Hibiscus, or jamaica, is a flower with a wide range of culinary uses – from steeping it into a tea to cooking it into your favorite sweet or savory dishes – you can go wild experimenting with this delicate and versatile flower.
Our whole-flower hibiscus comes from the same farmers who grow Masienda’s corn and beans in coastal Oaxaca, where the hibiscus is grown as a companion plant in their milpas.
Each flower is hand picked and slowly sun dried, in order to maintain the highest integrity possible – it makes for a juicier flavor with a floral, citrusy finish and naturally-stunning crimson color.
You can typically find dry hibiscus flowers in most supermarkets, though most commodity varieties have dyes added to increase the vibrancy in color – we think hibiscus is vibrant as it is! No need for additives, that’s for sure.
Agua de Jamaica, literally translated to mean hibiscus water, is one of the most classic and simple uses of the hibiscus flower, and is the gateway to cooking with it as well! When cooking with hibiscus, most recipes call for boiling or steeping the flowers to rehydrate them before using, which is the key component of making hibiscus tea.. So here we go – step one of using your whole hibiscus flowers.
Agua de Jamaica is typically sweetened with cane sugar when you find it at a restaurant or taqueria, but we like to embrace the tartness of the flower, and leave the sweetening up to personal preference. If you don’t add any sugar to the tea when it’s steeping, you can make a simple syrup to have on hand so your guests can sweeten the tea to their liking. Unsweetened jamaica has a certain zing to it that may be a bit tart for some, especially the kids, so sweetening it as you go is our favorite option for not having to add sugar to the whole batch.
We love drinking our agua de jamaica on a hot summer day with a fresh squeeze of lime or orange, topped with sparkling water for a refresher, or mixed into a mezcal cocktail – there’s really no wrong way to enjoy it.
Our recipe is below (is it a recipe if there are only two required ingredients?) but take a peek afterwards at our ideas for using the “spent” hibiscus – you don’t have to throw away the flowers after their use, making tea is just the starting point!
AGUA DE JAMAICA WITH HEIRLOOM HIBISCUS
- 1 cup Hibiscus Flowers
- 2 liters Water approximately 8.5 cups
- 1/2 cup sugar optional
- fresh lime or orange optional
- 1 stick cinnamon optional
- Bring water to a rolling boil, and then remove from heat. If you’re adding sugar to your tea, add it now so that it will evenly dissolve.
- Add hibiscus flowers (and optional cinnamon stick) to hot water, gently pushing down the flowers with a wooden spoon to ensure all flowers are fully submerged.
- Allow tea to steep for 25-30 minutes. The longer you steep the flowers, the stronger the tea - however, note that the tea may become bitter if left for too long. We recommend no longer than 2 hours.
- Strain hibiscus flowers from tea and set aside,* placing tea in a glass bowl or pitcher to cool.
- Refrigerate your agua de jamaica prior to serving, and serve over ice with a squeeze of lime or orange.
*Your hibiscus flowers have completed their work for your agua de jamaica, BUT this doesn’t have to be the end of their journey! As we mentioned above, hibiscus flowers are often used in cooking for both savory and sweet delicacies – in savory dishes, the jamaica is often used as a vegan meat replacement since it lends a texture similar to shredded chicken or carnitas. It reminds us a bit of cooked kale or collard greens.
You can use the flowers same-day, or keep them refrigerated for 1-2 days until you’re ready to use them.
Here are a few of our suggestions for cooking with the rehydrated flowers:
One of the easiest and most common savory uses for hibiscus is to add it to your quesadillas. Add the rehydrated flowers as-is, or sautee them with onion and your favorite chiles for a bit of a kick. We love hibiscus with quesillo and salsa macha (the guajillo+cranberry+hazelnut is great with this) on a homemade corn tortilla, of course. It’s so simple, but decadent.
We once had jamaica enchiladas at Azul Condesa, CDMX, and were pleasantly shocked and surprised at how the sweet and savory flavors melded together in this vegetarian entree. You really didn’t miss the meat in the enchilada, and the delicate flavors kept you engaged throughout the meal. The recipe from Chef Ricardo of Azul Condesa was published by epicurious and can be found here.
Hibiscus Baked Goods & Jams
Chop the rehydrated flowers and fold them into your favorite baked goods just as you would fresh berries, or add them to a homemade jam – they’ll lend floral tart notes that will compliment their sweeter partners.
Hibiscus recipe requests? Let us know what you’d like to try!