Today, we are zooming into the zoom koom, the most traditional drink of Burkina Faso!
Formerly called Republic of Upper Volta, the country was renamed Burkina Faso on August 4, 1984 by Thomas Sankara, then president.
While the French colony of Upper Volta was named as such because of its location on the upper parts of the Volta River, the words Burkina and Faso both come from different languages spoken in the country. Indeed, Burkina means “honest” in the Mossi language while Faso comes from the Dyula language and means “homeland”. This is why Burkina Faso is called “the homeland of honest men”.
The gastronomy of Burkina is highly influenced by the neighboring countries (Togo, Ivory Coast, Mali, Ghana, Nigeria), which is typical of West Africa.
The staple foods in Burkina include sorghum, millet, rice, peanuts, potatoes, yams, beans and okra.
Meat is a luxury, so eggs and fish found in the country’s rivers are the main source of protein for the population.
The main element of a meal is the sauce that is accompanied by rice, or a dough made of flour millet, sorghum or corn called Tô.
Typical dishes include:
– Riz au gras: Prepared with a vegetable sauce with meat and oil.
– Babenda: a Mossi specialty made from various leaves, peanuts and rice.
– Rice with peanuts, or tomatoes.
– Salsa gombo: A sauce made from okra.
– Seinseinga: skewers of meat previously marinated in a mixture of spices.
– Alloco: plantain fried in palm oil.
– Chicken with peanuts.
– Gnon de fonio: a dish made with fonio and bean leaves.
– Gonré: bean puree.
The typical spice, known for its strong smell, is called soumbala. It is obtained by the fermentation of the fruits of the néré, a tree that is also called the African carob tree or the purple mimosa.
So back to our zoom koom also called “welcome water”. Zoom means flour and koom means water, which explains why it is also called “flour water”.
It is also prepared for special occasions, such as weddings. Zoom koom takes its name from the millet flour that composes it. Millet is an important cereal in the Equatorial African region. For my Ghana waakye recipe, I had already used the millet leaves to give the rice that characteristic red color.
It was also the first time I cooked fresh tamarind. Until now, I had only used pure tamarind concentrate in my dishes, mostly Indian recipes such as the baingan maseladar which accompanied my shrimp biryani. Indeed, zoom koom’s sour taste comes from the tamarind decoction. But what is a decoction anyway? It is nothing more than an operation which consists in extracting the active ingredients or flavors of a preparation (roots, seeds, bark, rhizomes, for example) by dissolving it in boiling water.
But what makes gives zoom koom so refreshing is fresh ginger. And this is probably the dominant flavor of this drink that will remind you of ginger ale.
Pineapple and sugar give this drink its amazing soft and sweet flavors without which this beverage would have been difficult to drink.
This combination of ingredients ends up giving a very surprising and unique beverage, very refreshing and also quite rich in calories thanks to millet (or because of millet, some would say …)
Zoom koom is a very popular and sacred drink in Burkina Faso. From September 28 to October 1, 2017, the International Exhibition of Tourism and Hospitality of Ouagadougou (SITHO), was held in Ouagadougou. This show also highlights cultural values and in particular the hospitality brought by the symbolism of “welcome water”. The president of this organization decided to elevate the importance of zoom koom and asked to register it to the “intangible cultural heritage”. Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) is a heritage category derived from the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage adopted by UNESCO in 2003. Other traditional recipes and cuisines are documented in this list, including rosca de reyes, for example.
Intangible cultural heritage refers to all the practices, expressions or representations that a community recognizes as part of its heritage, when they provide that group with a sense of continuity and identity. These practices include, for example, oral, musical or choreographic traditions, languages as support for these traditions, traditional games and sports, festive events, craftsmanship, knowledge and know-how related to the knowledge of nature or the universe.
Personally, I was really surprised by these distinct flavors that give the zoom koom its unique character that is so special and refreshing. Well, I must also admit that the drink goes very well with rum. And this little improvised cocktail helped us to finish the few cups that I had prepared for an evening with friends.
- 1½ cup millet flour
- 1 cup sugar (or less to taste)
- 4 cups tamarind decoction (see recipe below)
- 2 (2-inch) pieces ginger , peeled
- 1 pineapple , peeled and cut into chunks
- 1 pinch chili powder (optional)
- 1 lb tamarind pods
- 8 cups water
- Blend pineapple and ginger until smooth.
- Add the millet flour. Blend for a few minutes until everything looks smooth.
- Add tamarind decoction, sugar and chili powder.
- Mix well again. Pour through a fine strainer. Serve with ice.
- Prepare tamarind by removing the outer shell and peeling the membrane attached to it.
- Put the tamarind pulp in a deep saucepan with water and bring to boil.
- Cook for about 30 minutes, crushing tamarind occasionally with a wooden spoon or spatula.
- After 30 minutes, turn off the heat. Once cooled, strain the liquid through cheesecloth and discard the solids. The decoction is now ready to use.