I was cleaning out the pantry yesterday morning and found a packet marked “Jamaica” that I could barely remember purchasing. (I tend to buy food items that I’m unfamiliar with and then stick them in the closet until I forget why I bought them.) I read the back–”Jamaica is the Spanish name for Hibiscus Pods, also known by the names Indian Sorrel and Rosella”–and put them out on the counter where I’d see them and be reminded to do a Google search for recipes. Later that day, I was watching one of Dr. Michael Greger’s nutrition videos (which if you haven’t discovered, you should set aside a few hours and check out) called Better than Green Tea. Which beverage has the highest antioxidant content? Is it red wine or green tea? It turns out that tea made from hibiscus blows all the other beverages out of the water when it comes to antioxidants.
In the video, Dr. Greger includes an easy recipe for iced hibiscus tea made from herbal teas such as Celestial Seasonings’ Red Zinger. My daughter E happened to be listening as I watched the video, and she ran to the tea cabinet (yes, we have a whole cabinet devoted to tea) to check the ingredients of her favorite, True Blueberry. Sure enough, the primary ingredient is hibiscus, and sure enough, E proceeded to boast in a “told you so” way that her tea was more healthy than my “stinky green tea.” I rolled my eyes a little, and then remembered the pack of shriveled black things that I’d put out on the counter:
I got to work looking up recipes for Jamaica on the internet, and I learned from sites like Simply Recipes and 101 Cookbooks that agua de Jamaica is a popular drink in Mexico and that it is pronounced “ha-MIKE-uh.” Wikipedia taught me that it’s made from a variety of hibiscus that’s different from the yellow flower growing in my yard and that the pods are actually sepals, not the flower petals themselves.
By the time I’d finished my internet research and figured out what I wanted to do with my Jamaica, my daughter had actually begun to make Dr. Greger’s recipe using her blueberry tea bags. I started to say “Wait, I want to make it using these dried hibiscus flowers,” but she cut me off with a challenge: “You make it your way, I’ll make it mine. Then we’ll see whose is better.”
So the contest was on. E’s version of Dr. G’s recipe was quick to make but had to steep overnight; my version involved boiling and steeping and straining and took about 30 minutes to make, but I could pour it over ice and drink it right away. But which was better? It depends on whom you ask. E liked them both but claimed hers was better, “Just because it is.” I was amazed how similar they tasted, but I preferred mine because it was thicker, more like a juice than a tea. I also like that I’m getting some soluble fiber from the blueberries, though it does tend to settle and need stirring. Either way, I’m just happy that I found a beverage that my daughter, who has lately been drinking too much juice, lemonade, and stevia-sweetened sodas, likes. As she said, “It tastes like a popsicle and it doesn’t taste healthy!”
Substitute any kind of berries you like for the blueberries.
- 1/2 cup (heaping) jamaica (dried hibiscus), about 7/10 ounce
- 4 cups boiling water
- 1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
- 3 cups cold water
- 1-2 tablespoons lime juice
- stevia or other sweetener, to taste (liquid stevia dissolves best)
- Place the jamaica in a large stain-proof container and pour the boiling water over it. Allow to steep for 25 minutes.
- While the tea is steeping, place the blueberries, 3 cups cold water, and the lime juice in a blender. Blend on high speed until it’s as smooth as possible. Pour it through a fine-mesh strainer into a 2-quart serving pitcher. (Do this gradually as the strainer may clog with blueberry seeds.)
- Once the tea is steeped, pour it through a clean strainer into the serving pitcher. Stir, taste, and add sweetener as needed.
- Chill. Stir before serving over ice.
Preparation time: 25 minute(s) | Cooking time: 5 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 8
You can buy Jamaica or hibiscus pods for a good price in Latin grocery stores.
Nutrition (per serving, without sweetener): 11 calories,