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Hibiscus (Recipe: apple-tea liqueur)


Guest post by Peter in Brazil

Hibiscus is in season in São Gonçalo do Rio das Pedras, and Cí­ntia's quintal (yard) is full of ruby-red-calyx-laden bushes. She sells them by the kilo (R$3,00 or about US$1.80 for 2.2 pounds), and so while her gardener, Maurí­cio, clips the pods from the plants, I wait and sip a glass of cool, pink, hibiscus ade in the shade of her orchidarium, thinking about exactly what I am going to do with three kilos.

I don't remember my first encounter with hibiscus, but I know it was in the 1970s. Perhaps it was Red Zinger, the popular Celestial Seasonings tea of that time, but more likely it was during my liqueur phase.

I had a cupboard in my Beacon Hill (Boston) apartment, the bottom shelf of which was packed full of jars and bottles of aging cordials -- Almond, Apple Tea, Artichoke, Banana, Bay Leaf, Cherry Leaf, Coconut, Coffee, Green Tomato, Hibiscus and Chamomile, Melissa, Mixed Mint, Dry Orange, Peach, Pineapple, Rhubarb, Tangerine and Lemon Verbena -- all from recipes in Emilio Cocconi's Liqueurs for All Seasons.

I bought dried hibiscus blossoms by mail order from a potpourri supply store in New York City, thinking they were the petals of the houseplant variety. I never bothered to do any more research and I went on creating liqueurs, sherbets, sauces for lamb chops, and so on.

Fast forward 25 years. Marcinha and I are on a shopping trip to Margarida'™s Mercadinho in Diamantina, both to introduce ourselves as the new owners of the Pousada do Capão and to pick up several mamões (Formosa papayas) and pineapples for the breakfast table. In a pinch, Margarida, who is an adorable, feisty, and very wise Brazilian of Japanese descent, will pack up and send fruit on the daily bus to São Gonçalo. If she knows you and likes you, that is.

She offered me a welcoming gift of a jar of what she called ume jam, because of its similarity in flavor to that Japanese plum, but what in reality is hibiscus (or vinagreira) jam. Deliciously tart, subtle and smoky, it's made from hibiscus sabdariffa, which is actually a close relative of okra and perhaps a distant cousin of the houseplant variety (houseplant to me, since I am a New Englander), or even Rose of Sharon. An ancient plant, hibiscus sabdariffa grows all over São Gonçalo.

When fresh, they are crisp and sour and refreshing, maybe the closest I will get to cranberries or rhubarb here in Brazil. After the blossoms have gone by, the calyxes can be dried and stored in the pantry for later use.

And so I begin imagining substitutions: hibiscus martinis, strawberry hibiscus pie, hibiscus relish with frango caipira (free range chicken)...

Last year, I was timid and only bought one kilo of pods from Cí­ntia. I made Apple Tea and Hibiscus Ginger liqueurs with recipes either adapted from Cocconi or concocted on the fly. Cachaça replaced the Everclear. Both were huge successes with the guests at our inn.

This year, with my three kilos, I made liqueurs again but cooked and puréed the rest to stash in my freezer pantry. The purée is an outrageous color -- a sort of raspberry, red currant, Burma ruby, American Beauty red -- I'll bet we could dye the curtains with it! The creamy but somewhat gelatinous texture will be perfect for hibiscus Bavarian cream, or hibiscus and Brazil nut linzer torte, or as the base for some new sauce for roast duck.

Now I'm thinking I should have sprung for six kilos.

Apple-tea liqueur

A wonderful liqueur using dried hibiscus, adapted from Emilio Cocconi. Buy dried hibiscus flowers here or here. It's fun to experiment with the subtleties of different teas and apple varieties. And though five months seems like forever, this liqueur is worth the wait. Makes one quart.


