Research Article: The art of mabisi production: A traditional fermented milk

Date Published: March 14, 2019

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Himoonga Bernard Moonga, Sijmen E. Schoustra, Anita R. Linnemann, Elias Kuntashula, John Shindano, Eddy J. Smid, George-John Nychas.


Fermented dairy products can be rich in beneficial microbes and one such product with potential is mabisi. Mabisi is a traditional fermented milk product from Zambia made through spontaneous fermentation of raw milk at ambient temperature using a calabash (gourd), clay pot, plastic or metal container. The fermentation takes about 48 hours after which the product is stirred and ready for consumption. This study was aimed at determining the types of production methods of mabisi and identifying the critical production process parameters. A survey was conducted using interviews and observations to determine the existing production practices/technologies and to capture indigenous knowledge on mabisi production in nine provinces of Zambia. We found seven different production methods which we coined; tonga, thick-tonga, illa, barotse, backslopping, cooked and creamy types. Interestingly, the tonga-type mabisi was produced throughout the country by different ethnic groups. The main process parameters were found to be fermentation time and temperature, type of containers, presence/absence of backslopping, agitation, heating and cooling, removal of whey and addition of raw milk. And further found that mabisi is a versatile product consumed with a wide variety of foods. This basic information is crucial for production process optimisation and microbial communities dynamics studies.

Partial Text

Most fermented food products found on the market originate from traditional recipes that have evolved and have been optimised over the years. A good example is cheese of which the production can be traced back to 5,500 BC in present day Poland, where filtering clay pots were found with remnants of milk fat, [1, 2]. The production of fermented milk products has from that time evolved in different regions and countries in Europe leading to various specific types of cheeses for example Parmesan cheese from Parma in Italy, Swiss cheese from Switzerland, Gouda from The Netherlands, Brie from France and Cheddar from the UK.

The main objective of this study was to determine the traditional production practices of mabisi used by local households (HH) and dairy cooperatives. Out of the 537 respondents, 76% were male and 24% were female mainly because mabisi is largely produced by the households that own cattle (93%) which mostly belong to the men. A higher proportion of these HH were headed by men (88%) and the highest HH size was between 6–10 (43%). Most respondents were married (83%) with the dominant (24%) age group being between 40–49 years as shown in Table 2.

This study shows that there are at least seven different methods of producing mabisi in Zambia. This complements the study by Schoustra [3], who only reported on one prevailing production method, which we have now coined as tonga type mabisi. This tonga type is the most popular amongst all ethnic groups and found throughout the country which suggests that it is acceptable for a broad range of consumers. The production process of the thick tonga type shows that it only differs from the tonga type by the step of whey removal which in turn produces thicker product and suggests that the two products are quite similar in characteristics. The creamy type has a skimming step in addition to whey removal and generally produces a thick creamy product. The latter production method has some similarities with amasi of Zimbabwe which is also produced by a method that involves whey removal and addition of fresh cream to the product producing a thick product, [17].




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