All You Need to Know about Palm Wine

You will find the palm tree in many countries like china, Philippines and India. There are different types of palm tree and not all species produce palm wine sap.
In West Africa the palm tree is revered and has socioeconomic importance. The tree is highly integrated into the culture and traditions.
 It features prominently in many festivals and special occasions. It is common in child naming, marriage or traditional institutions. The wine is highly favored in such gatherings.
The palm tree has many economic benefits such as the production of timber, raffia, mats, chairs and fashion accessories. The tree also produces palm wine which is a sweet/sour flavored alcoholic drink.
Some of the top palm trees tapped for their sap include coconut palms, oil palm. Others are elaties gulneenis, date palms, raffia tree. We have the Palmyra, lala palm, and the African oil palm,.
Palm wine is obtained from the sap of the palm tree and seasonal. The type of sap depends on the specie. There are different kinds of wine such as the wine gotten from grape.The grape wine is extracted from fruits to make fruit wine while the wine sap is extracted from palm trees.
Unlike other wine which goes through the plucking and crushing stages. The sap of the palm tree is already liquefied and is easily ferment by adding alcohol to the brew.
The palm sap is a rich store of sucrose a major component that triggers yeast used to ferment the wine.
Quality of Palm Wine Sap
The palm wine sap is harvested or tapped by palm wine tappers. They start the process of fermentation as soon as the sap is collected.
 The purity or quality of the sap depends on the type of palm tree, soil composition age of the tree and method of harvesting.
Harvesting or sap collection could be done by climbing the very tall palm tree by a palm wine tapper.  A destructive method is by felling the tree to collect the sap.
The destructive method of felling the tree to extract the sap is the main reason some palm tree species have become extinct. Two palm trees that readily come to mind are jubaea chilensis the Chilean palm tree.
palm wine
Collecting the Sap
The palm wine tapper makes a cut and fastened a keg to the palm tree to collect the palm sap.  The palm wine sap is milky or white in color and has a tendency to ferment quickly.
This is largely due to airborne bacteria or yeast in spent containers. Yeast accelerates the process and within three hours and the sap acquires a nice aroma, and is sweet to taste.
Collecting the sap is a highly specialized skill passed on from father to son. That involves a delicate incision and collection mechanism attached close to the cut that stores the sipping liquid.
The sap drips slowly and the tapper usually allows twenty for hours before extracting the container full of juice. The fermentation process makes use of natural forming yeast.
During the fermentation process the palm wine foams vigorously which is a natural reaction during the fermentation process. The palm wine tapper in order to increase the liquids content or volume introduces water and some added agents to the mixture.
The sweet liquid does not contain alcohol until fermentation occurs. The fermentation process lasts twenty four hours which accounts for the sour tasting beverage drink. So basically palm wine is the fermented sap of a palm tree.
The most common palm tree used in West African to collect palm sap is the data palms, Jaggery palm and raffia palm. There are two methods used in collecting the sap.
The tappers might decide to cut down the tree or burn to collect the sap or might climb the tall tree using improvised vines. The raffia palm is easier to reach because they are not that tall and tappers do not have to bring them down.
Cutting down the palm tree does not have any economic value because by killing the tree, the tapper has to find another wild palm to tap. Therefore killing the tree is not common and they prefer climbing the tree and tap the sap directly..
Methods Deployed by Tappers
Top of Form
  • felling the tree
  • crushing the tree
  • tapping the tree
  • burning the tree
Bottom of Form
Top of Form

Bottom of Form
The Palm Wine Drink
The palm sap might be preserved in its non alcoholic state or fermented to make the palm wine drink. The drink is alcoholic, and the hours apportioned to the fermentation process yields various degrees of alcohol in the drink.
The longer it is fermented the strong the drink. If left to ferment further the wine becomes vinegar. Palm wine may contain up to forty percent (40%) alcoholic content by the time it reaches maturity and it quickly deteriorates without proper storage or refrigeration.
The palm wine drink is usually white, dull white, milk or red colored. The wine is usually collected, fermented and stored in wine drums or large calabashes.
However in modern times is stored in large fifty litter kegs. Other locally made alcoholic brews are derived from palm wine during the fermentation process.
During the fermentation process the palm wine is further distilled into local whiskey a cheap highly alcoholic drink. In many West African counties this brew is responsible for the high prevalent of kidney disease.
The sour taste of palm wine is due largely to the presence of lactic and acetic acid present in the alcohol.
Palm Wine Names
Palm wine is known by many names like. Matanga, Matanga ya mbila, Segero, Lapo tuak and Emu.
Species of Palm Trees
There are many types of palm tress that produce sap that can be used as palm wine
1 Raffia palm
2 Silver date palm
3 Jaggery
4 Date palm
5 African oil palm
6 Nipa palm
7 Coconut palm
8 Palmyra palm
9 Lala palm
10 Chile palm
11 Malafu palm and many more.
Distilled Palm sap
The distilled sap of the palm wine tree produces very strong alcoholic drinks that are comparable to the Russian vodka. They come out water clear and may contain up to seventy percent alcohol (70%).
The drink can be found in many countries and is readily consumed by the poor, low and some middle class members of society. You can find such brews in local drinking joints or make shift wooden sheds.
Other business locations are shanty towns, the ghetto, cities and shacks. The alarming practice of selling the dangerous brew at motor packs account for high rate of vehicular accidents.
In some cities you can find beautiful young girls hawking the brew in different bottles full of homemade remedies and concoctions. Some vendors add garlic, herbs and roots.
Many believed to have curative effects against diarrhea, pile, stomach upset and general body pain. Most of these concoctions have not been scientifically tested or certified.
 Producers of Palm Wine
African palm wine producers
Non African Producers




