Both a suspicion of local liquids that travelling in Africa brings and the unappealing look of the foamy, milky offering in a local bowl should have ensured that I never tasted palm wine or nsafufuo that the local Ghanaians call it (the Nigerians call it emu which entertains this Australian). Little specks of vegetable matter (or were they small insects) loll on the surface like holiday-makers on their favourite summer beach.
With a feigned look of pleasure I cautiously lift the bowl to my lips. To my surprise, a semi-sweet fluid drips onto my tongue like a velvet candy bar. Quickly I enjoy a few more mouthfuls of this luscious drink, bored of lukewarm beer and treated water. Though there is no sense of alcoholic taste or odour, palm wine is potent and is a poor mixer with the harsh Ghanaian sun. It has a similar flavour to creamy liquors but is somehow more refreshing and natural.
Palm wine is popular throughout West Africa being stored in all kinds of strange vessels from fancy local artistic calabashes to sun-cracked plastic bottles. Often available by the glass or cup in markets, palm wine varies in sweetness, the unsavoury cloudy appearance being no clue as to the intensity of flavour.
Collection requires athletic folks to scamper up the tree using a vine or rope to support them. After a careful cut, the tapper strategically places a container or gourd at the base of the palm fronds to collect the dripping palm nectar (which instantly starts fermenting on leaving the palm).
I have no idea if it is true but I was told that monkeys drink the alcoholic potion, intoxicated primates tumbling uncontrollably from the palm trees in an uncivilised display from our biologically near relatives. Ghanaians telling the story teeter unsteadily mimicing the drunken monkeys, laughing uproariously but I don't know if the joke is on the poor monkeys or the gullible visitor listening to the tale.
If you get the chance in Ghana or neighbouring country (and you most likely will), accept the generous offer to taste this delicious and velvety potion.
Photo Credits: palm wine container, palm wine, tree climber