Drinking masau wine is like inviting a torrid affair of flavors to dance on your tongue. A soft trace of bitterness intermingled with a sudden, sharp sweetness. The bold fruitiness lingers on the expanse of your taste buds, daring you to pour another glass.
Masau is more than just a guilty pleasure packed with a cacophony of flavors. It’s part of Zimbabwe’s heritage.
A fruit grown on trees, masau (Ziziphus Mauritania) has many names in English, including “Indian Jujube,” “Chinese Apple” and “Indian Plum.” It originated in Central Asia and spread to North Africa, where it became distinctly Zimbabwean.
Zimbabweans embraced the many uses of the fruit, from its perceived ability to heal nausea and alleviate symptoms of gout to its capacity, when fermented and distilled, to get a party started.
“Anyone who takes a sip of it, loves it.”
The wine is made by placing the dried fruit, which is wrinkly and reddish-brown in appearance, into a large drum, which is then filled with water. Yeast, malt and upfu, a type of processed maize, is added.
The drum is then placed in a deep hole into the ground. After a week, the drum is removed and placed over a large fire, where it’s boiled and distilled. The recipe resembles the way moonshine is made. In rural areas of Zimbabwe, it’s known as wine or doro, which means “alcohol” in Shona, the country’s native language.
Lewis Dzinzi is a self-proclaimed masau lover from Mount Darwin, Zimbabwe.
“The area is very remote and when things get boring, we make masau wine,” he says. “It’s a great beverage because so many of us can’t afford to buy expensive drinks, so it’s a cheaper alternative.”
Dzinzi is passionate about masau and its ability to bring people together. “Anyone who takes a sip of it, loves it.”
The beverage was borne out of poverty and resourcefulness in rural areas like Mount Darwin, Mukumbura and Dande, where the fruit is most found. With no nightlife and limited resources to purchase alcohol, entrepreneurial villagers took matters into their own hands and made masau.
To Mr. Bhango, a traditional masau winemaker, it’s not just a beverage. It’s his tradition and livelihood, his very means of survival.
“My father used to make masau. Now I make it,” he says. “Each week passes, but every Sunday, without fail, I begin the preparations [which takes up to seven days]. It has been my way of life since I was born,” Bhango says of his family legacy.
Other Zimbabweans, however, adopted an easier method. They follow the first part of the traditional recipe, but skip the upfu, malt and distillation process. It‘s a straightforward process that’s easy to tackle in any home kitchen.
How to Make Masau Wine
There are no hard-set rules. If anything, the most important part of the recipe is to have fun, and to have patience. This recipe pays homage to both the old ways while still embracing the new.
5½ pounds masau (available from The Tropical Fruit Box)
1 tablespoon dry yeast
2¼ cups sugar
5 liters water
Mango slices, for garnish
In jar or container, combine all ingredients except garnish. Don’t fill to top of jar to allow space for fermentation. Stir gently.
Cover jar with plastic and secure with rubber band or string. Store in dark place at about 77ºF.
Fermentation should start after 24 hours. Look for bubbles on surface of liquid. After 1 week, open jar and mix. Strain wine with cheesecloth. Refrigerate wine in jar for another 2-3 days. Serve with or without ice, alongside mango slices on the side.