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It has a tart, cranberry-like flavour, and sugar is often added to sweeten it. The tea contains vitamin C and minerals and is used traditionally as a mild medicine. In west Sudan a white hibiscus flower is favoured for its bitter taste and is customarily served to guests.
Hibiscus tea contains 15-30% organic acids, including citric acid, malic acid, and tartaric acid. It also contains acidic polysaccharides and flavonoid glycosides, such as cyanidin and delphinidin, that give it its characteristic deep red colour.
The drink is sometimes called roselle (a name for the flower) or rosella (Australia); sorrel in Jamaica, Belize, Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago; red sorrel in the wider Caribbean; and Agua/Rosa de Jamaica or simply Jamaica in the United States, México, and Central America. It is also known as "Zobo" or Bissap in African countries like Nigeria.
Agua de flor de Jamaica, also called agua de Jamaica and rosa de Jamaica, is popular in Mexico, Central America, and parts of South America and the Caribbean. It is one of several common aguas frescas, which are inexpensive beverages typically made from fresh juices or extracts. It is usually prepared by steeping the calyces, along with ginger (in Jamaica), in boiling water, straining the mixture, pressing the calyces (to squeeze all the juice out), adding sugar, sometimes clove, cinnamon and a little rum (in Jamaica), and stirring. It is served chilled, and in Jamaica this drink is a tradition on Christmas, served with fruit cake or potato pudding.
In Panama both the flowers and the drink are called saril (a derivative of the English word sorrel). It is prepared by picking and boiling the calyces with chopped ginger, sugar, clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg. It is traditionally drunk around Christmas and Chinese New Year, diverging from Mexico and Central America and much more in line with the Caribbean, due to the strong West Indian influence in Panamanian culture especially in Panama City and most of Panama's Caribbean coast.
Dried hibiscus calyces, often labelled flor de Jamaica, have long been available in health food shops in the United States for making this tea, especially in California and other areas influenced by Mexican customs. Flor de Jamaica has a reputation for being a mild natural diuretic.
In the English-speaking Caribbean, the drink, called sorrel, is made from the calyces, and it is considered an integral part of Christmas celebrations. The Caribbean Development Company, a Trinidad and Tobago brewery, produces a Sorrel Shandy in which the tea is combined with beer.
Karkadé (// KAR-kə-day; Arabic: كركديه, [kæɾkæˈdeː]) is served hot or chilled with ice. It is very popular in some parts of North Africa, especially in Egypt and Sudan; hibiscus from Upper Egypt and Sudan is highly prized in both countries. Hibiscus tea is especially popular in Sudan where it is often prepared by soaking the calyces in cold water for a few days and then straining the result. In Egypt and Sudan, wedding celebrations are traditionally toasted with a glass of hibiscus tea. On a typical street in central Cairo, many vendors and open-air cafés sell the drink.
In Africa, especially the Sahel, hibiscus tea is commonly sold on the street and the dried flowers can be found in every market. Variations on the drink are popular in West Africa and parts of Central Africa. In Senegal, bissap is known as the "national drink of Senegal". Similar beverages include wanjo in The Gambia, dabileni in Mali, and zobo or tsobo in all of Nigeria. Hibiscus tea is often flavoured with mint or ginger in West Africa. In Ghana it is known as "sobolo".
In Thailand, most commonly, roselle is prepared as a cold beverage, heavily sweetened and poured over ice, similar to sweetened fruit juices. Plastic bags filled with ice and sweetened 'grajeab' can be found outside of most schools and in local markets. Roselle is also drunk as a tea, believed to reduce cholesterol.
In Italy hibiscus tea, known as carcadè or Italian tea, is usually drunk hot, often with the addition of sugar and lemon juice. First introduced from Eritrea, it was widely used as a tea substitute when the country was hit by trade sanctions for its invasion of Abyssinia.
In other European countries, it is often as an ingredient in mixed herbal teas, (especially with malva flowers or rose hips in the mix, to enhance colouring), and as such, more commonly used than recognized.
Potential health effects
There have been some clinical studies suggesting that the consumption of hibiscus tea may lower blood pressure, but the papers published about these studies note that the quality of the studies is poor. Hibiscus tea is generally well tolerated and does not adversely affect liver and kidney function at lower doses, but it may be hepatotoxic at high doses. Hibiscus flowers contain anthocyanins, which are believed to be the active antihypertensive compounds, acting as angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors.
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- Information about Roselle by J. Morton (1987), part of the New Crop Resource Online Program at Purdue University