Trunk it – it’s Marula beer!

Marula season in Southern Africa is normally in February each year. When Marulas (Sclerocarya birrea) are getting ripe, they turn from green to yellow and fall from the female Marula trees. On the ground, they are ripening up fully and will start fermenting after about a week. Areas under the trees are during that time densely covered with Marula fruits in varying ripening stages. These are used for producing Marula beer.

That’s also the time when elephants will travel from far and wide to the known Marula tree locations and feast on these fruits. But it is untrue that elephants are getting drunk by them. That is not possible, as they are hind-gut fermenters and have a very short retention time of these fruits in their digestive system. And most of the Marulas they eat will be excreted again.

And not only elephants love Marulas, but also people do. At fruiting time, locals are collecting big bags full of them and selling them next to the road. And many buyers are producing ‘Marula Beer’ from them. Which is technically spoken not a beer at all, but a kind of cider. In this case, a Marula cider, which everybody – unknowingly why – is calling ‘Marula Beer’.

Producing this cider-beer or beer-cider is easy. And it is best to just use fully ripe, yellow fruits, which already smell slightly of fermentation. Green fruits are still very sour for cider-making. After washing the fruits, the skins will be cut in half and the kernels will be pressed out. Fruit flesh is still within the skins and on the kernels. Therefore both, skins and kernels have to be pressed for extracting most of the juices. And this is also the best way to eat Marula fruits: Squeezing out the juices and drinking these juices, as the fruit flesh is closely sticking to the kernel and each fruit has to be kept in the mouth for a long time to nibble the fruit flesh. Squeezing and drinking are faster and easier.

After extracting the juices, a good amount of sugar should be added (about one big spoonful for every liter of juice) and some amount of dry yeast to start fermentation faster. Now the container with the concoction should be covered with cheesecloth and kept in a warm place outside direct sunlight. Depending on natural and artificial amounts of sugar within the concoction, minimum and maximum temperatures, and amount of yeast, it will start fermenting and the froth will take up cellulose fibers and other particles in the liquid. After ending the fermentation process, the froth will be converted to a solid layer, which can be easily removed. The remaining liquid is our Marula beer/cider, which is ready to drink.

We always used too many green Marula fruits for the beer and too little sugar, so our concoction was always a bit sour. But the alcohol content and pleasant smell could compete with any Strongbow cider.

Lessons learned from making Marula Beer

  • Just use ripe, yellow Marula fruits for the ‘beer’
  • ‘Squeezing and drinking fresh’ is the best way to enjoy large numbers of Marulas and fill up the stomach
  • Don’t save on sugar and yeast for the beer – sweet tastes better in the long run than sour
  • When Marula beer is ready, a good braai with friends will make a memorable evening. Hopefully with not too much of a headache afterwards.

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