You’ll find a sorrel drink in every Caribbean home around Christmas time.
From Jamaica to Guyana and all the islands in between, sorrel (or hibiscus tea or agua de Jamaica) is that quintessential Caribbean Christmas drink.
It’s ruby-red (the perfect Christmas red!) and has a wonderful tangy taste.
The spices used add amazing flavors to the drink, which is sweetened and served cold with Christmas meals and treats.
Oh and spiked sorrel is even better, haha!
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What is Sorrel?
The sorrel plant is a type of hibiscus, sometimes called roselle, Hibiscus sabdariffa. It’s not the same as garden sorrel or spinach dock, which is used in Mediterranean salads.
The plant flowers in late October to early January which is why it’s so synonymous with Christmas time. Here’s a look at the flower… Do you see the red sepals? They are used to make the drink.
Making the Sorrel Drink
Much like everything in Caribbean cuisine, there are many ways to make a wonderful sorrel drink. You can use fresh red sepals or dried ones sold in the store or on Amazon. I’ve seen dried sorrel in Walmart a couple times too.
Both types are great to use but dried sorrel will give you a stronger drink with a darker color.
For this recipe, I used fresh sorrel from my own tree.
Here’s what I did:
1. Remove the fresh sepals and calyces
Removing the fresh sepals isn’t hard but removing the calyces can be a task since they have tiny, sharp hairs near the base. They give quite the paper cut… I mean… sorrel cut. So, I suggest using food grade gloves here.
Remove the sepals and calyces and discard the green seed cores. With dried sorrel, the cores are already removed so you can skip this step.
2. Wash everything
Wash everything thoroughly to remove any dust or dirt. Do this with the dried sorrel too.
3. Add spices
Add the sorrel and your favorite spices to a large pot. There are so many choices to try:
- orange peel
- star anise
- bay leaf
Try any combination of these.
I am a huge fan of the cinnamon, star anise, and nutmeg combo. They add this amazing licorice, cinnamony taste to the drink. It’s so good!
Another great combo is cinnamon, orange peel and ginger. You get wonderful warming, citrus flavors coming through… plus the cinnamon, of course.
By the way, if you want a shorter cook time and cooling time, add more spices.
Add water to your pot and boil everything together.
The more water you add, the lighter the color of your sorrel. Less water will give you a concentrated drink with a darker red color. But, a more concentrated drink will require more sweeteners to balance the tangy taste. So, if you are worried about your sugar intake, try using more water.
Next, the longer you boil the sepals and spices together, the darker and more flavorful your drink will be. I’ve boiled everything in as little as 15 minutes and got an amazing tasting drink. You can boil on low heat for an hour or even longer. It’s all based on your preferences.
5. Allow to steep
After boiling, switch off your stove and let your drink cool down and steep. Again, the longer you leave it, the darker and more flavorful your drink will be (I’m a broken record by now!).
If I boil the drink for 15 minutes, I usually leave it for 30 minutes to cool and steep. If I do it in an hour, I’ll let it steep overnight.
6. Strain and squeeze
When your drink meets your taste preferences, it’s time to strain. I like using a cheesecloth to remove any little bits of sepals and spices. Once everything is strained, squeeze the sepals to get as much color out of them.
7. Sweeten and spike your sorrel drink
Sweeten your sorrel drink with your favorites. I like using unrefined brown sugar; although white sugar is fine too. Serve chilled.
For a boozy sorrel drink, add a little Caribbean white rum. Usually, overproof rum is preferred and it sure brings the Caribbean warmth with it. It’ll make you jolly for the season in no time. Haha!
Sorrel Drink Recipe
Caribbean Sorrel Drink Recipe
- 2.5 cups fresh sorrel petals (or 1 cup dried flowers)
- 4.5 cups water
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 3 star anise
- pinch of nutmeg
- 9 tbsp brown sugar
- overproof white rum (optional)
- Remove fresh sorrel sepals from the core.
- Wash the sepals (or dried ones) with cold water before adding to a heavy pot.
- Add water and bring to a boil.
- Boil for 15 minutes (or up to an hour) on low heat.
- Remove from heat and let cool. The longer the sorrel cools and steeps, the darker the color and the stronger the flavor will be.
- Once cool, strain the drink. Squeeze the sepals to get as much natural flavor (and color) out. (If you boil for 15 minutes, 30 minutes is a typical cooling time).
- Sweeten, chill and spike if you desire.
What drink is synonymous with Christmas for you? Let me know in the comments.
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