Akpeteshie: Ghana’s lively heritage
The dried sugercane used in preparing alcohol
Akpeteshie has been one of Ghana’s local beverages which has been used and passed on from our ancestors to our generations over the years. It is patronised by locals, celebrated by many, and scares some.
This drink traces its roots from the days of colonisation. It is deeply rooted in the Ghanaian culture as a national treasure since it blurs the lines between the upper class and the lower class.
Akpeteshie, popularly known as “Apio” and “Oha” in Ga, Twi, and Ewe respectively, is a home-brewed alcoholic spirit produced in Ghana and some other West African nations by distilling mainly sugar cane juice or palm wine.
Upon the arrival of the colonial masters, indigenous alcoholic brands were consumed. The people of the coast believed that these locally manufactured brands were of more quality than the foreign brands.
This was because these brands were made from fruits and herbs, which were more beneficial to the people, unlike the foreign brands, which some believed were concentrated with chemicals.
The consumption of Akpeteshie threatened the colonial government since their initial means of raising revenue for the state was through imported beverages. As a result of this, the British banned the consumption of Akpeteshie, because it competes strongly with their imported beverages.
The ban led the people to change the name from “Kpotomenui” meaning something hidden in a coconut mat fence to the name Akpeteshie in the Ga language, which is the act of hiding, since most people had to find a discreet way of consuming it without being caught by their colonial masters.
In the preparation of the Akpeteshie, especially when using the sugarcane, the dried-up sugarcane is placed in the crusher machine. The sugarcane juice is then juiced into a bucket. This juice obtained from the sugarcane is allowed to ferment over a period of thirty days in a large barrel, sometimes with the help of yeast.
The fermented liquid is then heated or boiled on fire, and the vapour that comes out of this passes through the copper pipe within the cooling barrels where it condenses and drips into sieved jars or gallons. The end result of this process is the alcohol, that is Akpeteshie. According to most brewers, the sugar content would determine the amount of vapour evaporated.
Akpeteshie is also made from mango fruit, pineapple, and cocoa seeds. Only a few people, according to research and experts, voiced out the main reason some use these fruits rather than the usual raw materials of sugar cane and palm wine for the Akpeteshie.
The cocoa seed when used for the Akpeteshie with the help of different herbs like mahogany, protect the body from heart diseases, asthma, piles, relieves stress and reduces fatigue in the human body. It also helps improve the blood flow and lowers blood pressure. It also aids in easy digestion, and it is useful for healing wounds.
Although Akpeteshie has become very popular in our Ghanaian societies, many do not take into consideration its production process. Most of the producers are smallholder farmers who earn a living from their art.
Furthermore, most people have now become addicted to Akpeteshie and some find happiness and peace in drinking it, despite its effects on their health. It is believed that Akpeteshie contains some minerals and vitamins like magnesium, zinc, and vitamin C, which are very significant to human health.
In addition to reaping the benefits of Akpeteshie, it is best known to enjoy it in moderation, since it helps reduce the risk of certain diseases like measles, and aids digestion through the antioxidants in it. The vitamins boost the immune system and support the overall health of the human body. Akpeteshie in one way or the other helps to reduce stress levels and bring feelings of happiness or relaxation to the body.
Despite Akpeteshie being beneficial to the human body, it is important to know the risks associated with consuming it; and it is important to seek medical advice if any serious medical issues arise because the sellers may add different ingredients that could harm the human system.
According to some of the Akpeteshie sellers, after purchasing from the place of production, mahogany, garlic, ginger and negro pepper are added to make it safer for the human system than consuming it in its raw state.
It is believed that the sugar level in Akpeteshie at the raw state is higher and if consumed in large quantities without any additives could lead to diabetes. An anonymous Akpeteshie trader said they mostly add stainless steel nails to it after buying it in its raw state to enhance its taste and to make it more alcoholic.
The nails are added in their fresh state but the molecules of iron on the surface of the nails react with the oxygen produced in the alcohol which forms a reddish–brown substance n the surface–rust. The rust is infused in the alcohol to give it a stronger smell and taste. The rationale behind this act is to increase the alcoholic content in the raw Akpeteshie.
Although most consumers prefer the Akpeteshie that has been mixed with nails, there are some who are against these practices because of the health complications associated with them.
Members of the Asomdwe Society in Bawjiase made it a life mission to omit the addition of nails during their production process due to the risks involved. Some medical experts highlighted that the rust from these nails can lead to serious health problems such as stomach cramps, constipation, muscle, or joint pain and in severe cases could lead to gastric cancer or death.
Research has proven that Akpeteshie can contain some trace elements of copper, lead, and iron as a result of the materials used in the production process. Some brewers store the juice in metallic jars since there are no strict regulative bindings on the production of Akpeteshie. This has raised concerns and many questions whether the sale of Akpeteshie should be legalised or banned.
According to a health expert at the Dakal Medical Centre, Dr. Ernest Osei Asiamah, the scientific school of thought has proven that moderate intake of alcohol helps in the prevention of heart attack and aids the body system with good circulation. The potential health risks associated with drinking alcohol is hypertension, heart condition and liver disease.
Some drugs react with alcohol, but the best precaution doctors often give to their patients is to either take it in moderation or to stay away from it.
Despite the reasons for consuming Akpeteshie, consumers are advised to reduce the intake or avoid it completely because the risks associated with its usage far outnumber the benefits.
The Ministry of Health (MoH) and Food and Drug Authority (FDA), through their agencies, should increase public awareness about the risks associated with the consumption of Akpeteshie. It is said that Akpeteshie kills softly and so those addicted to it should consult a medical practitioner to treat or stem any damage to the body.
Ghana Institute of Journalism (GIJ)