Sorrel has a tangy and acidic flavour that is similar to lemon. Learn more about this unique ingredient, including where to buy it and how to cook with it!
What is Sorrel?
These red bulbs have many names! Sorrel is a common name, but it is also sometimes referred to as Jamaican sorrel, Caribbean sorrel, or red sorrel.
No matter what you call it, what you're actually looking at in the photo above are the calyxes of a hibiscus plant called Roselle, (or the Hibiscus sabdariffa variety, if you want to get technical).
(There is a leafy green herb that is also called sorrel, but it is unrelated to this plant.)
The calyxes (which contain the sepals of the plant) are steeped to make drinks (like tea), or to flavour other recipes.
All of my experience with this ingredient has been through preparations where you boil/simmer the calyxes in water and then use the resulting "tea" in whatever you're making.
I'm Trinidadian, and we make something called Sorrel Drink. This tangy, spice-infused beverage is popular throughout the Caribbean and is often served during Christmastime.
AN IMPORTANT SAFETY NOTE: Not all types of hibiscus plants are safe to consume! The Hibiscus sabdariffa variety is the only variation that I've seen used for edible preparations. Please do not try to make tea from the hibiscus plant in your garden unless you know for sure that you have a Hibiscus sabdariffa variety, and it was labelled as being safe for human consumption.
Where to Buy Sorrel?
Sorrel can be found in Caribbean specialty stores, and some major grocery stores, in both fresh and dried forms.
The dried ones are generally easier to find all year long and are easier to store since they last for a very long time. You can also buy them online from Amazon.
One thing to keep in mind is that sometimes the dried buds are not whole. The Grace brand in the photo below has broken pieces, while the Caribbean Delight brand has whole buds. I haven't found that one is better than the other - especially since you're probably going to soak and then discard the actual buds anyway.
The fresh buds are not usually available until Christmastime, at least here in Ontario, Canada. While they are really nice to use, they can go mouldy quite quickly. It's best to keep them in the fridge until you are ready to use them.
What to Cook with Sorrel?
As I mentioned above, Caribbean people make something called Sorrel Drink. The exact recipe varies from country to country, and family to family, but it's basically sorrel steeped in water with spices and sweetened with sugar.
Elme from Freak In the Kithen TO told me that she uses sorrel to flavour and colour marshmallows, and Swiss meringue buttercream too! I haven't tried that myself, but I bet they would take on a pretty pinkish/red colour, and have a pleasantly tangy flavour.
Try simmering about 2 cups of dried sorrel in 10 cups of water for about 10 minutes, then allow to cool. You can use the liquid to make fruit punch, add to cocktails or even make popsicles!
The fruit, lemon-like flavour is very refreshing - perfect for summertime treats. Just be sure to balance out the acidity with something sweet, like sugar, honey or agave.