Puha, or spicy tamarind soft drink (Ghana)

As far as African (especially West African) countries go, Ghana is doing pretty well. It was the first African country to declare independence from European colonisation. It is one of the stablest countries and largest economies in Africa and has possibly the best healthcare system on the continent. Ghana has large natural resources of three coveted goods – gold, diamonds and oil – as well as many other minerals. It is also major producer of cocoa. Traditionally clothing design has been very important in Ghana, including printed adinkra symbols and kente, a hand-woven fabric in which different colors have different meanings. Music, dance, film, literature and sports, especially football, are also important forms of culture.

The Ghanaian cuisine has quite a decent amount of variation. For example, most dishes have a staple starch with a protein-containing sauce or soup, but instead of the usual 1-2 staple starches, there is a whole handful: cassava, plantain, sorghum, millet, yam, taro and (fermented) corn dough/porridge. Rice and wheat are gaining popularity, including the almost pan-African jollof rice. Beans can stand for both protein and starch. Popular vegetables include eggplant, onions, sweet potato, spinach, okra, tomato, mallow leaves and taro leaves. Many types of meat, fish and seafood are used, as well as eggs. Mushrooms, pumpkin seeds, tigernuts, peanuts and palm nuts also feature in many dishes. Palm oil is used plentifully, giving many dishes a red hue, though some foods get their redness from chili. The variety of spices is quite large, too, including ashanti pepper, ginger, garlic, bay leaf, basil, thyme and nutmeg. Street food is very popular.

There is also a wide variety of popular Ghanaian drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Puha is made from tamarind, for most of us probably more familiar from Indian and other Asian cooking. I chose this recipe because I wanted to use one of my new favorite spices, cubeb pepper. The original recipe has ashanti pepper, which I’ve been unable to find (heck, I even went to “Africatown” when I was in Brussels mostly for that, and still no luck), but cubeb pepper is supposed to be quite similar. I don’t know what exactly ashanti is like, but cubeb is lovely, it’s like nutmeg and black pepper married eucalyptus and the aroma really goes into your sinuses. Here, though, it’s mostly a hint, so you can substitute black pepper like the original recipe suggests, though it won’t be the same. Peculiarly, some places listed 2 tbsp of ashanti, while others hand 1/2 tsp. That’s only 12x difference… I went with 1/2 tsp, 2 tbsp might be pushing.

I was surprised by how tasty this is. If you dilute it with soda water, it tastes like a pretty normal soft drink, in a good way. Almost but not quite entirely unlike certain multinational carbonated drinks. You can use erythritol, stevia and other non-sugar sweeteners, though they may affect how long the drink keeps in the fridge. Pure stevia might be pushing it, as the recipe calls for a lot of sugar (because tamarind is very tart).



4 cups/1 l water
4 oz/120 g packaged unsalted tamarind
0.5 tsp powdered cloves
2 tbsp Ashanti pepper aka guinea pepper (or cubeb pepper) or 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
2-3 inches fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 cups/4.8 dl sugar

Toast the peppers on a dry pan until fragrant. Grind the pepper in a mortar or otherwise (e.g. with a hammer), it’s fairly easy.

Bring the water to boil and stir in the sugar until dissolved. Mix in the tamarind and spices. If it’s a sticky block try to break it apart a bit. Let brew for an hour. Strain.

Serve cold, diluting before use at about 1:1 (preferably with soda water), or as you prefer it.

Note: Don’t use metallic bowls or containers for the tamarind, since it’s so acidic.

Want to Leave a Reply?

You must be logged in to post a comment.