How an indigenous African and Caribbean drink became a global sensation

Vanessa Calys-Tagoe September 01, 2022
An african drink made with bisap. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Noahalorwu

At the peak of the deadly coronavirus, Africans in true fashion resorted to making up ‘concoctions’ or home remedies to help prevent the contraction of the virus. One of such home remedies was ‘Sobolo.’

If you are from the Caribbean, you would recognize it as sorrel, in Nigeria, it’s known as Zobo, in Ghana, it is Sobolo or Bissap. It is also called Tsobo, Dabileni, Wonjo and Folere in other parts of Africa. 

It can be served with mint leaves and has a slightly grapey and slightly cranberry juice flavor. Additionally, it can be flavored to one’s preference; examples include orange essence, ginger, pineapple juice, tea grass, vanilla, and a variety of other flavors. Roselle juice is served warm in Egypt while being served cold in Ghana, Nigeria, and Senegal.

It has been demonstrated that Roselle juice, a diuretic, can control blood pressure and lessen hypertension. It is used to treat the common cold and otherwise strengthen the immune system because it also contains high levels of vitamin C. Antimicrobial action has also been seen in several types of research.

Sobolo as it’s called in Ghana is a drink often taken cold in the blazing sun. It comes in two flavors; solely ginger and pineapple. The drink is made from hibiscus leaves, pineapple and ginger as well as sugar. 

At the peak of Covid-19, Africans home and abroad set YouTube and social media ablaze with recipes for Sobolo as means of preventing the virus and upon infection, as a means of combating the virus. 

While it may sound like one of the many ‘concoctions’ African mothers force down the throat of their children, the majority of black people, especially Africans in the diaspora, took to making the drink on a daily. For Black people away from the shores of Africa, it became a daily cleanser. Something to wash down the ‘toxic substances’ inhaled from interactions and for others, it was a new ‘juice’ for snack time. 

Water, bissap flowers, sugar, and occasionally other flavorings like ginger are used to make Roselle juice.

  • Use clean water to wash your bissap flowers.
  • Flowers can be boiled in water, placed in water and let to boil, or left in water overnight.
  • You can boil the leaves and tea grass together if mixing.
  • If you’re boiling something, turn off the fire.
  • To remove flowers from flavored water, drain with a sieve.
  • Add sugar to taste to sweeten (if not using pineapple juice).
  • Before including any components, let the mixture cool.
  • At this point, you can include other ingredients like pineapple juice.
  • If it’s still hot, let it cool, and then chill before serving.

This recipe with maybe a few tweaks here and there is used by Black people all over the world now. If Sobolo or Zobo was not so popular pre-Covid, its medicinal myths during the advent of Covid-19 definitely made it more popular. 

In Ghana, a company, Mensdo, produces it on a large scale for consumption and when returnees come back home, they purchase some for their journey back. 

It may have started as a local drink on the continent of Africa and in the Caribbean, but now, the world is presented with a new drink for the menu that comes with additional health benefits from its all-natural ingredients. 

When next you visit Africa, if it’s Ghana, ask for Sobolo. If it’s Nigeria ask for Zobo. If its Cote D’Ivoire asks for Bissap. If you happen to be in the Caribbean then ask for Sorrel. You just might fall in love with its sweet taste when taken cold or warm. 

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: September 1, 2022


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