South Africa

Sierra Leone



Countries that Produce Palm Wine
Many countries produce palm wine from palm trees indigenous to specific areas. Countries that produce the wine are republic of Congo, Ghana, Indonesia, Gambia, and Kenya.
More include Southern Africa, Philippines, Mexico Chile, Algeria and Vietnam. You find other producers in Tunisia, Thailand, Sierra Leone, south Africa, Nigeria and Maldives. There are many more countries that cultivate and tap palm sap.
Palm Wine Names
Many countries have their own species of palm trees that produces sap. The palm wine is called by many names some of which are; mimbo, matanga by Cameroonians.
Others are masanga ya mbila and kikongo in the central republic of Congo and Gambia. Ghanaians call the palm wine nsafufuo, doka and yabra depending on the region.
The Indonesians call the palm wine ballo, lapo tuak and arak, tuba in Mexico, segero by Papua New Guineans and emu in Nigeria.The different names show the fondness and diversity of the palm wine beverage.
The drink is cherished and has significant roles in certain tradition practices, cultures and herbal remedies.
A palm wine tappers tool
The palm wine tappers tools are basic but functional. Some of the equipment frequently used include some of the listed items.
1 A sharp cutlass
2 large straw hats or baseball hats
3 They need strong banded rope to climb the tree
4 The carry along plastic kegs for the palm wine extract
5 They have small sharp knives to make delicate cuts
6 Some use bamboo tubes to guide the sap into small containers

The Tapping Culture
Cultural Significance of Palm Wine
Palm wine is a significant part of African culture and traditions and is widely consumed by both male and female. The beverage can be drunk during traditional weddings especially in eastern Nigeria.
Commonly used in naming ceremonies, birthdays, towns meetings and certain traditional festivities like new yam festivals. Some traditional rites and religious ceremonies use palm wine for libation in honor of past ancestors and gods.
Focus on the palm wine tapper
The palm wine tapping is almost an extinct profession, and the tapper is hardly seen. Most palm wine tappers learn the profession from their father or grandfather.
 And palm tappers can be seen mostly in rural areas and communities where the palm trees grow. Tappers are not known to have their own trees but they go into the forest to specific locations past down to them by their fathers.
Tapping palm wine is very dangerous business because the palm wine tapper contends many dangers. The dangerous animals include poisonous snakes, harmful insects and predators.
They are also prone to accidental death or injury from tree fall especially when they climb very tall palm trees.
Tools of the Trade
The palm wine tappers use basic tools to extract sap from palm trees. Some of the tools are a cutlass, straw hat to shade his eyes, strong banded rope, vines or synthetic strings.
Other tools include a twenty five or fifty litter keg and smaller container to collect the sap. More implements are small knife to make small cuts and incisions, small hose or thin bamboo stick.
Most tappers have no formal education especially those that grew up in remote villages. For convenience of movement within forest terrain they use of bicycles not only as a means for transporting the goods but to get around more quickly.
Many forage with their bare feet but some wear sandals to protect their feet from harm. The trees that produce palm wine have different characteristics.
Some have narrow rugged trunks and are tall and slender. While others have thick jagged stems and are relatively short. They can grow and live for many years if not felled, burnt, cut or infected.
The Red Palm Weevil
One parasite that causes extensive damage to the palm trees is the larvae of the red weevil beetle. The creature feeds ravenously on the palm tree.
The palm tree has great economical value and it seems that every known part of the tree can be harnessed and turned into cash. The trees trunk for wood and furniture making, and leafs made into mat, bag accessories or hats.
The sap turned into palm wine or other stronger derivatives like gin. The brew can even be made into herbal concoctions.
No wander in some folklore the palm tree plays a prominent role and is referred to as the nectar of the gods.


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