing toxic is added to your
fermented beverage, he adds.
What next for pineapple beer? Will it be one of those stories our generation will tell its grandchildren with a mix of fondness and anguish, or will it eventually make its way into our national taste buds for generations to come? We’ll have to wait and see, but the humble pineapple has certainly had its day.