Traditional Zambian Beverages

Traditional Zambian beverages, alcoholic and non-alcoholic, are usually shared after a day’s hard work.  This usually takes place at an Insaka, a thatched open sided structure where the day’s problems and joys are shared amid plenty of these Zambian beverages going round.   

However, the modern urban Zambian usually troops to his favorite watering hole for his favorite bottled beverage. 

The flow of these traditional Zambian beverages increases at special occasions like a good harvest, a new born baby, a wedding, a good or safe journey – in short anything worth celebrating about. 

In old days, traditional beverages were free and shared among friends, but due to economic pressure, an economic value has been attached to the beverages and the commodity has entered the market. 

Non-alcoholic Beverages

Zambian Traditional Beverages - MunkoyoTraditional Zambian Beverages - Munkoyo


On the list of traditional Zambian beverages, Munkoyo is perhaps the most favorite and a well-known non-alcoholic drink in Zambia. It is found in every corner of the country, regardless of the tribal affiliation. It is best enjoyed after a hard day’s work. 

The best Munkoyo is one that has just matured or lost its sweetness. Precaution should be taken though, if you are a novice at Munkoyo drinking. Go for some recently brewed Munkoyo, because the stuff gets alcoholic as it ages! 

The methods and ingredients of cooking Munkoyo differ from one part of the country to another. But the basics and final product is the same. 

The two main ingredients of Munkoyo are maize meal or any other suitable (like sorghum meal and cassava meal) and dried Munkoyo roots, gotten from the “Munkoyo tree” (Rhynchosia venulosa) named after the beverage. These roots are usually battered into loose shreds and then dried. 

It is prepared by mixing together the warm maize porridge and Munkoyo roots and allowing it to mature overnight. You can easily get these roots at any market even in urban centers. Preparation of Munkoyo is traditionally a women’s specialty and it is best enjoyed with sugar added. 


Thobwa is similar to Munkoyo but whitish in color and thicker in form. Thobwa gives a feeling of fullness after you have taken it. The main ingredient is maize meal or a suitable substitute. Thobwa is also prepared from the left-over of Nshima which had been kept for a couple of days and are slightly fermented. (Nshima is a staple food and it is in form of a thick porridge cooked from maize, sorghum or cassava flour). 

Thobwa is easy to prepare at home and some companies have gone into marketing it in ready- to-drink disposables or the ‘do it yourself’ powder form. 


Maheu DrinkMaheu Drink

Maheu is the most popular commercially viable traditional beverage. From its inception it was packaged in small ready-to-drink packs of less than half a liter but now it’s being bottled. Its color and unique taste comes from finger millet, its usual traditional main ingredient, but millet can be replaced by any cereal or corn flour. It is satisfying and usually taken as a food drink. 

Next time you are drinking packaged Maheu, remember you are taking a drink which has been around for as long as its people. Packaged Maheu and the traditionally prepared Maheu are slightly different in taste because the factory prepared one contains additives in order to prolong its shelf life. 

Alcoholic Beverages

Katata – Home Brew For The Bemba

It may come by a different name from one region to another, but don’t worry, the preparations and the product are the same. 

While the urban dweller is sipping away his Mosi larger – Zambia’s most popular bottled brew, his rural counterpart is busy on his Katata. They differ in taste but the end result will be the same, and Katata has more nutrient content than the bottled Mosi. 

Again the women folk are the brew masters of Katata. Finger millet is used abundantly in this brew. However, like in any of Zambia’s traditional beverages, there are a lot of substitutes for it. Katata can be co-brewed with Katubi, another alcoholic drink or on its own. Its popularity has seeped to urban areas where the people, especially elders, enjoy it while remembering the good old days back at the village. 

Katubi or Chipumu – Home Brew For The Bemba

Katubi differs both in form and taste from other traditional Zambian beverages. The locals usually brew it alongside Katata and its ingredients are similar to those of Katata. However, Katubi is a much thicker brew. Before it could be taken, hot water is poured into a vessel, actually an Insupa (calabash) containing Katubi, which almost builds up a form - ready to be drunk. A stroll is used to drink Katubi and it is usually taken in a group. 

But here is the strange thing about Katubi! If you don’t want to drink it at that moment, you can store it for later use. 

By the way, on the list of Zambian beverages, Katubi is the only drink on record which can be dried and taken later. Rumor has it that Chitimukulu took the dried stuff to UK during the liberation struggle! 

There you have it! These are only some of the traditional Zambian beverages we have in our country. 

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