One of my favorite parts of this blog is that I get the opportunity to relive the places I’ve traveled to and loved over the years, and celebrate my favorite parts of those places. And one country that is very near and dear to my heart is Uganda. Several years ago, in my first visit, I spent three months living in the small city of Mbarara and working with health workers in rural villages. Three years later, I returned again to visit project sites near Kampala. Yes, there is a lot extreme poverty, with 42% of the population living below the national poverty line, but there is so much more: vibrant natural beauty, fantastically stylish clothing options, and resilient people who know how to hustle.
But I didn’t really love the food in Uganda, though I wanted to. The dishes were simple and repetitive, offering a lot of fresh and unprocessed options but limited flavor and variety. The staple starch there is matoke, made by boiling and mashing a starchy variety of banana into a bland lump. When we went out for lunch, the likelihood was high that you’d wind up with half a plate of the stuff. I love bananas and plantains in so many other forms, but matoke, being neither sweet nor savory, I could never get my head around.
So I’ve been thinking for awhile now what I could bring to all of you from Uganda, and only coming up with foods that weren’t particular exciting, like matoke, or feasible, such as this multi-hour luwombo dish (for a rainy weekend). I was even digging through old photos and looking for inspiration, when I came upon it: Stoney Tangawizi!
Tangawizi means ginger in Swahili, and ginger is celebrated in Uganda, whether it’s through the soft drink Stoney or ginger-infused tea. So yes, Stoney Tangawizi is soda. Yes, it’s bottled and owned by Coke. But it is sooooo delicious. So good that I may have loaded my suitcase with 1-liter bottles to bring back to the States every time I left Uganda. So good that I found multiple pictures of it in my files. It’s sweet but with a strong ginger kick, and it’s the only soda I ever crave.
Traditional ginger beer is non-alcoholic, the product of a short fermentation period of ginger root. Though its origins can be traced back to England and the beverage is now available worldwide, I will always associate it with my time in Uganda. In many African countries, ginger beer remains as a vestige of British colonization during the 1800s, which is why most of the countries where Stoney is sold were former British colonies.
The Stoney brand is hard to find in the US, other than Amazon and other online stores where it’s quite overpriced. Luckily, it’s incredibly easy and affordable to make ginger beer at home, and you can adjust the sweet/spicy level to your taste! And now that the summer season has officially arrived, there’s nothing better than sipping on an ice-cold glass of ginger beer on a hot day.
This recipe is SO EASY. All you need to make a good ginger beer is ginger, sugar, lemons, water, yeast, and about 15 minutes of active time. That’s it! I found this particular recipe on the Crunchy Betty blog.
Find a large container that can be sealed. I used a 3-pint mason jar but a recycled 2-liter soda bottle would suffice (just make sure to check the proportions!)
I made my beer with equal amounts ginger and sugar, but if you want it sweeter, increase the sugar; if you want it spicier, add more ginger. Finely chop the ginger. Because you’ll filter the final product, you don’t even need to peel it – just give it a good rinse. If you have a food processor for this step, I highly recommend using it.
Boil the water and pour over the ginger and sugar. Stir gently and let the sugar dissolve.
Juice the lemons and give it another stir. Let the bottle sit uncovered until it’s lukewarm, then add the yeast. This took about an hour, but it depends on the room temperature. Make sure that the water is warm but not hot to the touch, because if the temperature is too high you will kill the yeast, but if the temperature is too low, the yeast won’t activate (you are aiming for 95-110˚F).
Cover and let sit for 18-24 hours. The longer you let it sit, the stronger the fermentation. I do recommend opening it up a few times in this period. Opening it up helps release the carbon dioxide that gives it fizz, but also can put pressure on the container if too much CO2 builds up. If all is well, you should see some bubbling at the top in the first few hours, and after sitting for 12+ it will likely fizz up when you open it!
When you are satisfied with the taste and fizz, strain out the ginger bits and move it to the fridge to stop fermentation. Serve over ice and enjoy!
Homemade Stoney Tangawizi (Ginger Beer)
Makes 6 cups (3 pints/1.5 L) of ginger beer. 15 minutes active time, 18-24 hour fermentation period.
- 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 cups ginger, finely chopped
- 6 cups boiling water
- Juice of 2 lemons
- 1 teaspoon activate dry yeast
- 1.5L container with lid (a used and cleaned 2L soda bottle will work, but you will need to increase the proportions)
- Food processor (optional)
- Large strainer, nut milk bag, or cheese cloth (something to strain a large quantity of liquid)
- Chop the ginger (food processor recommended, not necessary to peel). Add ginger and sugar to your container.
- Boil the water and pour into container. Stir to dissolve sugar.
- Add the lemon juice and stir a few more times to mix well.
- Let the container sit open until temperature is lukewarm (95-110˚F), about one hour. Add the yeast and seal the container.
- Let sit for at least 18 hours, 24 preferred. Open at least once to let carbon dioxide escape. If the ginger is fermenting, you will see bubbles on the top and may hear fizzing.
- Run through a strainer to remove ginger bits. Move to fridge to stop fermentation. Enjoy cold over ice!
What do you think? Do you love ginger beer as much as I do? What other fermented beverages do you love?