Summer Sipper: West African Ginger Drink

Mmmm, hello my lovely. Why don’t you linger upon my lips? No, not you, dear reader. This isn’t that kind of post. I’m talking about this delectable ginger drink that I cannot get enough of.

A fantastic aspect of living in the Washington DC area is all of the cultural events at your disposal. That’s how I found this bright yellow, tangy, refreshing drink. I attended an event at the French embassy in DC where 40 French-speaking countries offered food, drinks and cultural information. Numerous West African countries (Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso, etc.) — and a couple of Caribbean nations, such as Haiti — had big vats of a thick, yellow drink that I had never seen before. So of course I tried it. My eyes bugged, my heart raced, I sighed. Instant love.

These countries share versions of a very potent, non-alcoholic* ginger drink that provides just the right amount of bite. If you like ginger, this will be your nirvana. If you don’t, then find a different blog post to read because you will hate this, big time.

I have researched this drink for months and there are many derivations. There are also cooked and raw versions. I tried the easiest version, which is a raw type without added spices. It turned out great so I’ll share it here. Keep in mind that the proportions are very changeable based on your own tastes. This takes a bit of work, but it is so fresh and incredible that you might make a shrine to me for bringing this West African goodness into your life.

Also note that nobody I asked at the cultural event could tell me the definite name of this, and the internet can’t seem to agree either, so I call it:

West African Ginger Drink

Yield: About 2.5 to 3 liters

Prep/Work Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 big piece of fresh ginger (see photo for size), peeled or well scrubbed**
  • 1 lemon, juiced (Some recipes use 2 limes instead, it’s your choice. Or use both!)
  • 1.5 cups sugar (more or less to taste)
  • Water

Tools:

  • Blender
  • Cheesecloth, small square
  • Strainer, preferably mesh
  • 1 metal spoon, 1 long wooden spoon
  • Plastic drink container, at least 2 liters, preferably one that can be shaken (a big pitcher you can stir inside of is OK too)

Method:

  • Cut the peeled/scrubbed ginger into half- or quarter-inch pieces. Whatever you want, as long as your blender can handle it. Breathe deeply and become giddy from the smell. Notice the bright yellow color of the ginger as you put it into the blender.ginger
  • Add a scant 2 cups of water to the blender. Blend until you get a thick, roughly grated mash that looks like this:
  • Place the cheesecloth into a mesh strainer and put it over a large plastic drink jug, such as a pitcher. Slowly pour the blended mash into the cheesecloth/strainer and let the juice flow into the plastic jug.
  • Use the metal spoon to press hard on the ginger to drain as much liquid as possible. Do this to all the mash in the blender, in batches if necessary. Reserve the ginger.
  • Return all of the ginger to the blender. Add another two cups of water and redo the entire blending and straining process. Continue to blend and strain liquid from the ginger in this manner until the water runs pretty clear. For me it took about 5 rounds. Notice how on the fifth time the ginger is much paler and no longer bright yellow like when I started.
  • Juice one lemon and get a whiff of the fresh smell. Add the lemon juice and sugar to the ginger liquid. Stir well with the wooden spoon until the sugar is dissolved. (It’s OK to get super excited about your almost-ready gingery-lemonadey drink and do a happy dance while you’re stirring.)
  • Here’s where it comes down to your taste. Take a sip of the mixture now, CAREFULLY because it can be quite strong and spicy. (As in, if you aren’t used to strong ginger flavors it might choke you up and bring tears to your eyes.) If this is the concentration you want, hooray! If not, dilute it with water. I recommend looking at the ginger liquid volume, calculating what is about half of that and then adding that amount of water. So for example, if you measure your current ginger liquid and see that it is 1 liter, add half a liter of water. If you measure two liters of ginger liquid, add one liter of water. If you have 1.5 liters of ginger liquid, add .75 liters of water, etc. Mix well.
  • Taste your ginger drink again to see if it is your desired dilution and sweetness. If not, further tweak to your liking!
  • Refrigerate and drink this as a cold treat on a hot day.*** Be sure to shake or stir the ginger drink before serving because the juice, water and sugar can separate if it sits for a while. (If anyone has suggestions for preventing separation, LMK in the comments.)

Voilà! The flavorful drink that has been a part of West African culture for generations can be yours in about 30 minutes. That’s a small commitment for a natural and flavorful beverage that will smack life into your tastebuds!

NOTES:

*If you wish, add some adult enjoyment in the form of rum or something similar.

**It is important to peel your ginger or to scrub it VERY well before making this beverage because this version does not boil the root, and therefore the dirt germs don’t get cooked off. I scrubbed it because peeling ginger is a royal pain in the ass that I’m not about to deal with.

***This drink can be enjoyed all year long but it’s particularly refreshing in warm weather. I’ve also heard of some people serving it warm.

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