Skip to Content

Why red food and drinks have become powerful symbols on Juneteenth

<i>Courtesy Chef Carla Hall via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Chef Carla Hall's drink Hibiscus Ginger Sweet Tea Soda is picturered here.
Courtesy Chef Carla Hall via CNN Newsource
Chef Carla Hall's drink Hibiscus Ginger Sweet Tea Soda is picturered here.

By Nia Mclean, CNN

(CNN) — Celebrity Chef Carla Hall’s hibiscus ginger sweet tea soda isn’t merely a creative beverage for Juneteenth celebrations, it’s also an important homage to the African diaspora.

The unique Juneteenth drink, along with numerous other red-hued foods and beverages, symbolizes the bloodshed and the profound sacrifices made by former enslaved Black Americans, according to food historian Adrian E Miller.

Miller also noted that red is a royal color in African society, adding depth to the folklore surrounding Juneteenth.

On June 19, communities around the country will gather with food, parades, games, music, and vibrant displays of Black culture to celebrate the rich tapestry of resilience and triumph that embodies Juneteenth.

A combination of the words June and nineteenth, June 19, 1865 is the day that Union Army Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and issued General Order No. 3, proclaiming that the enslaved African Americans they were free.

This announcement came two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, which couldn’t be enforced in areas under Confederate control. Despite being freed years earlier, this was the first-time enslaved Texans were told about their freedom, ending the practice of slavery in the United States.

After years of being celebrated mostly by Black Americans, in 2021 Juneteenth became a federal holiday in the US — the first to be approved since Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 1983.

Many Black Americans commemorate the freedom from enslavement granted on that day with an array of red foods, such as barbecue, watermelon, red velvet cake, and strawberry pie. Streets will come alive with the aromas of grilled meats and spices mingling with the sweet scents of freshly baked pies and cakes.

“I think food is the glue,” Hall told CNN. The renowned chef, who became known for her culinary prowess on the hit TV series Top Chef and The Chew, said food is “the way we carry those stories of our ancestors.”

While recipes may differ from generation to generation, Hall said food can be a source of unity and that often helps people maintain their roots.

“So, I think in the spirit of this holiday … for me, it’s about, getting to know me, getting to understand me and what my contributions – my ancestors contributions – are through food,” Hall said.

With roots in Texas, and dyed a vibrant red hue, Big Red Soda has become a common drink served at many Juneteenth celebrations. But Miller noted, the Juneteenth menu is evolving, embracing inventive twists on tradition.

In addition to preparing classics, such as barbeque, Hall said each year she tries to challenge herself to become more creative with her Juneteenth recipes. She incorporates hibiscus – which infuses food with a deep red color – into her meats, salads and rice dishes. She also makes a hibiscus ginger sweet tea soda.

Hall urged those who embrace the symbolism on Juneteenth to let each sip and every bite serve as a reminder of the resilience and sacrifices of those who fought for freedom, urging us to confront the injustices of the past. She also encouraged people to find ways to commemorate and honor the freedom and sacrifices of the enslaved throughout the year.

“A red drink is symbolic … but what are you doing the rest of the time?” Hall said

Juneteenth, she said, is a day not only to rejoice but to recommit ourselves to the ongoing work of justice, year-round.

Carla Hall’s hibiscus ginger sweet tea soda

(makes 8 servings)

Hibiscus Simple Syrup

  • 2 parts water
  • 1 part sugar
  • 2 tablespoons ginger, grated
  • 4 hibiscus tea bags

In a medium saucepan, heat the water and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Add the grated ginger and tea bags. Allow to steep for at least 30 minutes. Remove the tea bags and strain the syrup into a pitcher. Refrigerate.


  • 1 part hibiscus simple syrup
  • 3 parts soda water
  • Fresh lemon juice to taste
  • Fresh mint, garnish

When the syrup has chilled, in a large glass (or pitcher) combine 1 part of hibiscus syrup and 3 parts of soda water. Add desired amount of lemon juice to taste. Pour into a large glass full of ice and garnish with mint and lemon

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Article Topic Follows: CNN - National

Jump to comments ↓

CNN Newsource


KTVZ NewsChannel 21 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content