A Holiday Tradition without the Cheers?
“What is this?” I asked my new Antigua hiking friend as we perused a cornucopia of locally grown fruits and vegetables at a village roadside stand. “Oh, that’s Sorrel!” she said with the excitement that any local gets when introducing a foreigner to their Island traditions. “It’s harvested this time of year. We make it into a Holiday beverage” “With what alcohol?” I ask innocently, knowing that all Holiday drinks, of course, contain added cheer! “Oh, we don’t put alcohol, just maybe some ginger and lime and some sugar to sweeten it up.” That’s a shame, I thought. And then I thought, isn’t sorrel a leafy plant like arugula or mustard greens? Isn’t it dried and used as a spice? I was confused on all fronts.
The stand attendant, sympathetic to my reticence, tossed a complimentary bag of flaming red Sorrel florets in my already bulging shopping bag of goodies which also included 2 sorry-looking passion fruit which my friend also convinced me could be juiced.
Getting Right With Hibiscus
To set my mind straight, I, of course, headed to the internet to do a little research. I mean, these florets sure reminded me of rosehips especially when you peel back the petals, and I was nervous about early onset Alzheimer’s with my possible poor memory of sorrel being a leafy green. Here’s what I found.
Sorrel (Rumex acetosa), (the leafy one) is a perennial herb in the Polygonaceae family which is divided further into 1200 species and about 48 genera. Other names for sorrel include spinach dock and narrow-leafed dock. It grows around the world but is ubiquitous in the North Temperate Zone seen commonly in grasslands and cultivated as a garden herb to add to salads. So, I'm not losing my mind! Phew!
The kind of Hibiscus Plant used in the Caribbean Sorrel Christmas drink, is Hibiscus sabdariffa or Roselle, also known as saríl or flor de Jamaica in Central America. Here in English-speaking Antigua and other English-speaking Caribbean islands, they just call it sorrel. It is not to be confused with Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, which is an ornamental, tropical flowering evergreen shrub in the Hibisceae tribe of the family Malvaceae. Other names for it are Chinese hibiscus, China rose and Hawaiian hibiscus. This plant looks very much like the Rose Of Sharon plant, what I’m familiar with in the USA and Canada, which makes sense because it too is in the Malvaceae family and is named Hibiscus syriacus!
After all this information and clarification, Roselle may be the type of Hibiscus in the popular Celestial Seasoning Tea Lemon Zinger, which, when brewed, is not as red as the Roselle (Sorrel) infusion, but definitely has a similar tangy, bitter taste. It does contain rosehips as well.
A Health Mixer
The researched health benefits of Sorrel/Roselle are quite numerous. From lowering Type II diabetes sugar levels to promoting weight loss and improving cardiac health. In one study, consuming Sorrel/Roselle helped lower bad cholesterol levels.
Potential health benefits in a cocktail “mixer”? I began to feel not only inspired, but that it was my duty to create a cocktail with this crimson queen!
But with which spirit? After doing some web searches and coming up dry (except for one Sorrel Margarita recipe with Tequila) I took a poll among my many British born friends here in Jolly Harbour. I also asked two cocktail experts; Greek-born restaurant owner/bartender of Akropolis and Swedish-born restaurant owner/bartender of Al Porto. Then finally, of course, I polled my “partner-in-wine”, my husband. The top 3 winners were Rum, Vodka and Gin. I chimed in and added Rosé wine to the list of final candidates to test.
GIN (with a twist) was the clear winner, and my Sorrel Citrus Sangria was a very close second. Vodka was blah and rum was just down right wrong! We didn’t try tequila, yet!
Perhaps if I was able to brew a true Jamaican Sorrel with cinnamon and ginger and cloves, rum may have worked, but these ingredients were all sold out at the Epicurean Grocery Store in Jolly Harbour. So, gin worked best with the tanginess and refreshing, citrusy elements of my cocktail, and it was a nod to the many British expats on Antigua. They do love their Gin!
Try the recipe below for my Sorrel/Roselle Cocktail that I have named a “Caribbean Crimson Queen” (gin). The “Sorrel Citrus Sangria” recipe is also below. Let me know in the comments, if you have any other Sorrel Drink concoctions to share!
The Crimson Queen (a Sorrel Citrus Gin Cocktail)
The Crimson Queen
Sorrel/Roselle “Tea” (cold)
- 4 cups of fresh Sorrel florets
- 8 cups of purified water
Gin Citrus Infusion & Simple Syrup
- 4 Sorrel florets
- 1 orange
- 1 lime
- 1 lemon
- 1 teaspoon sliced ginger root
- 1 cup raw cane sugar (or to taste)
- Gin (8 oz)
Sorrel Infusion: Bring to a boil 4 pints (8 cups) of purified water in a pot. Turn off heat and add 2 pints (4 cups) of Sorrel/Roselle florets and stir (do not boil the florets!) Let florets steep until water is cool, then transfer all contents into a glass jug and refrigerate for 6-12 hours.
Citrus Infused Gin: Pour your gin into a glass jar or glass. Wash all fruit thoroughly! Carve off the peels in strips. Put half of them in the gin jar and refrigerate for 6-12 hours.
Simple Syrup: In a small pot bring to a boil 2 cups of purified water. Turn off heat. Add 1 cup of raw cane sugar and stir until dissolved. Add 4 Sorrel/Roselle florets and the other half of the citrus peels along with the ginger. Stir and let steep until cool. Transfer contents into a glass jar and refrigerate for 6-12 hours.
When it is time to serve, scoop out florets and citrus peels from the “tea” and simple syrup with a slotted spoon or sieve.
Fill a glass with ice. Pour 1.5 oz of the infused gin over the ice and stir, then with a tablespoon, add simple syrup and stir. For me, I like 3/4 tablespoon. Pour in the cold Sorrel “tea” to almost the top.
Serve with a garnish! Get creative! Remember those sorry looking passion fruits? Well, they had almost nothing in them, so I created halved passion fruit, kiwi sailboats filled with sugar and watermelon so if they sunk, they would add some more deliciousness to the Crimson Queen! See the photos below.
Sorrel Citrus Sangria
Sorrel/Roselle “Tea” (cold)
- 2 pint sized glasses of fresh Sorrel florets
- 4 pints of purified water
Rosé Wine Citrus Sangria Infusion
- 1/2 orange sliced in halves
- 1/2 lime sliced in halves
- 1/2 cup watermelon cubes
- 1/2 apple slices
Prepare the “Sorrel Tea” the same way you did for the Crimson Queen. Let chill completely. Add all the fruit to a glass jug and add the Rosé wine and chill in the fridge for 3-6 hours. Add the Sorrel Infusion to the wine mixture to taste. if you need more sweetener, use the same simple syrup as the Crimson Queen. Garnish and enjoy!