Amasi: African Fermented Milk


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In 2004 Richard Mokua, a Wisconsin Master’s student in Food and Nutrition Sciences, studied the benefits of a traditional food of his Kenyan community, a fermented milk called “amasi.” Mokua had grown up in Kenya and observed that the children who consumed amasi were less prone to diarrhea. His observation gave him an idea for a study for his Master’s thesis, a study which leaves us with intriguing results

Amasi: Fermented Milk

The fermented milk that caught the attention of Mokua is called “amasi,” one of dozens of types of fermented milk around the globe. In the case of Africa, fermented foods are common and, in fact, necessary for dairy products. Traditional societies had no refrigeration for their milk and typically fermented it to preserve it. Across Africa people traditionally placed their fresh milk in a gourd, added a bit of amasi from a previous batch, and then allowed the milk to ferment.

If you have made your own yogurt you may know that you can use yogurt to make more yogurt. This is essentially what has happened with amasi.

amasiAs the milk fermented and separated, the whey portion of the milk was drained off and the amasi was the curds that remained, a thick fermented beverage that would fall somewhere between yogurt and cheese in the United States. It has been eaten traditionally with grains or consumed as a beverage in African societies.

It was this beverage that Mokua thought provided protection to children against bouts of diarrhea, a recognized benefit of a high-probiotic food by the scientific community. As a young man growing up, Mokua had a keen sense of observation — the scientific community’s fascination with probiotics is fairly recent.

As a graduate student in Wisconsin, Mokua speculated that the high levels of lactic acid in amasi were protecting children from illness caused by pathogenic bacteria. He speculated as well that the lactic acid would protect the milk itself. Raw milk actually has little lactic acid, but when it is cultured with a high lactic acid bacteria culture, the culture can protect against the growth of pathogens. Mokua took on E. coli presumably because of an important member of its family — E. coli 0157:H7 — the infamous bacteria that loves to lurk in our nation’s hamburgers, spinach, and cookie dough. He hypothesized that amasi was such a powerful lactic acid probiotic that it could kill E. coli quickly. Mokua examined the ability of amasi to kill E. coli bacteria in partial fulfillment of his Master’s degree (a study which you can find here as a PDF).

Amasi Versus Yogurt

Amasai E. coli Follow Me on Pinterest For his study, Mokua acquired an amasi culture from his hometown in Kenya. He then walked into a grocery store in Wisconsin and purchased milk and commercial yogurt. He fermented some of that Wisconsin milk as amasi and set some aside as a “control” milk in the experiment. He then inoculated the yogurt, amasi, and regular milk (plus another control item) with the E. coli bacteria.

We would not expect regular milk to kill E. coli. Raw milk does not even kill it consistently and thoroughly. However, amasi did kill the pathogen and it killed it faster than did the cultured yogurt product.

Mokua faced some difficulties in all of his measures in this under-funded study (e.g., the apparent higher inoculation rate for yogurt), but the results are fairly compelling and do fit into a larger research school of the effect of cultured dairy on the survivability of pathogens.

In this case, the primary difference between regular commercial yogurt and the amasi was the amount of lactic acid bacteria. Lactic acid bacteria, including lactobacillus, is recognized as an important probiotic in human health and amasi happens to be loaded with it.

The lactic acid bacteria in amasi helped protect the amasi itself from an assault by pathogens. It can do the same in your gut should you draw a bad card at your dinner table and consume pathogenic bacteria. Of course, as in all of life’s risks, there are no guarantees. However, there are other benefits of high lactic acid foods.

Benefits of Amasi

Because of the high lactic acid content of amasi, it may have some of the recognized benefits of probiotics.

  • Improved absorption of vitamins and minerals.

  • Reduced cellular-level inflammation.
  • Improved digestion.
  • Better recovery after the use of antibiotics.
  • Reduced rates of diarrhea.
  • Improved immune response.

Many Strains Of Amasi

Across Africa, people consume “amasi,” but the exact strain of the ferment varies from community to community. If you have made your own kefir you may realize that the specific kefir grains you are using have adapted over time and may even acquire some bacteria from your own kitchen, creating a unique cultured drink. This is basically what happens with amasi. Different micro-environments across Africa and different procedures for for making and storing amasi lead to different strains of amasi.

When you make kefir at home, for instance, you can save the kefir grains and part of the milk from the last batch. You can even use the same dirty jar. Some people do just that. Some people clean their jars diligently and strain off much of the milk. Some even rinse the grains themselves. These are different practices, all of which end up with “kefir,” but the less diligently clean procedures encourage the growth of new bacteria, leading to more variation in dairy culture strains. It is the same with amasi. Mokua describes how some communities smoke the inside of the amasi gourd to kill off pathogenic bacteria, others rinse with wood ash, still others simply rinse the amasi gourd with hot water.

