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Sustainable cassava beer offers a new use for a Brazilian staple

. Dec 24, 2020
beer cassava brazil Phoot; id-art/Shutterstock

While the name may vary — mandioca in São Paulo and Minas Gerais, aipim in Rio de Janeiro and Espírito Santo, or macaxeira in the Northeast and parts of the North — cassava is one of Brazil’s culinary staples. Native to South America, where it has been grown since ancient times, cassava is now one of the main food sources for hundreds of millions of people around the world, particularly in poor countries.

The origins of consuming cassava in Brazil began with indigenous communities, who extracted the starch from the root to make tapioca, eaten in various forms around the world. The simplest use of the tapioca was to make flatbreads known in Brazil as biju, which can still be found around the country.

</p> <p>As cooking methods evolved, cassava root began to be boiled, baked, fried, or used to thicken stews. Along with corn, beans, and rice, it became one of the pillars of the Brazilian diet. In the North region of the country, the poisonous leaves of wild cassava are harvested and cooked for days on end in order to make maniçoba, one of the delicacies of the state of Pará.&nbsp;</p> <p>But beyond being a mainstay on the Brazilian dinner plate, cassava has now made its way into beverages, being used to <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2019/07/13/brazil-end-era-craft-beer/">produce beer </a>around the North and Northeast of the country.</p> <h2>An indigenous method, via Mozambique</h2> <p>The first instance of beer industrially produced from cassava came in the Portuguese-speaking country of Mozambique, in southeastern Africa. While homebrewed cassava beer was already widespread, the first mass produced beer using the root was produced by South African multinational SABMiller in 2011.</p> <p>The technique, meanwhile, originally came from Brazil, where indigenous communities used cassava to make a fermented drink known as <em>cauim</em>.</p> <p>In 2016, SABMiller was bought over by SABInbev, which controls <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2018/11/23/brazil-most-valuable-brands/">Brazil&#8217;s largest</a> brewer <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2020/01/22/beer-giant-ambev-lawsuit-dispute-116-year-old-shares-brazil/">Ambev</a>. The company, in turn, decided to create a series of regional beer brands made from cassava, as a way of expanding its reach to lower-income consumers and reinforce its dominance over its main competitor, <a href="https://brazilian.report/business/2020/02/14/heineken-brazil-celebrations-watered-down-legal-dispute/">Heineken</a>.</p> <p>The strategy began in 2018, with the launch of new cassava beer brand Nossa, in the Northeast state of Pernambuco. Thanks to its cheaper production methods, Nossa costs up to 40 percent less than Ambev&#8217;s leading beer label Skol.</p> <p>Besides using cassava, which is easy to grow and manage, another factor that cut the price of the final product was that Nossa would only be available in returnable 600 milliliter glass bottles.</p> <p>As well as the price, Nossa has tried to bank on regional appeal in order to win clients over. Its label bears the colors of the Pernambuco state flag and the cassava used in its production is entirely sourced from small farmers in Araripina, a microregion in the arid Pernambuco countryside which produces around 500,000 tons of cassava each year.</p> <p>Before the arrival of Nossa, farmers in Araripina sold all of their cassava production to the 70 flour mills in the impoverished region. After receiving around BRL 350 (USD 69) per ton of cassava from Ambev, the producers are now dedicating themselves to beer.</p> <h2>Cassava beer, a success story </h2> <p>The strategy was so effective that Ambev moved to launch other regional brands of cassava beer, with the fifth — Esmeralda, in the state of Goiás — released in early December.</p> <p>In the Northeast state of <a href="https://brazilian.report/coronavirus-brazil-live-blog/2020/05/10/bolsonaro-lashes-leftist-governor-maranhao-lockdown/">Maranhão</a>, the local cassava beer Magnífica has benefitted over 1,830 families in over 20 cities since its launch in 2019. In the first six months, Ambev received over 4,000 tons of cassava from small rural producers.

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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