16 oz water
1 tsp tea leaves (your choice)
1 tsp dried chamomile blossoms
12 oz sugar
1 tsp dried hibiscus
1 whole apple, quartered
1/2 lemon, quartered
14 oz 100-proof vodka


Boil the water. Steep the tea, chamomile, and hibiscus in half of the water, covered, until cool. Dissolve the sugar in the other half and let cool. Combine the tea infusion, sugar syrup, fruit, and vodka in an airtight glass jar. Let macerate for 15 days, shaking the jar from time to time. Filter through several thicknesses of cheesecloth into a dark glass bottle. Cork and seal with wax and leave to mature in a cool, dark place for at least 5 months before serving.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

Also in The Perfect Pantry:

Thai iced tea with star anise

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Now that is some tea with a kick! Would certainly get my afternoons going. :)

Incredible! This is one awesome tea. I love the pictures!

How very interesting. Sounds like a tea I'd love to taste. I agree with above comment. Love the photos.


What an interesing post, the recipe sounds so good I am hunting down hibiscus. Also is the resulting tea gelatinous?

Sounds delicous! Maybe you should call them Hibitinis or just Hibinis.


Leave it to rupert to come up with a new name. It sounds like my kind of drink by any name. And, it looks great!!!

BEAUTIFUL pictures this week...so summer!

What a fascinating post. I love discovering new twists on food & drink, and this recipe for Apple-Tea liqueur is certainly different from anything I've created yet.

If I get started on this now, it will be ready just in time for the holidays---and I'd consider that perfect timing. Thanks so much for sharing this!

This sounds like a very refreshing and beautiful summer floral tea! ★

Hey Peter, could you please send a piece of your Brazil nut linzer torte to us here in Rotterdam?! As soon as you prepare it, to taste it fresh from your authentic "jequitinhonha" kitchen!
Really nice piece - I am counting the days to finally have the opportunity to visit you, Marcinha and Capao... Taste your yummy and creative foods and drinks and see those beauties described by you!

Shame on me, Peter - I live in Brazil but have never tried this!

Here in the Caribbean we know this as sorrel, and it is a traditional Xmas drink both non-alcholic and alcholic versions.
You can even buy it as as carbonated drink.

Yay hibiscus tea! My favorite kind! But yours sounds better...since it is a liqueur and all :)

Sorry to be so tardy in thanking you all for your great comments - just returned from a road trip into the Vale de Jequitinhonha on a ceramics buying junket. Found some great pieces!!

Peabody - My "tea" ends up at about 38-40 proof and is great as aperitif or digestif - or for afternoon sipping. Don't the English enjoy high tea.

Meeta and Paz - Thanks. This little Kodak Easy Share camera was a great and economical investment an I'm having fun experimenting.

Callipygia - Hope you checked out the two links Lydia embedded with sources to buy dried hibiscus - "here" and "here". One of the sites gives a recipe for hibiscus ade, too. The liqueur is not gelationous since it is based on a tea vs a puree.

Ted - I haven't made the Hibinis yet, but the puree is in the freezer waiting for the maiden voyage. Keep you posted.

Jeff and Pauline - Thanks. The liqueur is perched on the balcony of the upstairs veranda. Like my view?

Sandie - You are so welcome. Why not make extra and bottle it for Xmas gifts!

Nobcook - It is. I hope you will try both the liqueur and iced hibiscus tea.

Luciana - Brazilian mail is very slow and very expensive. Better to wait til you and Bernardo can visit. We are waiting for you both with baited breath and it is so cool that you are a Perfect Pantry afficionada!!

Patricia - I'm sure it'll be a cinch to find in São Paulo. I am dying to visit the Mercado Municipal.

Roger - I read that it is known as Jamaican sorrel. Are you in Jamaica? Do you use it fresh or dried? It's a great color for Chirstmas, with a wedge of lime.

Hillary - I hope you'll try it. It does take a while - but great things come to those who wait...

Fabulous! I love Red Zinger tea... and oddly I have a draft for a non-alcoholic apple-herbal tea featuring Red Zinger in the hopper. The weird part is that I knew the flavoring was hibiscus once (back a few decades!) and then completely forgot about it. So glad to have been reminded!

I love the gorgeous colour of the apple-tea liqueur! Enjoyable post. Speaking of hibiscus, I've had preserved hibiscus in champagne over Christmas last year. It was very elegant and added a nice subtle flavour and colour to the champagne.

