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from: Eastern Africa

Maziwa, Maziwa Mabichi, and Mtindi (milk, curdled milk, buttermilk)

Milk is an important part of the African diet in those parts of Africa where cattle or camels can be kept. (The tsetse fly and the diseases it spreads has made keeping livestock impossible in many parts of Africa.)

In Southern Africa, beef eating is fairly common, but in Eastern Africa, cattle are often valued more for their milk, and as a store of wealth, than for their meat. In Eastern Africa, milk is consumed fresh, as soured milk or buttermilk, or made into curdled milk (similar to what is called cottage cheese in the United States). Butter is also made and is used to make ghee (a sort of clarified butter) which is used as an oil for frying. In Western Africa, yoghurt or yoghurt-like beverages are common. Locally-produced homemade soft cheeses made by cattle-keeping peoples in Africa's Sahelian regions are available in some areas, but are far from common. Their popularity has increased in recent decades. Hard cheeses (like those common in Europe and America) are not part of the traditional sub-Saharan African diet. In parts of Africa where cattle are not kept, powdered milk and packaged cheeses (e.g., Vache qui Rit), imported from Europe, are found in many shops.

milk vendors in chad

Despite Burton's usage (below):

The Congo Cookbook has no recipes for these traditional beverages. They are documented by Richard Francis Burton and Samuel White Baker. In their time, buttermilk was the liquid left after butter was churned. Today's commercially prepared buttermilk is made by adding certain bacteria to milk, which thicken it and change its flavor.


Samuel White Baker

We used the milk native fashion

In the early 1860's Samuel White Baker and his wife, Florence von Sass, explored the sources of the Nile in the regions that are today's Uganda and Ethiopia. His time in Uganda, in the area of Lake Albert (Albert Nyanza or Lake Mobutu Sese Seko) and Lake Victoria (Victoria Nyanza), is documented in his book The Albert N'Yanza: Great Basin of the Nile and Explorations of the Nile Sources (London: Sidgwick and Jackson, 1962; first published 1866). This excerpt is about milk.

We used the milk native fashion, never drinking it until curdled; taken in this form it will agree with the most delicate stomach, but if used fresh in large quantities it induces biliousness. The young girls of thirteen and fourteen that are wives of the king are not appreciated unless extremely fat--they are subjected to a regular system of fattening in order to increase their charms; thus at an early age they are compelled to drink daily about a gallon of curdled milk, the swallowing of which is frequently enforced by the whip; the result is extreme obesity. In hot climates milk will curdle in two or three hours if placed in a vessel that has previously contained sour milk. When curdled, it should be well beated together until it assumes the appearance of cream; in this state, if seasoned with a little salt, it is most nourishing and easy of digestion. The Arabs invariably use it in this manner and improve it by the addition of red pepper. The natives of Unyoro will not eat red pepper, as they believe that men and women become barren by its use.
(At Home in Kisoona)


Other African gastronomical excerpts


Richard Francis Burton

Milk is held in high esteem

In the late 1850's Richard Francis Burton traveled from Zanzibar to Lake Tanganyika and back, and then wrote The Lake Regions of Central Africa: A Picture of Exploration (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1860; reprinted by Dover Publications, and by Scholarly Press). In the "Village Life in East Africa" chapter he wrote about the use of milk.

Milk is held in high esteem by all tribes, and some live upon it almost exclusively during the rains, when cattle find plentiful pasture. It is consumed in three forms--"mabichi," when drunk fresh; or converted into mabivu (buttermilk), the rubb of Arabs; or in the shape of mtindi (curded milk), the laban of Arabia, and the Indian Dahi. ... The fresh [milk] has few charms as a poculent among barbarous and milk-drinking races: the Arabs and Portuguese in Africa avoid it after the sun is high, believing it to increase bile, and eventually to cause fever: it is certain that, however pleasant the draught may be in the cool of the morning, is is by no means relished during the heat of the day. On the other hand, curded milk is every where a favorite on account of its cooling and thirst-quenching properties, and people long accustomed to it from infancy have for it an excessive longing. It is procurable in every village where cows are kept, whereas that newly drawn is generally half-soured from being at once stored in the earthen pots used for curding it.
. . .
Butter is made by filling a large gourd, which acts as a churn, with partially-soured milk, which is shaken to and fro . . .
(Chapter XVIII -- Village Life in East Africa)


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