As the name of this beverage implies, it is made from the deep crimson or magenta calyces (sepals) of the roselle flower: Hibiscus sabdariffa. It is drunk either hot as a tea or cold as a beverage pretty much worldwide, though the name varies from region to region. In Mexico and Latin America it is known as Flor de Jamaica, Rosa de Jamaica or just plain Agua de Jamaica. On the other hand, in Jamaica it is known as Sorrel. In Australia, Roselle. It is equally popular in much of Asia, the Middle East and Africa. To a lesser degree it is drunk in Europe and the US, though in California it is sold as an Agua Frescas in Mexican restaurants. I first had it in Mexico and later, Guatemala and it has been one of my favorite go-to summer beverages ever since.
You can find the dried sepals in health food stores, Asian and Latin American stores and often even mainstream markets in the ethnic foods section.
Hibiscus does have some medicinal properties and is used in traditional medicines worldwide. Depending upon the country or region, ginger, mint, lemon juice, citrus peel, cinnamon, nutmeg and other spices are added. I like mine with a little vanilla — either a bean added with the flower petals in the preparation or extract added at the end. I sometimes add citrus peel when making it, and I often make it into a punch similar to sangria but with rum or white wine. And this is the best part about hibiscus refreshers — it welcomes all kinds of additions to the basic tart, cranberry-like base. Best of all, it’s an inexpensive beverage to prepare and nearly everyone will enjoy it!
You will need to add sweetening of some sort unless you really like mouth-puckering tart flavors. The type and amount of flavoring is up to you. Whether you use sugar, agave honey, stevia, xylitol or coconut sugar, it will accommodate all equally well. In the recipe I have used a blend of vanilla sugar and added some extract. Vanilla does seem to add a refreshing component to the flavor of this beverage.
- In a saucepan bring water and hibiscus flowers to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer mixture 10-15 minutes and remove from heat. Add sugar to taste. Allow mixture to stand 30 minutes for rich color and flavor. (Or, cool slightly, then place in refrigerator overnight to chill.)
- Pour infusion through a fine mesh sieve into a glass pitcher, pressing on solids, then discard flowers. Add ice and garnish with fresh citrus or other fruit such as pineapple or strawberries and fresh mint sprigs.
- Variation :: "Sangria"
- Use your favorite Sangria recipe but replace the wine with Hibiscus Refresher. Add a vanilla bean to each glass as a swizzle stick for a special twist. You can also add rum to the to the Hibiscus Refresher and serve as a punch.
- Hibiscus flowers are tart and may require more sweetener than other beverages. Use a blend of vanilla sugar and a mild agave syrup if you'd like. Don't use chemically based sugar replacements, especially if children will be drinking the beverage.
- * Can be purchased in Mexican shops or specialty food stores. It is also known as Jamaica. The leaves are often sold as Hibiscus Tea.
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