Citizens! I am beyond relieved to share with you that My two months of kidney stone agony has at last ended, thanks to the sonic destructive fury of the lithotripsy procedure – it obliterated an obdurate 6mm razor-edged stone down to pathetic fragments! A celebratory drink was most definitely in order after passing these shards of crystalline agony, but just as I was getting ready to post an alcoholic drink recipe of repute, I read on the BBC that Twitter (based in my home city of San Francisco) has at last opened an African HQ, one ensconced in the proud country of Ghana!
I have been complaining for years that the tech industry has ignored the African continent, so it seems that fate has intervened to compel me instead to share a non-alcoholic drink from Ghana so that all of its Christian and Muslim Citizens may raise a glass (along with Me) on this most welcome news for their country and to salute My return to health! This spiced Hibiscus drink, known as sobolo, is one that I am most confident will find a welcome place in your refreshment rotation – it has much to recommend it on every possible front!
Roselle juice, known as bissap, wonjo, foléré, dabileni, tsobo, zobo, or sobolo in parts of Africa, sorrel in the Caribbean, and agua de Jamaica in Mexico, is a drink made out of the flowers of the Roselle plant, a variety of Hibiscus. Although generally the “juice” is sweetened and chilled, it is technically an infusion and when served hot can also be referred to as hibiscus tea.
Roselle juice, often taken refrigerated, is a cool drink found in many West African countries, the Caribbean, Asia and Europe and is a dark red-purple colored juice. The Burkinabes, Senegalese, and Ivorians call it bissap while the Ghanaians and Nigerians call it sobolo. It tastes a bit grapey and a little like cranberry juice and can be served with mint leaves. It can also be served with any flavoring of one’s choice — sometimes with orange essence or ginger, pineapple juice, tea grass, vanilla, and many others. In Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal, roselle juice is served cold, while in Egypt, it is served warm.
Roselle juice is prepared with water, bissap flowers, sugar and sometimes other flavoring ingredients such as ginger. Roselle juice, which acts as a diuretic, has been shown to regulate blood pressure and reduce hypertension. It also has high levels of vitamin C, so is used to treat the common cold and otherwise boost the immune system. Some studies have also shown antimicrobial activity.
The roselle hibiscus used to make sobolo likely originated in Africa. In Africa, hibiscus tea is commonly sold in markets and the dried flowers can be found throughout West and East Africa. Variations on the drink are popular in West Africa and parts of Central Africa. In Senegal, bissap is known as the “national drink of Senegal”. Hibiscus tea is often flavored with mint or ginger in West Africa. In Ghana it is known as “sobolo”, and “zobo” in Nigeria.
Karkadé is served hot or chilled with ice. It is consumed in some parts of North Africa, especially in Egypt and Sudan. In Egypt and Sudan, wedding celebrations are traditionally toasted with a glass of hibiscus tea. On a typical street in central Cairo, many vendors and open-air cafés sell the drink.
Agua de flor de Jamaica, also called agua de Jamaica and rosa de Jamaica, is popular in Mexico, Central America, and parts of South America and the Caribbean. It is one of several common aguas frescas, which are inexpensive beverages typically made from fresh juices or extracts. Jamaica and other Aguas Frescas are commonly found in taquerias or other Mexican restaurants.
It is usually prepared by steeping the calyces, along with ginger (in Jamaica), in boiling water, straining the mixture, pressing the calyces (to squeeze all the juice out), adding sugar, sometimes clove, cinnamon and a little white rum (in Jamaica), and stirring. It is served chilled, and in Jamaica, this drink is a tradition at Christmas, served with fruitcake or sweet potato pudding.
In Panama, both the flowers and the drink are called saril (a derivative of the English word sorrel). It is prepared by picking and boiling the calyces with chopped ginger, sugar, clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It is traditionally drunk around Christmas and Chinese New Year, diverging from Mexico and Central America and much more in line with the Caribbean, due to the strong West Indian influence in Panamanian culture especially in Panama City and most of Panama’s Caribbean coast.
In the English-speaking Caribbean, the drink, called sorrel, is made from the calyces, and it is considered an integral part of Christmas celebrations. The Caribbean Development Company, a Trinidad and Tobago brewery, produces a Sorrel Shandy in which the tea is combined with beer. In American soul-food culture, hibiscus tea is included in a category of “red drinks” associated with West Africa and is commonly served in soul-food restaurants and at African-American social events.
In Thailand, most commonly, roselle is prepared as a cold beverage, heavily sweetened and poured over ice, similar to sweetened fruit juices. Plastic bags filled with ice and sweetened ‘grajeab’ can be found outside of most schools and in local markets. It is less commonly made into a wine, sometimes combined with Chinese tea leaves, in the ratio of 4:1 by weight (1/5 Chinese tea). The beverage is consumed in Malaysia, Cambodia and Indonesia as well.
In Italy, hibiscus tea, known as carcadè or Italian tea, is usually consumed hot, often with the addition of sugar and lemon juice. First introduced from Eritrea, it was widely used as a tea substitute when the country was hit by trade sanctions for its invasion of Abyssinia. In other European countries, it is often as an ingredient in mixed herbal teas, (especially with malva flowers or rose hips in the mix, to enhance coloring), and as such, more commonly used than recognized. Reviews have concluded that hibiscus tea consumption appears to modestly lower blood pressure in people with high blood pressure.
To make sobolo is by no means difficult, but you will need a few ingredients that are not easy-to-find in North America – but never fear, TFD is on the case and has found sources for all the difficult-to-find items! First off, of course, you will need top-quality Hibiscus flowers that are culinary-grade (never sprayed with pesticides!) – you can find my source here. Next, you will require a very rare African pepper-like spice known as ‘grains of Selim’ or ‘hwentia’ in Ghana – these too, are available from an Etsy seller of repute, as noted here.
Pineapple syrup is a must for this recipe, this is my preferred brand and I also call for some optional tart key lime juice – here is my brand of choice. Lastly, you will need some aidan fruit, aka prekese (or, more correctly, Prɛkɛsɛ aka Soup Perfume in the Twi language of Ghana). It is also called Uhio (Uhiokrihio) in the Igbo Language of Nigeria, The tree has many uses: its sweet fragrance is valued, its fruit is used to spice dishes, such as Banga soup, and its bark is used for medicinal purposes. You can buy some quality aidan fruit from here.
Citizens, sobolo is a truly delicious beverage and it is indeed rare for Me to post recipes of the liquid variety – please do raise a glass of sobolo to your Sovereign and Ghana alike as we celebrate as one TFD Nation, united in purpose and zeal! This would be a delicious accompaniment to one of My favorite Ghanaian dishes – akotonshi stuffed crab!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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