Ethanol Concentration of Traditional Alcoholic Beverages in Northern Tanzania

Joel M. Francis, Heiner Grosskurth, Saidi H. Kapiga, Helen A. Weiss, Joseph Mwashiuya, John Changalucha Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 2017; View paper online

In sub-Saharan Africa, the annual consumption of pure alcohol has been estimated to range from 4.9 L to 7.1 L per capita, although intake is likely to be significantly higher because of the unrecorded consumption of traditionally produced beverages (WHO, 2014). Few studies from sub-Saharan Africa have investigated the alcohol concentration of typical traditional brews, leading to substantial uncertainty of the estimated per capita consumption of unrecorded locally brewed alcohol. 

This research aimed to close the information gap by assessing samples of popular locally produced beverages in Mwanza city in Northern Tanzania. 


  • Identify local traditional brew outlets through a mapping exercise.
  • Record local names and materials used to produce the available beverages .
  • Purchase samples of each available beverage from seven randomly selected outlets in three urban wards of Mwanza city, Tanzania.
  • Analyse samples according to an internationally standardised method for the determination of ethanol concentration.


Traditional beers had ethanol concentrations ranging from 2% v/v to 8% v/v. Most had concentrations of above 4% v/v, and the local distilled spirits had the highest concentration, up to 55% v/v. Concentrations varied widely, even for the same type of drink.

At the individual level, the findings facilitate the translation of the reported consumption of traditional beverages into estimates of the actual amount of pure alcohol taken, thus providing a prerequisite for patient care and group interventions aiming to reduce alcohol consumption and alcohol use disorders.

Read a related press interview with author Joel Francis.

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