Seems like hibiscus is all the rage: hibiscus tea, hibiscus punch, even sparkling hibiscus beverages in the form of Ooba, the latest smartly-packaged and fizzy “health” drink to hit the shelves. (It’s a far better option than Coke, true, but I hesitate to call anything that contains mostly sugared water a great beverage choice.) Seeing all the recent hype prompted me to finally seek out some dried and un-candied hibiscus flowers for myself so that I could come up with my own concoctions.
When you infuse the flowers in water, I found out, you get a lovely deep red hue — it’s like drinking garnets. (Hibiscus actually stains so well that you can make rinses out of it to give your hair a reddish sheen. Easter eggs could also be dyed in hibiscus tea. Just watch out for your countertops!) The flavor of hibiscus is potent, too, in the sense that it’s very tart and tangy, kind of like cranberries. I’m a big fan of unsweetened things, but even I had to balance the tea’s acidity with a bit of honey.
Hibiscus is particularly popular in Jamaica. There, it’s called sorrel and is featured in a number of drink recipes, both rum-based and nonalcoholic. Typically, it’s mixed with ginger and sugar, and sometimes also with spices like cloves and allspice. I think it’s also great with lime and/or mixed with other fruit juices. (The latter is a great way to naturally sweeten the hibiscus without having to resort to sugar.) The best places to find dried hibiscus flowers are health-food stores, grocery stores that serve Latin or Caribbean populations, or online herb stores like www.mountainroseherbs.com .
Making hibiscus-based drinks is easy — just pour boiling water over a few petals and give it a few minutes to infuse. The individual petals are large, so ten of them would be more than enough for an entire beer-pitcher-sized pitcher of tea. You can stir in a bit of honey to taste and drink it hot, or you can put it on ice for iced tea. You can add lime juice or include a chunk of ginger root in the initial steeping (or cinnamon sticks or any other spice). Combine with sparkling water to make your own customized fizzy beverage. Or add fruit juice to your infused hibiscus water and then top off with a bit of rum for the ultimate summer cocktail!