The Ark of Taste’s 4,000th Product Boards in South Africa

Slow Food’s catalog of the world’s food biodiversity reaches another important step!

The 4,000th passenger on the Ark of Taste, Slow Food’s international catalog of food products, has arrived from South Africa. This is the case for a handcrafted beer called Umqombothi, which marks an important milestone for Slow Food’s project.

Umqombothi is a traditional Xhosa beer made from a combination of maize meal, crushed corn malt, crushed sorghum malt, yeast (traditionally made from the root of the moerwortel plant, Glia gummifera) and water. In appearance, the beer is opaque and light tan in color. It has a thick, creamy, gritty consistency from the maize, and is known for having a heavy and distinctly sour aroma.

Umqombothi is brewed following traditional customs and these vary slightly between regions. Xhosa people filter the fermented mash through a tube-shaped, woven grass strainer called intluzo.

The strainers are made by sewing together many strands of carefully-prepared, twisted, grass-like sedge stems. They are only made by elderly people, using a centuries-old technique. It is a complicated and time consuming technique that takes great patience to learn and pass along to others. Younger generations are not always willing to learn this art, meaning that it is in danger of dying out, which could contribute to a loss of knowledge in brewing beer the traditional way. Symbolically, the intluzo was a very important item in a traditional Xhosa household. For example, it was given as a wedding gift to the newly married. Unfortunately, metal factory-made strainers are more commonly used today.

Umqombothi plays a very important cultural, social and spiritual role. It is used to celebrate the homecoming of young men known as abakwetha in Xhosa culture, after initiation and ritual circumcision. But it is also part of the process of contacting the ancestors (amadlozi) and plays a central role in many celebrations or life events like weddings, funerals, and imbizos (traditional meetings).

The Slow Food Ark of Taste preserves and promotes food products, breeds and varieties that are at risk of disappearing, along with the traditions and knowledge to which they are linked. The Ark receives nominations from all over the world, and currently has passengers from 140 different countries.

Slow Food’s network in South Africa is really active in preserving traditional foods that are part of local culture. Three Slow Food Presidia (Baleni Salt, Raw Milk Cheeses and Zulu Sheep) have been established so far, 50 products have boarded the Slow Food Ark of Taste and 137 gardens have been created within the 10,000 Gardens in Africa project. Local groups across the country are laying the foundations for an important role in Slow Food International’s strategy in the future. They organize campaigns and activities, working with chefs, producers and schools to promote the enjoyment of good, clean, fair, and culturally relevant food.

To find out more about the Umqombothi beer please visit:

Slow Food protects biodiversity with projects around the world. To continue this work, we need everyone’s help and participation.

For further information, please contact the Slow Food International Press Office:

[email protected] – Twitter: @SlowFoodPress

Slow Food is a global grassroots organization that envisions a world in which all people can access and enjoy food that is good for them, good for those who grow it and good for the planet. Slow Food involves over a million activists, chefs, experts, youth, farmers, fishers and academics in over 160 countries. Among them, a network of around 100,000 Slow Food members are linked to 1,500 local chapters worldwide, contributing through their membership fee, as well as the events and campaigns they organize. As part of the network, more than 2,400 Terra Madre food communities practice small-scale and sustainable production of quality food around the world.

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