Bitter – Sweet: A Ramadan Soft Drink Innovated by Sudanese Women

By: Ahmed Alhaj (Site Admin)

Khartoum (Sudanow) The Muslim fasting month of Ramadan is time for a lot of change in Sudanese cuisine, Housewives have to do a lot of homework in this respect months before Ramadan.

These preparations include foods and drinks of sorts. Foremost among these requirements of the Sudanese table is the drink knows as hulu –murr which literally translates: Bitter- sweet.

The paradox in the name is because hulu – murr combines together sweet things like sugar and sorghum with a lot of spices and other sour or citric products. The mixture brings about a totally new and enjoyable drink that quenches the long thirst of the fasting day and, further, feeds the tarving bodies in need of speedy nourishment. The flakes could also be used as food, particularly in rural areas, where some people add to it either sugar or salt.

Prof. Hamid Dirar of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Khartoum, traced the hulu-murr back to some 600 years ago when the Muslim Arabs entered Sudan and married African women. “These women were faced with a Muslim husband who fasts the holy Ramadan month and who was quite hungry and thirsty in the evening. This stimulated the women to invent two products, based on traditional fermented foods, for breaking the fast after sunset: hulu-murr from brewing technology and abreh from sorghum bread”. He explained in a book titled "The indigenous fermented foods of the Sudan" that the first product, with 31% absorbable sugar, was developed to replenish glucose in the blood, and the second to quench thirst. Abreh takes the form of thin (0.25 mm) see-through flakes, and is the finest sorghum product of Sudan. After it is mixed in water, it becomes a sweet, slippery suspension that slips down the throat without being chewed.2-1


Household need of hulu-murr is determined by family size and preparation of Hulu-Murr needs several days to make. And because hulu-murr is cooked on firewood and the heat it entails, housewives have to prepare it days before Ramadan in order to avoid any inconveniency during the fasting.


First the housewife has to germinate an adequate quantity of raw sorghum. This germination is done by soaking the sorghum, preferably of the fitarita variety, in water for a complete day. Then the water is drained away and the sorghum is put into a well-ventilated plastic sack. Then it is covered with a carefully wetted jute sack, which is rinsed with water in the morning to keep the humidity until the sorghum starts to germinate. This product is called “zirria’a”. The zirria’a thus obtained is then spread in open air to dry. It is then grinded into flour.

At the same time a similar quantity of sorghum flour is prepared together with carefully measured quantities of spices like cinnamon (canella), ginger, cardamon and cumin and fenugreek, tamarind(aradaib) and hibiscus. All these are grinded into flour form save the aradaib which is soaked in water to extract the emulsion out of it.13

The sorghum flour is cooked with boiled water inside a deep bowel, then the zirria’a flour is added to it and the mixture is left to ferment for one or two days before the spices are added to it. The mixture is then baked into widely stretched flakes onto glowing firewood.

Such a laborious process needs help from relative, friends and neighbors who congregate each carrying a gift of sugar, tea, coffee or food. This is usually a happy occasion for the children who play around and are allowed to eat some of the flakes thus baked. Children can also enjoy some half-cooked hulu-murr gruel.

The hulu-murr flakes take the form of brownish sheets which are bundled into squares and other shapes.

Once the hulu-murr is ready, the host prepares a sugar-sweetened cold drink out of it and gives it to the gathering to taste and tell how good it is. Parcels of hulu-murr are quickly sent to relatives and friends whether inside the country or in the Diaspora. Sudanese expatriates are always keen to put this drink on their Ramadan tables. Because of this relatives and friends back home are enthusiastic to send it to them.

With the changing life-style in the country, households are no longer keen to bake hulu-murr by themselves. They often hire hands to do it. Poor women often bake hulu-murr and go around towns to sell it.

Bitter – Sweet
Bitter – Sweet

Some controversy surrounds the consumption of hulu-murr. There is some notion because of the many additions and spices used in its preparation, that hulu-murr can cause digestion problems. However an authority on the matter dismisses these fears. Food expert Prof. Muna Ahmed Al-Ajab has argued that ”hulu-murr” contains a good sugar content as well as a lot of spices known for their healing effect on the stomach, “The species used in hulu-murr, are in fact used as good remedies for stomach problems”, Prof. Al-Ajab further re-affirmed to Sudanow magazine.

Prof. Al-Ajab said a research she conducted on the product revealed the existence of “benign fermentation bacteria” which does not exist in other sorghum foods. She said hulu-murr is also rich in vitamin b.

In the meantime, Prof. Al- Ajab has urged young nutrition researchers to conduct more in-depth research in order to high-light the scientific and health benefits of hulu-murr.

“Such research could encourage would-be investors to process hulu-murr powders for easy preparation of this drink” she said.




Sudanow is the longest serving English speaking magazine in the Sudan. It is chartarized by its high quality professional journalism, focusing on political, social, economic, cultural and sport developments in the Sudan. Sudanow provides in depth analysis of these developments by academia, highly ...


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