Zobo: The Toast of the North

Experience this refreshing drink from the north that has become popular all over Nigeria.

By The Centenary Project

Zobo in a glass & bottle (2019)The Centenary Project

A refreshing drink for all

Zobo is an affordable and tasty drink used as light refreshment at parties and ceremonies and even at home. Because of its health benefits, it has become popular among Nigerians. Zobo (or Zoborodo) is the word in Hausa language for the edible plant Hibiscus Sabdariffa and the popular drink it is used to make. 

Dried sorrel herb, 'Yakwan Zobo' (2019)The Centenary Project

Hibiscus Tea

The drink is made from the dried red calyces (sepals) of the Roselle plant. Other drinks produced from the plant are known as Roselle or Sorrel drink.

Dried spices for pepper soup and zobo (2019)The Centenary Project

Zobo ingredients

Although Zobo is often consumed casually or at social gatherings, it is innately a herbal drink that is highly flavoured with flowers, seeds, and a handful of herbs which can be purchased at the dried ingredients section of a local farmers' markets in Nigeria.

Merchant selling local herbs and spices (2019)The Centenary Project

A market for dried ingredients

At Sheikh Abubakar Gumi Central Market in Kaduna, merchants who sell Zobo herbs and spices are simply called the names of what they sell. This applies to other local farmers' markets across Nigeria where northern Hausa men, well-known for their trade, can also be found selling dried herbs and spices.

Dried sorrel herb, 'Yakwan Zobo' (2019)The Centenary Project

Roselle leaves

Among the different heaps of herbs and spices sold by the traders is usually some dried dark red leaves stacked in one of the rafia baskets. They are the leaves of a plant called Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa), a species of Hibiscus probably native to West Africa.

Dried sorrel herb, 'Yakwan Zobo' (2019)The Centenary Project

Zobo leaves

Dried roselle or sorrel leaves, known as "Yakwan Zobo" in Hausa language, are the principal ingredient for Zobo preparation. Without it, no Zobo drink exists because asides from the flavour it brings into the spice blend, it also gives the drink its vivid ruby colour.

Cloves, 'Kanumfari' (2019)The Centenary Project

Cloves

Cloves, known in Hausa language as "Kanumfari", are one of the dried ingredients used to prepare Zobo. Zobo makers use them because of the aroma and flavor they add to the drink.

A bowl of Star Anise seeds (2019)The Centenary Project

Star anise seeds

Star anise seeds, commonly used in the production of liquor, are also used as a spice in the preparation of Zobo. Star anise seeds enhance the Zobo drink by deepening and enriching the flavour of other ingredients. The flavour is extracted from the seeds when they are brought to boiling point with other Zobo ingredients.

Cinnamon sticks (2019)The Centenary Project

Cinnamon sticks

Cinnamon sticks, obtained from the inner rind of several species of trees, are known as "Kirfa" in Hausa language.

At a local trader's stall in Sheikh Abubakar Gumi Central Market, Kaduna, they are portioned in transparent cellophane bags and displayed in a raffia basket for sale alongside other dried ingredients. The trader can also grind the sticks into powder, if desired.

Cinnamon sticks are used as an aromatic condiment in the preparation of Zobo. They are broken into smaller pieces during preparation and also used to add flavour to the Zobo drink.

Local zobo spice: 'Mosoro' (2019)The Centenary Project

False cubeb pepper

Masoro, known in English as false cubeb pepper or bush pepper, lightly gives Zobo a bittersweet taste. Within the narrow short shell are seeds that are a bit identical to peppercorns.

For the Zobo drink, masoro is boiled in full, both bark and seed, which is said to aid digestion.

Pineapple slices, 'Abarba' (2019)The Centenary Project

Pineapple chunks

Pineapples are boiled with other Zobo ingredients in a pot of water to add a natural sweetness to the spice blend. However, many northerners very often use stiff sugar cane pudding, known as "Mazarkwaila" in the native Hausa language, as sweetener.

Sugar Cane pudding, 'Mazarkwaila' (2019)The Centenary Project

Locally-made sweetener

Mazarkwaila is both a sweetener and a snack, locally made from sugarcane.

Liquid is extracted from a sugarcane, using a squeezing machine. The liquid is then brought to boil in a pot until it condenses, and the substance is stirred until it solidifies, then transferred into a claypot to cool.

Lemon slices 'Lemuntsami' and Dried Ginger 'Citta' (2019)The Centenary Project

A garnish and a spice

Dried ginger roots ("Citta" in Hausa language) are commonly used in beverages including tea and Zobo. The ginger is boiled alongside other Zobo ingredients, for its herbal, aromatic and flavorful qualities, while slices of lemons, known as "Lemuntsami" in Hausa, are used for garnishing and adding a light citrus flavour to the drink.

Zobo, solid ingredients (2019)The Centenary Project

Preparing Zobo

Zobo is prepared by simply adding all the ingredients and boiling in water for some time.

Zobo in kettle allowed to cool (2019)The Centenary Project

All added together

The herbs and spices are added one after the other and boiled for no less than 30 minutes for their contents to fully permeate the water.

Removing the solids from the Zobo (2019)The Centenary Project

Removing the solids

The solid ingredients are finally strained from the liquid using a sieve.

Zobo, pouring into a bottle (2019)The Centenary Project

Ready to be served

After sieving out the solid ingredients, the liquid is poured into a plastic bottle which is used to store it. Zobo drink is often served and sold in those plastic bottles.

Zobo in a glass (2019)The Centenary Project

Zobo—king of spice mixtures

A cup of Zobo has the taste of different spices and herbs, and at the same time one unique, wholesome taste and aroma.

Zobo served (2019)The Centenary Project

A cool and refreshing drink for all

Although Zobo has its origin in the north, it has become a general drink across all regions of Nigeria, drunk at parties, at home or in restaurants.

Credits: Story

Curator: Patrick Enaholo / Òluwáfisáyọ̀ Ọkàrè
Photography: Kehinde Katibi / Chris Udoh
Research: Òluwáfisáyọ̀ Ọkàrè / Patrick Enaholo

© The Centenary Project

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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