There’s no Christmas in Jamaica without sorrel, a drink that is infused with ginger, sweetened with sugar and spiked with white overproof rum. It is as ubiquitous at Christmas time as rum cake, curried goat, and rice with pigeon (gungo) peas.
A hibiscus variety, sorrel came to Jamaica from West Africa. According to the National Library of Jamaica website, references to Jamaican sorrel date to the 1700s.
Sorrel is an excellent source of Vitamin C. It is also rich in copper, calcium, magnesium, iron and phosphorous. Researchers at Jamaica’s Northern Caribbean University have found that three varieties of sorrel that are grown on the island could be effective in fighting some forms of cancer.
Many Jamaicans have the plant in their backyard gardens and some use it not only to make the popular Christmas drink but also to cool fevers, cure colds and lower blood pressure.
Its popularity as a Christmas beverage likely stems from the fact that it is harvested around November/December – just in time for the festive season. For many years, sorrel was only available at that time but as the numbers of Jamaicans and other Caribbean nationals living in North America and the UK swell, you will find several different brands of the dried sepals for sale in supermarkets and health food stores. You can also find the bottled beverage available in some Jamaican/Caribbean restaurants.
Sorrel is also popular in Latin America. A few years ago, my boss’ Mexican wife introduced me to flor de Jamaica. I was so fascinated by the name of the blood red tea she’d made, it took me a while to realize that the color and vaguely familiar aroma was really sorrel.
Unsweetened, sorrel has a sharp, tangy taste. Add a little sugar and it becomes a refreshingly delicious drink. Sorrel can be used to make jams, jellies and chutneys, the leaves can also be used in salads.
- 6 cups water
- 3 cups sorrel sepals
- 2 oz ginger
- 6 whole pimentos
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- Bring water to boil.
- Pour boiling water over sorrel and ginger. It should be enough to cover the sorrel
- Cover and let steep overnight.
- Strain and sweeten.
- Add rum, if desired.
- Add pimento berries and refrigerate.
- Serve with ice.
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