Out of Africa
Dr. Garth Cambray of South Africa believes that mead, like civilization, emerged from Africa.
“Where did mead come from? The answer is most probably Africa, as that’s where we as people come from. Then the next question is, who in Africa has made mead the longest? And that answer is Africa’s oldest peoples, the Khoi-San,” Dr Cambray says. “We followed an exciting walk down time, looking at the meads that are made by the peoples who have displaced the Khoi-San and discovered a roughly common recipe.”
Dr. Cambray, from Grahamstown, studied at Rhodes University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in microbiology and biochemistry, an advanced degree in microbiology focused on mead yeasts and his doctorial degree in biotechnology in the area of African meads. He is one of the founders of Makana Meadery, which use the technology developed he developed while working on his PhD. Makana uses African mead yeasts and mead making principles to develop a system to make mead in a traditional style. Makana’s mead is about to launch in the United States.
“Our idea at Makana Meadery was that if we develop a reliable mead making platform, based on functional mead making traditional systems, it would allow mead to be produced cost effectively and eventually provide a platform for the bigger companies in the beverage industry, such as the beer and wine makers, to enter this market,” Dr. Cambray says. “Mead making offers the capitalist market an opportunity to renew rural economies. The beer and wine industries, sadly as fuel prices increase, turn an ever increasing quantity of rural farmer’s incomes into smoke as farmers try to produce ingredients for these industries. If a small percentage of the market were to include mead sales, mead has its ingredients harvested by bees, who make their own fuel—honey—and thus, buying honey from rural American, African, Indian, Chinese, or whoever farmers, results in the farmer making a much larger profit per unit of fermentable sugar than they would for grape or barley.”
Africa is the largest mead market in the world. Dr. Chambray estimates that Ethiopians consume 170 million liters of Tej mead and Zambians 110 million liters of light mead each year.