“Make sure you try bissap, a unique soft drink that they make from hibiscus flower.” I told my friend Retha. She was in Senegal for a meeting and I had taken it upon myself to give her tips since I had also visited Senegal earlier.
“I already drank it last night and it was so nice.” She said, and I envied her. Although the last time I drank hibiscus was more than ten years earlier during my sole visit to Senegal, I still had fresh memories of its lusty sweetness.
“You know, we have hibiscus tea in Kenya,” Retha said, interrupting my memories.
“Yes, you can find it in Naivas.”
One hour later, I was at Naivas, hunting for hibiscus tea.
Hibiscus became a household name in my mind after I read Chimamanda Adichie’s ‘Purple Hibiscus.’ I enjoyed the book even though I don’t remember much of it. More importantly, the book introduced me to Chimamanda and I have remained a loyal fan since then.
Did you know that the first tree seedlings were first planted in Kenya in 1903 by GWL Caine? But it took more than two decades for tea to be grown commercially for the first time in 1926. During these first four decades of the 20th century, most Kenyans took neither tea, nor sugar. Breakfasts mostly consisted of millet or sorghum porridge with tubers like cassava and arrowroots serving as accompaniments. Although coffee had first been planted in Kenya almost a decade before tea at Bura, Taita hills in 1893, it was also not a common feature during Kenyan breakfast meals.
Like most Kenyans, I have consumed hundreds of liters of tea. My mama drinks tea not just in the mornings, but also at night after dinner. Without fail. She seems to have passed on those genes to me, because I was in the habit of doing that until I learned that all that sugar I was dumping into my body wasn’t going to do me much good.
Talking of sugar, my papa vaguely remembers the period in the late1940S when sugar was introduced to our village. Until then, people were happily drinking porridge with zero sugar. Occasionally, they would use honey to sweeten it. This immensely healthy sugarless life was the norm all across Kenya and Africa.
It may not be possible to turn back the hand of time and return to the pre-sugar period, but we can definitely popularize honey. That will channel some billions away from the sugar sector to the honey sector, which will drastically lift the livelihoods of thousands of people on honey-rich places like Baringo in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. Just as important, the health of millions will receive a major boost.
While we are at it, let us also consume more hibiscus beverages because they are healthier than tea or coffee. It might taste strange at first, but trust me, you will get used. Just as you will get used to the natural sweetness of honey as opposed to the processed sweetness of sugar. Okay honey?