Food Profile - Zoborodo (Roselle)

Zobo (Roselle) Plant
pic - courtesy
Growing up, I was well aware of isapa (pronounced ishapa), a tangy vegetable used to make egusi soup served with pounded yam. From my experience, this vegetable was only used in cooking, especially by the Ondo and Ekiti peoples of Nigeria.

Several years later, through my culinary adventures, I discovered that a red variety of this vegetable exists and is used to make a beverage very popular in the Northern parts of Nigeria, called zoborodo or zobo.

Investigating further, I found that zobo is quite popular in other parts of the world and known by different names, sobolo in Ghana, sorrel in the Caribbean, bissap in some central and western African countries, agua de Jamaica in Mexico, Rosela in Indonesia, Rosella in Australia, and so on.

Zobo (roselle) is a woody shrub of the hibiscus specie (hibiscus sabdariffa). There are two varieties; red and white; both cultivated for their leaves and flowers (calyces/sepals). The leaves are used as vegetables in soups and stews while the flowers (calyces/sepals) are used to make a very refreshing beverage believed to have huge nutritional and health benefits.

Health Benefits
I took it upon myself to research this plant and was overwhelmed by the amount of consistent information proclaiming these health/nutritional benefits. Of most interest to me is the claim that zobo extract/drink is considered to have anti-hypertensive properties! I thought to myself... given the astronomical numbers of people suffering from high blood pressure/hypertension, we ought to be consuming this plant (its leaves, stalk, flowers, the entire plant) every single day; everyone should have the plant growing in their backyards/gardens!!!.... I wonder why this is not the case.

Freshly harvested zobo (roselle) sepals
pic - courtesy

These health factors can be attributed to the very high levels of vitamins,  minerals and anti-oxidants (vitamin C & anthocyanins (flavonoids) are very potent antioxidants) found in zobo/roselle).

More health claims/benefits include: 
  1. Lowers cholesterol
  2. Boosts the immune system (from its high levels of vitamin C and anti-oxidants) 
  3. Decreases inflammation of the kidneys 
  4. Decreases occurrence of urinary tract infections 
  5. Has diuretic properties (helps with water retention) 
  6. Can be used as a mild laxative 
  7. Helps to normalise blood pressure 
  8. Helpful in treating some cancers due to very high levels of anti-oxidants 
  9. Reduces bloatiness 
  10. Acts like a natural electrolyte providing the body with substitute minerals sweated out while playing sports or rigorous exercise 
  11. Decreases the body's ability to absorb alcohol (to prevent hangovers) 
  12. Boosts skin health and suppress skin ageing. Increases skin softness and elasticity (hhmmm... wonder how much I must drink to make an impact on my wrinkles...hehehe) 

Weight Loss
Zobo tea may be used to support weight loss!!! yes you read it right. The theory is that the body produces an enzyme known as amylase which breaks down complex sugars and starch molecules in food. Some scientists according to, have determined that hibiscus sabdariffa (zobo/roselle) contains a substance (hydroxycitric acid (HCA)) that can inhibit the production of amylase. So regular drinking of zobo as a tea or a chilled drink can prevent too much digestion and absorption of carbohydrates and consequently not gain excess weight.

However! however!! however!!!
Though some of these claims have been scientifically proven, there are very limited practical and clinical trials to provide further proofs. Sceptics actually say these claims are only true in theory.

Caution: with its very impressive nutritional profile, zobo also contains high levels of oxalic acid which could cause rheumatism problems (when drunk in large quantities) for certain people. Also due to its laxative properties, too much is not advised. Moderation is the watch word.

Nutritional Data Nutritional values (per 100 g)
Energy - 24 kcal
Proteins - 2 g
Carbohydrates - 2.4 g
Fat - 0.7 g
Fibres - 0.8 g

Vitamins: pro-Vitamin A, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B3, Vitamin C
Minerals: Calcium, Iron, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, Sodium

How to use:
Brew as a tea and drink hot (1-2 cups per day recommended)
Make into a refreshing beverage drink with other spices and herbs and drink also hot or cold
Cook in soups with other vegetables
Can be used as food colouring

Faux Pas on usage:
Dried Zobo Sepals
pic - courtesy
With all the wonderful benefits of this plant, we then ruin it by adding too much sugar! especially white sugar which in my opinion seems like taking two steps forward in the "health" avenue and then 10 steps back. Processed sugar is bad for health so you must avoid usage completely.

Zobo tea can taste quite tart(sharp) so some may require sweeteners to make it more enjoyable. Use only natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, in small quantities. Also consider blending your tea with other naturally sweet fruit juices such as pineapple. You will get the most benefits if you drink the tea/beverage in its natural state....with no added sugar. Eventually you would get used to the taste!

My advice: stock up on zobo flowers and incorporate into your daily diet. Explore my recipe ideas below.

Recipe Ideas:

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