Food & Wellnes Articles

A Christmas Tradition: How to Make Jamaican Sorrel

“Every December, I host a tree-trimming party. I serve chili with cornbread and lots of good wine. It’s a wonderful party, and it shows how much adults like to play.” Maya Angelou

Sorrel is the favourite festive Christmas drink of Jamaica! Like fine winemaking, “sorrel-making” is an established activity – the roots of which go back generations. Making sorrel especially during the Christmas season is a tradition practiced worldwide. Gifting bottled sorrel is also tradition. The concept of pouring this sweet, spiced, home made beverage from a bottle, is like pouring fine red wine. It’s that good!

A beverage deep red in colour with a unique taste enhanced by pungent herbs, is made from the fruit petals of the sorrel plant – also known as hibiscus – harvested year round in Jamaica. After the plant’s petals fall off, what’s left are the sepals (fruit). As the fruit matures, they become enlarged, fleshy, and bright red.

To begin making sorrel, you must first steep the petals with grated ginger in boiled hot water. Once the liquid cools, it gets refrigerated for 24 hours before it is strained through a muslin cloth, or a sieve. This is a traditional method. Add white rum, and sugar to sweeten.

The more contemporary method of making sorrel includes mixing port wine (or sherry) together with spices such as pimento, cloves, and even orange peel. Many texts have been written outlining the process but here’s a digestible place to start. It’s true that with making this drink, the ingredients must be adjusted to achieve your desired taste. For each house I’ll visit this holiday season with sorrel made and bottled to go, each drink will have a uniqueness about them based on what ingredients were used. To be fair to the younger children, you can also make this beverage alcohol free.

FIVE SIMPLE INGREDIENTS

I cook the way my mom unknowingly inspired my imagination. There was always something delicious on the stove. I experienced the different smells and uses of fresh herbs, and spices, just by observing – or as my mom called it, by “being nosey.” In my household, sorrel was made using five simple ingredients: fresh sorrel petals; grated ginger; lime juice and brown sugar. Some nice Jamaican rum was also added to the mix.

The method used to “draw” out the flavour of the sorrel petals was traditional – using boiling hot water to draw out the flavour of the sorrel petals. “Draw” is a word used in a Jamaican’s kitchen to explain the process to extract flavour. The next step as previously mentioned, is to allow the mixture to cool before it is refrigerated for 24 hours. The more sorrel petals you use, the stronger the flavor of the drink. If you’re not able to buy fresh sorrel (it goes fast this time of year), the dried packaged sorrel will yield just as strong a flavour. On occasion, one or two pimento seeds are bottled with the final drink.

SORREL (HIBISCUS)

Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) is a species of hibiscus native to West Africa. In the Caribbean, sorrel drink is made from sepals of the roselle. In Mexico, ‘agua de Flor de Jamaica’ (water flavored with roselle) frequently called “agua de Jamaica” is most often homemade and served chilled.  Hibiscus tea is a herbal tea made as an infusion from crimson or sepal of the roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) flower. It is consumed both hot and cold.

I like to bring to a boil the sorrel and ginger as opposed to pouring the already boiled water on these ingredients as you would to steep tea. I love the warming smell of the sorrel petals, ginger, and warm spices as they come to a boil.

Cheers! Enjoy the recipe for this signature sip with an aromatic twist.

Jamaican Sorrel

  • Servings: 10 - 12 cups
  • Difficulty: super easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 8 cups sorrel petals (fresh or dry)
  • ¼ cup freshly grated ginger
  • Skin of 1 small orange
  • 6 pimento seeds (allspice berries)
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 12 cups water
  • Brown sugar to sweeten
  • A splash of rum (or as desired to taste)

Directions

  • If using fresh sorrel you must first thoroughly wash it. Place the sorrel, ginger, orange skin, pimento seeds, cloves, cinnamon and water in a large pot and bring to a boil on medium heat. Remove from heat. Remove the orange skin. Cover and let cool. Refrigerate for 24 hours.
  • Remove the steeped liquid from the refrigerator. Strain through a muslin cloth or a sieve into another large container. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible.
  • Sweeten to taste with the sugar. Slowly stir in the rum, tasting as you go to achieve your desired flavour. Serve chilled, or over ice.
Tips: Substitute rum with port wine. Sherry can be used as well. It’s a great idea to make this drink a day or two in advance of serving it. Giving it time to sit allows the true flavours to really blend.

You might also like Canadian Hot Apple Cider. Click HERE to get the recipe for this most beloved holiday beverage spiced with cinnamon, pimento and orange peel. It’s a perfect drink to cozy up with.

© Photography by Sabine Alphonsine.

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