There is no one dairy culture called “amasi” for this reason. However, amasi is recognized as being loaded with beneficial strains of lactobaccillus that have not only helped traditional African people maintain their health, it has also protected their milk from the growth of harmful bacteria.

Many Names For Amasi: Beyond Organic Amasai ™ May Be The American Version

Many cultures in Africa call their fermented milk “amasi,’ though in Afrikaans it is apparently “maas.” In America, it is about to be called “Amasai” as Jordan Rubin’s new company “Beyond Organic” launches its probiotic-rich product line and offers “Beyond Organic Amasai ™” as an important part.

Many Americans are generations past fermenting their milk in a gourd in their home. Some of us have embraced the practice once again and have counter tops full of fermenting foods. For those who are too busy or otherwise not interested in becoming a food fermenter, you still need rich probiotic foods to support your healthy. Beyond Organic may offer a solution for you.

Beyond Organic Amasai And Beneficial Fats Omega 3 And CLA

One key benefit of Beyond Organic Amasai ™ is that the cows themselves are essentially grass-fed. Beyond Organic has trademarked a term “Green-Fed” that will come with more specifics in the future, but its focus is on feeding cows a diet that they were naturally designed to consume. The cows are on pasture but will likely also receive a diet of stored alfalfa and other feed as they weather the Missouri winters.

Amasi CLA Follow Me on Pinterest Grass fed dairy products contain higher levels of the beneficial Omega 3 fatty acids and of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). In the graph at right note a 1999 study on the relationship between grass feeding and the CLA content of dairy products. A cow on a diet with no pasture produces some CLA — about 50 milligrams in a tablespoon of butter, a cup of milk, or a tablespoon of cream. A cow on an exclusive diet of grass will produce about 250 milligrams of CLA in one tablespoon of butter, 200 milligrams in one cup of whole milk, and just under 150 milligrams in one tablespoon of cream. As we learn more about Beyond Organic’s “Green-Fed”™ standard, we will discover just where their products fall on these CLA curves.

Though the content of these fats is low compared to specific Omega 3 or CLA supplements, a key point is that these dairy products do not upset the important balance of our Omega 3 to Omega 6 intake as many common foods do. They also do contribute in small consistent ways to our intake of CLA.

As a result, Beyond Organic Amasai ™ be a powerful probiotic food, but it will also provide you with important beneficial fats.

Where To Buy Beyond Organic Amasai ™

If you are interested in learning more about the Beyond Organic products, visit their site to learn more. Beyond Organic is a direct marketing company and you must have a “referrer” to join. By clicking this link, I am your referrer. If a friend sent you to this article and wants to refer you to this company, be sure to follow their link instead. For more information on the business aspect of this direct marketing company, check out my Beyond Organic review.

Be aware, though, if you click those links both probiotic chocolate and Beyond Organic Amasai ™/amasi may be in your future.

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28 Responses to Amasi: African Fermented Milk
  1. Kong

    what is the difference between kefir and amasi exactly then? I know kefir is a fermentation of grains that is used to culture milk into a yogurt-like drink. But what about amasi?

    • Amanda Rose

      Kong,

      You would need a starter like you use with yogurt. You can get amasi starters in Africa but I haven’t seen any here. In traditional cultures, they just used the last batch of amasi to culture the next.

      Amanda

      • Joan

        *Amasi is a traditional food and easy to make at home:*

        • Take one or two litres of fresh RAW milk
        • Leave it in a container on the counter or table for a day or two
        • Your will notice the milk separating from the water and become like a gel (this is the amasi)
        • Drain the water from the container, but be careful not to drain the amasi
        • Then pour the amasi into a jug or container and put it in the fridge to cool.

        Once the amasi is cold, it can be drunk plain or you can stir in a spoon full of sugar. You can even add
        a bit of raspberry or strawberry juice for some added flavour. Amasi can be eaten on your putu pap
        and it is a great way to kill any hunger pangs.

        • Amanda Rose

          Joan,

          I like your method but I would love to get a “start” from someone to have some traditional African strains in my milk. Otherwise it’s just clabbered milk which does not sound nearly as cool. :)

          Amanda

        • Carol Thompson

          I would love an email for how to make amasi Thanks.

        • Frances

          How would raw goat’s milk work for amasi?

          • Amanda Rose

            Totally good I would bet, Frances.

  2. Amanda, just one thought…is Rubin selling this or even giving the impression that this Amasi is made with raw milk? We all know that most of the healing benefits come from raw milk. I’m just wondering what the difference is if this processed Amasi is being made with pasteurized milk vs our own kefir & yogurt being made with raw dairy? Can they compare in healing benefits? Your charts don’t make that distinction.

    • Amanda Rose

      Diane,

      Making your own is going to be better and cheaper. I’m trying to figure out how to get an amasi starter. :)

      Amanda

  3. Kong

    Amanda, can I use your writing about Amasai and green fed organic cows as part of my sales flyers to people? I had already signed up with Beyond Organic like you prior to me finding out about your research article. And I really enjoy what you wrote: easy to understand and thorough enough to see that Amasai is definitely really good compared to most American fermented dairy products in the market today. Can you let me know? Email me please. Thanks.

