Ice roselle by Chotda
Hibiscus drinks, such as agua de Jamaica, are simple to make at home because the main ingredient can now bought online.
The principal ingredients you need to make roselle juice or hibiscus tea are hibiscus calyces. Ideally, you should start with fresh calyces. Contrary to what you might read on a content farm websites, hibiscus foods and drinks aren’t made from the hibiscus sabdariffa flower petals. They’re made from the calyces—the red casings or pods that enclose the seeds. The calyces are harvested after the petals dry up and fall off.
For the botanical names and health benefits of drinks made from hibiscus sabdariffa, see this earlier story.
In the Caribbean, Panama and West Africa, you can find these in fresh markets. I haven’t seen them in any fresh markets in Southeast Asia, but I have not made an intensive search. This Swiss chef, making a dessert filling, actually found fresh calyces in Hong Kong. More likely, you will find plastic bags of dried roselle in the dried goods section of a big traditional wooden-walled market or in specialty shops selling organic or health foods.
In California and the southwestern United States, you may be able to find the dried calyces in health stores, labeled as “Flor de Jamaica.” Anything labeled “sorrel” or “red sorrel” is the same thing. In African markets, the dried roselle, or bissap, might be sold as packed solid cakes or balls.
Buying Sorrel and Roselle Online from Asia and Americas
For people in other parts of the world, it’s now easy to buy roselle from online stores or gourmet shops specializing in herbs from Jamaica and Mexico. Roselle from Panama is the most prized in the Americas, but there might not be that much for export.
Fresh hibiscus calyces
These companies do both wholesale and retail sales of calyces and seeds and even ship fresh frozen calyces. AliBaba.com, the Chinese counterpart of eBay and Amazon, has a greater stock than eBay and Amazon. There are also many brands from China itself but I'd worry about pesticide residue.
If you want to source from Latin America, be sure to do a search with "sorrel" or "red sorrel" as well as "roselle" or "hibiscus" on Amazon. "Jamaica hibiscus" is supposedly from Jamaica. You want to source from Africa? A search for "karkade" will just lead back to the same sorrel or hibiscus items, with no mention of the source, but it's probably the Caribbean or Latin America.
The cold version of roselle or rozelle infusions—“roselle juice”—is far more common and better known in Southeast Asia than a hot “tea." The following recipe is for a cold drink. If you want a hot drink, leave out the sugar and perhaps add a pinch after taste testing. Well, maybe that's just me; I don't like sugar in any kind of hot tea.
Recipes for Roselle and Hibiscus Drinks
To bring out the full citrusy flavor, the calyces must be boiled. Steeping in freshly boiled water, as with genuine Camellia sinensis tea, won’t work. Some cooks say the ratio should be 1:4: one cup of calyces to four cups of water, for example. Others contend that a smaller proportion of calyces is fine, as the recipe below shows. It probably depends on the source of the roselle. The depth of color and the zip is a function of the Ph level. The following recipe produces about 1 liter of liquid.
Ice karkade tea
- 2 cups of dried roselle calyces, washed and with seeds removed
- 2 liters of water
- Juice from one-half of a lemon or lime
- 3/4 cup of sugar or to taste
1. Combine the calyces and water in a large pot and bring to a full boil. Remove from stove and let steep covered for 30 minutes. The color should be a deep red-purple, like some kinds of grape juice. At this stage, some people recommend refrigerating the mixture for 24 hours. Others proceed immediately.
2. Strain off the liquid through a sieve and throw away the roselle calyces.
3. Stir in lemon juice and sugar.
If it’s to be served hot, less sugar is needed to approximate that Red Zinger zip.
After removing the pot from the stove, cooks in Latin America often add a few slices of fresh peeled ginger root. Jamaicans often add rum and ginger to the cold version. That's an especially popular drink at Christmas time. Ginger mixed with dried calyces is sold online. In Africa, mint is often added. In Southeast Asia, lemongrass is sometimes added in the boiling stage.
Roselle combines well with fruit juices. Mix it with pineapple juice, grapefruit juice, orange juice and/or cranberry juice. Sprinkle with lemon slices, and perhaps a dash of rum, to make a very summery punch. Roselle also mixes well with vodka. Try it with Cointreau, orange juice and lime juice.
The concentrated liquid or syrup from boiled-down calyces can also be the basis for a refreshing raspberry-colored sorbet, as seen in the recipe here. Sorbet de Jamaica is a more appetizing name than hibiscus tea sorbet, I think.
Instant Hibiscus Powder Drinks
I found the taste underwhelming, particularly when comparing the hot version to the hibiscus tea served in restaurants nowadays (Au Bon Pain, for example) or made from the traditional tea sachets. Those sachets do tend to have rosehips and a few other ingredients too, so it's hard to tell.
I don't like the cold version made from the powder either, but I imagine it could be made more palatable by adding lime juice and more sugar. I tried a teaspoon of sugar but perhaps it wasn't enough.This powder would save a lot of time for restaurants in lieu of boiling calyces, so perhaps that's what I have been drinking at restaurants all along, though I prefer not to think so!
Rosella Syrup and Extracts
A very concentrated roselle extract has been around as a trade and export product for probably centuries. In Europe, it has long been shipped from Africa to be used as a flavoring and coloring for liqueurs, food and pharmaceuticals. In Asia, you're more likely to come across liter bottles of rosella. You might come across a beverage maker with a temporary pavement stall; he or she will have a candy-colored array of bottles.
For sure, there will be orange syrup to make squash. Before your eyes, the vendor will mix the syrup with water, ice and perhaps a squirt of seltzer. These sidewalk stands are much more common in India than Southeast Asia, but they seem to be making a comeback in the region along with the huge surge in bottled teas and fruit infusions. Foreigners have too much fear of the water in India to dare try these drinks.
But in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia, the bottled water is on display, so it's not too risky (the ice can be dubious, though). In all my recent sleuthing in Thailand, though, the syrup in sticky red bottles at these stands turns out to be sala, another fruit and flavor I must write about. I think rosella syrup might be more common in Malaysia. However, it's easy to find the bottles of rosella syrup in supermarkets. It is likely to be near either the tea, spices or sugar sections. Also keep an eye open in small neighborhood shops with shelves of dusty bottles. But what proportion of syrup to water? Not too much, based on my observations. Cover the bottom about one-quarter of an inch? I will check a bottle the next time I see one.
Growing Your Own Roselle for Food
If you live in a warm, moist part of the world, such as southern Florida, Southeast Asia or Jamaica, it’s easy to grow the annual plant yourself. Three months after sowing, the calyces can be harvested. Probably most Westerners nowadays are growing the plant for ornamental uses. But until the 1950s, the “Florida cranberry” was a common home garden crop in Florida.
Its most popular edible form probably wasn't as beverages, though. The concentrated liquid was used to make sauces and syrups and preserved to make jellies, jams and chutneys with a flavor similar to cranberries.No pectin needs to be added. In northern Australia in the early 1890s, "the Queensland jelly plant," probably brought from Malaysia, was being cultivated to supply two factories churning out jellies and jams.
In the 1950s, roselle was even being grown in the US Midwest, where people ate the freshly harvested calyces in the summertime. The recipe: chop up the fresh calyces and mix with a salad. In Africa, "bissap" calyces are sometimes steamed or boiled and mixed with pulverized peanuts as a side dish.
Copyright +Susan Cunningham. No republication without permission. Contact SoutheastAsiaTraveler @ gmail.com