I will NOT use the blooms from my indoor hibiscus, currently blooming generously. And I will make this!

Yes you should have gone for the 6kilos!
Gorgeous photos!!

Ann - Do they still make Red Zinger? Glad to be able to jog your memory.

Nora - are you in Australia? When I was poking around researching hibiscus I found a company in Australia that was selling that preserved blossoms. Your hibiscus kir sounds delicious and I will experiment. Thanks.

Susan G - Hope you have fun making and then sipping the liqueur. Aren't you curious just to try a nibble of your indoor plant?

Mykitcheninhalfcups - Next year...plus Cíntia and I are already planning to experiment with hibiscus as a dye for cotton, fashion pillows or simple garments and then get the local women to embroider. Glad you like the photos. Thanks.

After drinking Jamaica (pronounced Hamaica) at the local Mexican eatery nearby where I live, I went over to the Mexican market and picked up a bag of the dried Hibiscus flowers. I love making the tea at home thereby controlling the amount of sugar that goes into it. It tastes just like cranberry juice. Wild! In Mexico, the Hibiscus tea is called Jamaica.

Now, about the bright red pulp that's left over: I never thought it could be useful for any other recipes! I'll look into further use of it. Thanks!

Hola Sonya! Glad you agree with my cranberry substitution idea. And can't wait to hear about any of your experiments with the reconstituted blossoms after making tea. One comment - my puree is from fresh not dried hibiscus. Suerte!

Hi Peter. Marvelous post again. Your reference to Red Zinger tea brought back some fond memories from my hippie days.Celestial Seasonings - the "tea" was great and zingy - and I saved every box for its pictures and quotes! Key ingredient in most celestial blends - hibiscus.

Enjoy your liqueur!

Arlo - so you were a hippie too? Guess we all were...Do you still have the boxes? Thanks and looking forward to your next appearance.

This sounds tasty! Great photo, too. What a unique idea-I've only ever had hibiscus tea cold. I never thought of adding vodke to it.

Interesting, I looked at this and the first thing I said was, that's not hibiscus, it's a funny thing here in the Caribbean and nearby mainland territories, the same plants/fruits/vegetables having different names.

For example:
The same vegetable is refered to as, in:
Jamaica: Cho-cho
Trinidad: Cristophene
and in other places: chayote

As far as I know however, what you have pictured there is sorrel, (and we don't even say Jamaican sorrel) I can speak for Jamaica, Antigua & Barbuda, Montserrat, Trinidad & Tobago and St. Kitts & Nevis with certainty calling it sorrel and hibiscus being a flower,it's beautiful in bloom can actually be used to make tea although most ppl here don't fool around it too much for that.

Sorrel on the other hand, is used especially around christmas time. The buds (fresh, I've never made sorrel with the buds dry) are boiled with fresh ginger (optional), then allowed to sit and steep for a couple of hours to a day or two (depending on how patient you are, of course the longer it steeps the stronger the taste) it is then sweetened (with sugar) and rum added, served very cold over ice.

Now one of the stories of how sorrel got its name is an Anansi story (anansi is a spider and trickster that gets up much trouble, Anansi stories usually highlight his cunning, but do usually have a moral) in the story of sorrel and anansi if memory serves, some how the fresh sorrel is mixed with hot water as anansi is running, it turns the water that beautiful wine colour, i believe in the story anansi tries to pass it off as wine, the ppl think it looks so real, thus sorrel, if you're interested I could find the actual story and send it to you, as well as a story abt hibiscus (as I know it) as well.

Wow! that was a long comment, hope you don't mind.

Chantal - Thanks. Here in Brazil chayote is known as chuchu. Send your stories! I'd love to hear them. In the Caribbean they call it sorrel, here they call it hibisco..it's the same thing. They're not really buds, but rather the calyxes which we harvest after the petals drop. Do you eat the leaves as well? In the northern parts of Brazil they make a pesto-like sauce called cuxa of the chopped cooked leaves, dried shrimp and ground sesame to serve with rice.

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