Call it rosella, Jamaican sorrel, or Florida cranberry — hibiscus by any name has become the star of the global flavor scene. In fact, the fragrance and flavor company Firmenich named hibiscus its 2019 Flavor of the Year, thanks to a 300% increase in usage since 2012. 🌺
Why the growing fan club? First off, the hibiscus hue: A stunning deep magenta found in drinks like hibiscus tea and agua de Jamaica. The color comes from a hibiscus species native to West Africa called roselle. Unlike the huge, red-and-yellow flowers that hula dancers tuck behind their ears — a different hibiscus species — roselle blossoms are small and bursting with punchy-pink color. The stems, roots, and leaves are also edible and can be used in a host of culinary delights.
Which brings us to flavor: Hibiscus has a refreshingly tart taste, similar to cranberry but with floral and citrus notes. New York’s hip bars and restaurants use it to punch up cocktails and glazes, and popular recipes for sorbets, jams, soups, and even quesadillas all call for the potent petals.
Better yet, all-natural hibiscus is hella healthy. Not only does it bring zing to the party without any chemicals or additives tagging along, hibiscus comes with some surprising health benefits. Here are just a few reasons to add a little flower power to your diet:
Like they say, you can never have too many friends, shoes, or antioxidants. Vitamin C and other antioxidants in hibiscus help fight free radicals — unstable molecules that can speed up aging and make you prone to wrinkles, not to mention dementia, diabetes, and heart disease. Plus hibiscus tea is caffeine free, unlike matcha tea and many other antioxidant-packed drinks.
Hibiscus is a natural diuretic that helps increase urination, prevent constipation, and otherwise keep your GI system happy. Plus, unsweetened hibiscus tea has no sugar and zero calories! It’s basically gorgeous, naturally flavored water.
Will hibiscus lower your numbers? While the jury is still out on the general population, there’s good news for people with diabetes and other metabolic disorders. One study found that diabetics who drank hibiscus tea for a month had significantly lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol compared to those who drank black tea. Another study found powdered hibiscus reduced both cholesterol and glucose levels in patients with metabolic syndrome.
Another reason to heart hibiscus: It’s a natural way to lower your blood pressure. According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition, subjects who drank hibiscus tea experienced a higher drop in systolic blood pressure than folks who drank a placebo. If you’re already taking blood pressure medicine? Make sure hibiscus won’t interfere — the flowery concoction can interact with hydrochlorothiazide.
Beyond being a health-boosting superfood, a cup of hibiscus tea provides the perfect excuse to take a break from your busy day. And letting your mind and body unwind brings its own benefits — like a stronger immune system, better memory, and a lower risk of cancer and heart disease.
Deep pink might make a great nursery color, but pregnancy and hibiscus don’t mix. Consuming hibiscus tea can cause complications like uterine contractions and miscarriage. No thanks! If you’re an expecting mama or trying to become pregnant, better say BYE-biscus for now.
Everyone else? Give hibiscus a whirl. You can find it in plenty of prepared beverages and food products, or head to the kitchen and whip up your own healthy dose of Hibiscus sabdariffa.
You can make your own hibiscus tea with either fresh or dried blossoms. Just boil the flowers, let them steep for about 20 minutes, then strain the bright pink brew into your favorite cup. Served straight, the tea will be tart. For a sweeter retreat, add honey, lime juice, basil, or other herbs. On a hot day, pour your potion over ice.
If tea isn’t your jam, hibiscus also makes a great addition to jellies and preserves, especially when paired with ingredients like rhubarb. So grab some rhubarb, a little sugar, a bag of dried hibiscus, and start simmering.
Steep and sautée a handful of hibiscus calyxes for a festive, flavorful ingredient to tuck into quesadillas or mix into salads. Just make sure you rinse the dried calyxes well first — they might have a grain or two of grit hidden in their creases.