  4. Dear Amanda,
    A few years ago I was lucky enough to travel to South Africa where my family are from and I aimed to try as many traditional foods as I could get my hands on. Among them was Amasi! To me it basically did just taste like off milk. Though I did only have it once. I have been told that traditionally amasi was fermented in pumpkin shells and left to ferment under a tree. I was also told that it would be the first thing offered upon arival. Though I’m not sure how valid these things are (my relatives could have been telling me tall stories!). Thank you for posting this information about kefir & amasi and e. coli! Very interesting reading indeed. I have a pdf on how to make Amasi if you are interested in seeing it?

    • Lusmila Yu

      Michelle,
      Could you send me the amasi-making pdf. I mske my own raw milk kefir. My email is milalulu1(at)gmaildotcom. Thx!.

      @diane: as far,as I know, this is not made w/ raw milk. And, for me, I have dairy allergies, so the beyond organic does sound great; but, in my past experience, if it is pasterurised or homogenised…greenfed,grassfed, or not….my body reacts. Nothing beats raw, grass fed for me.

    • Charles Clarkson

      Michelle,
      I would be interested in receiving your PDF on how to make amasai. My email address is charlesclarkson@zoominternet.net . Thank you so much!

    • I would like a copy of the pdf as well
      admin@thefreshmode.com is my email. Thank you! And could you use the Beyond Organic Amasai as your starter? I have been drinking the Amasai, and love it, but the cost is just too high! I (just tonight) got my first gallon of raw milk…so excited…I had no idea there was a farm so close to me with a share program! We have not drank milk is so long because I would not buy the processed milk! Would love to make my own raw amasi!

    • Michelle, I would love to have a copy of your pdf =) My email is kare(at)karesolutions(dot)biz Thanks!

  5. Anja

    If I understand the article correctly amasai is kefir–it’s just what they call it in Africa. There are many resources on the web to find starters, but you can usually find kefir starters in any health food store in the refrigerated section. It has also been suggested to add a pro biotic capsule (refrigerated kind) to the mix. You-tube has many videos showing how to make it. Kefir can also be made from the liquid from young green coconuts.

    • Amanda Rose

      Kefir has its own starter, but yes, it is the fermented milk of Africa. I make kefir at home but think it’s cool to try milk fermented from different bacteria strains.

  6. I too would like the receipe to make amasai.
    Thank you very much

  7. Erika

    Hi Michelle! PLs send me the recipe for amasai, I’m fighting yest. My mail is erizimmer@msn.com
    Thanks!

  8. Alicia

    I’d like the PDF info. please. Thanks.

  9. Andy

    Hi, I live in South Africa. Grew up in the Eastern Cape where the Xhosa use this (or used to) in their diet quiet extensively. So I grew up with Amasi around and although it was not always available in the shops before 1994 it has become very easy to acquire. Prior to that, we would always just use our fresh raw milk, left out of the fridge as it was starting to go sour and separate, no rocket science or starter involved.

    The milk must be raw though, pasterised milk just goes rotten, it does not ferment in the same way raw milk does.

    Goat milk is also fine.

    I can confirm too that as Michelle said ealier (told to her by her relatives) traditionally amasi was fermented in calabash shells and left to ferment under a tree (more recently pumkin shells – bearing in mind pumkin was not introduced into Africa until Colonisation). It was also first thing offered upon arival to travellers as it was nourishing, refreshing and although not necessarily knowing why, historically, because of it’s bacteria fighting properties it would protect the traveller and the locals from any foreign bacteria brought along into the community or village by the traveller on his/her journey.

    So, get some raw milk, put it in a bottle, cover with a gauze and elastic band and let it stand in a warm, shady area (no direct sunlight). You will see it separate within a day or so and when it looks kind of chunky or lumpy you can strain the whey (use that as a smoothie additive or just drink it straight, great source of protein). Then you can bottle and refrigerate the Amasi.

    You can use that as a starter for the next batch if you wish, but rest assured, it really doesn’t need a starter of any sort.

  10. Christin

    I’m wondering if kefir milk made at home with raw milk contains enought lactic acid to protect from e-coli just like the African version.

  11. Rika Swanepoel

    Michelle I’d like the PDF info. please. Thanks.
    My e-mail address rika.swanepoel@gmail.com

  12. All this talk of yogurt, fermented milk can make my mouth salivate :)

    There is another traditional version of fermented milk from the kalenjin community in Kenya called the “mursik” (made from fermented milk and charcoal).

  13. Amity

    I would love the pdf with the amasai recipe! My email is amitylw@live.com. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!

  14. Jennifer James

    Would love to get the pdf recipe for tha Amasi as I am fighting yeast too. Many thanks

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