Red Drinks Have a Special Place In Black Culture
From Kool-Aid to sorrel to ‘red pop,’ we can thank Mother Africa for our affinity for crimson refreshments
When I close my eyes and visualize the first drinks I fell in love with as a child, the memories are instant and vivid. The recollection isn’t of a flavor as much as a color — red. Long before I understood the international significance of this diasporic beverage note, or its cultural connections across generations, I had a lifelong love affair with scarlet beverages. And the passion endures. Walk with me along the red drink memory lane; maybe we share similar recollections.
This is the most iconic Caribbean red drink, the one that speaks most to my childhood and my culture. Sorrel is a traditional red beverage made in my home country of Trinidad and throughout the Caribbean at Christmas. My parents would usually buy a big bag of the red sepals that once surrounded the fruit of the hibiscus sabdariffa. Then we would boil them, add cloves, and sweeten to taste. Sorrel is most popular in Trinidad and Tobago at Christmas, but you can find it year-round as a popular flavor of soft drink, jam, shandy, and more.
Eating red foods — red cake, barbecue, punch, and fruit– may owe its existence to the enslaved Yoruba and Kongo [people].
It wasn’t until I migrated that I realized that the red drink I grew up knowing as sorrel was beloved throughout South Florida and commonly known as flor de Jamaica. Sometimes it is sold in teas, agua frescas, or other beverages that are more diluted than I’m accustomed to, but it’s all variations of the same thing from the same plant. My Jamaican friends make their sorrel with ginger and pimento seeds, sometimes also rum. My African friends call it different things as well. Nigerians know it as zobo; Ghanaians call it sobolo. It is beloved in Senegal, where it’s known as bissap.
During Juneteenth celebrations, red food and drinks like strawberry soda and hibiscus tea are part of the tradition. According to acclaimed author and food scholar Michael W. Twitty, “the practice of eating red foods — red cake, barbecue, punch, and…