Christmas in Jamaica: It’s Sorrel Drinking Time!

Posted by on Dec 17, 2013 in Blog, Jamaican Culture, Jamaican Food, Jamaican Recipes | 0 comments

Christmas in Jamaica: It’s Sorrel Drinking Time!
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Christmas in Jamaica would not be Christmas without traditional Jamaican Sorrel Drink, and you still have plenty of time to make yours!

Yes, you can buy it pre-bottled year-round in Jamaican supermarkets and throughout the Caribbean, but there is something special about making your own. Homemade is always better. It's not difficult and is good for you (if you leave out the rum!).

Sorrel ("SAH-rell"), is the Jamaican name for the Hibiscus sabdariffa plant, a prickly species of the hibiscus (not the ornamental variety) and cousin to the okra.

Sorrel grows abundantly in Jamaica, and you will see freshly harvested sorrel everywhere, primarily between October and January. You may not see much evidence of Christmas outside of the tourist areas, but you will definitely find Jamaican Sorrel Drink in nearly every home at holiday time.

 

What Is Sorrel?

There are actually two completely different species of "sorrel" - Hibiscus sabdarrifa (the red sorrel of the Caribbean) and Rumex acetosa, the green common or garden variety of sorrel, which is also edible.

The English name for the Hibiscus sabdarrifa is "Roselle". It originated in Western and Northern Africa (Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan) where it has grown since ancient times. Its spread throughout the world can be linked to Spain and the slave trade.

When the Spanish set off to conquer the New World beginning in 1492, they brought roselle with them from Africa to Jamaica. Over the next few centuries, they would take Jamaican-grown roselle to Colonial Mexico and throughout Latin America and the Caribbean for trading purposes.  The Spaniards called it "flor de Jamaica" and it became very popular. As time went on, more sorrel made its way to the colonies with African slaves, along with okra, yams, peanuts, collard greens and a variety of other wonderful plants and spices.


 

In other places, Jamaican sorrel is called Rosella, Rosella Fruit, Red Sorrel, Indian Sorrel, Florida Cranberry, Flor de Jamaica, Rosa de Jamaica, Wild Hibiscus, Bissap (in Senegal, Guinea Bissau, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Benin, Niger, the Congo, and France), Wonjo (in the Gambia), Zobo (in Nigeria), Karkade (in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan), Omutete (in Namibia), Saril (in Panama), and a variety of other names around the world.

jamaican-sorrel-drinkThe flowers of the Hibiscus sabdarrifa last only a day or two, and leave behind bright red waxy calyxes which held the blossom and seed in place. These calyxes (or pods) of the plant are harvested, the seeds are removed, then they are used to make the popular Jamaican sorrel drink and others like it around the world, such as Mexico's popular "Agua de Jamaica" ("Hum-EYE-Kah") and Senegal's "Jus de bissap".

As for taste, I would describe the flavor of sorrel as tart like a cranberry with a hint of raspberry mixed in. Due to the tartness, Jamaican Sorrel Drink needs a lot of sugar to sweeten it, along with some ginger and pimento (allspice) to balance it out and create a delicious drink.

If you've ever had Celestial Seasoning's "Red Zinger" tea or Tazo's "Passion" tea, then you have already tasted sorrel. The sorrel makes the tea red and gives it a spicy flavor. It's also a regular ingredient in Jamaican Rum Punch.

 

Where Can You Buy Sorrel?

fresh-jamaican-sorrelIf you are in Jamaica around the holidays, you can buy sorrel fresh from street vendors and markets everywhere. The seeds have already been removed, so you will only need to wash it and remove any stray weeds or twigs before you start making your Jamaican Sorrel Drink. You can also find the dried variety but, by all means, fresh is always better.

If you're not in the Caribbean, you will probably be stuck with the dried buds. The bonus is that you'll be able to make your Jamaican Sorrel Drink all year long! Look for them at your local Caribbean, African or Mexican markets or health food stores. You can also order them online from Amazon.com:

 

If you find a good source for your sorrel, experiment with other recipes. Sorrel makes wonderful jam, sauces, chutneys, soups, etc. I also found this recipe for Hibiscus Lemonade that sounds delicious!

 

Does Jamaican Sorrel Drink Have Health Benefits?

Sorrel is said to contain antioxidants that are beneficial throughout the body. Its antioxidizing power is reportedly higher than vegetable juice, tomato juice and orange juice, and compares favorably to cranberry or pomegranate juice. Antioxidants boost our immune systems (to fight off colds and flu) and fight skin aging. Sorrel is high in vitamins A and C, as well as chromium, manganese, iron, selenium, and phosphorus.

Sorrel has been used in folk medicine around the globe as a diuretic, a mild laxative, to reduce hypertension, and to treat inflammatory conditions like eczema and rheumatoid arthritis. And Jamaicans say that combining sorrel with your rum helps you fight off hangovers!

 

Making Jamaican Sorrel Drink

Try our Jamaican Sorrel Drink recipe to get you started. Everyone adds their personal touch to their sorrel drink; I love to add cloves and cinnamon but you can add whatever flavors taste good to you. And it's not necessary to make the drink alcoholic; it's wonderful just as it is when served over ice on a warm day.

Here's a video demonstrating the most common way of making Jamaican Sorrel Drink:


 

Tips: Jamaicans are a superstitious lot, so of course they have one about making sorrel drink - If you sniff it, you will spoil it! No matter how tempting it is, don’t put your face in or near the pot, because any bacteria that gets in will spoil your batch.

So, it's time to get into the holiday spirit and make a batch or two of Jamaican Sorrel Drink for yourself and your family and friends to enjoy over the upcoming holidays. It's a nice tradition and a must for the Jamaican Christmas dinner table. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all!

 

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