Rosa de Jamaica

Rosa de Jamaica did not become widely known in North America until Celestial Seasonings released its “Red Zinger” tea in the 1970s; Rosa de Jamaica is its main ingredient.

Chances are that if you have been in Guatemala for any length of time, you have had refreshments made from the liquid extracted from rosa de Jamaica. You can find this beverage, a deep red wine-like color, in any restaurant or comedor, served on ice with lots of sugar to balance its natural tartness. As you weave and wind your way through any Guatemalan market, you will most certainly come across rosa de Jamaica calyces, sold by the big bucket-full. And if you are of drinking age (which is what, again, in Guatemala?) you may have downed a few concoctions made from Quetzalteca’s Rosa de Jamaica liqueur. Rosa de Jamaica is popular in other Central and South American countries as well, and its prominence reaches all the way to far-off countries like India and it’s widely consumed throughout the African continent.

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Known as Hibiscus sabdariffa L. in Latin, rosa de Jamaica is a bushy annual plant known for its fragrant, blood red calyces (commonly mistaken as flowers or petals), the covering that protects its seed. Both calyces and the liquid extracted from them are packed with vitamin C as well as calcium, and are used as a natural remedy to treat coughs and fevers. Rosa de Jamaica is also a natural diuretic and anti-parasitic (very useful when you live in a developing country and are quite fond of street food), and in some places is said to cure hangovers (it goes without saying this is also quite useful).

When boiled in water, the calyces turn the water a deep, rich, purple color, almost to the point of being black. On colder days, you can drink this liquid hot with a drizzle of honey. And when it’s hot out, sweeten the infusion with sugar to taste, chill, and then pour over ice for a refreshing thirst quencher. The calyces make for great eating themselves, as well. Their flavor is tart and tangy, like a cranberry, and many chefs substitute one for the other. Sautéed in a little olive oil or butter, they make a great filling for quesadillas, chicken breasts, or pork tenderloins. Mixed with ginger, lime juice, and a little sugar, you have a tasty salsa for seafood. And sure to be a favorite: Rosa de Jamaica Margaritas, spiked with golden tequila and sporting a sweet and salty rim. Put out a pitcher of these at your next gathering; they will win out over Rosa de Jamaica Quetzalteca every time!

 

Rosa de Jamaica Margarita with Sweet and Salty Rim 

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5 minutes, Serves 1

• ¾ cup Rosa de Jamaica liquid

• 1 tablespoon lime juice, plus a wedge for the glass

• 2 tablespoons sweetener, such as honey, agave or simple syrup

• 2 oz. gold tequila

• 1 teaspoon each of salt and sugar

In a cocktail shaker or jar, mix the Rosa de Jamaica liquid, lime juice, sweetener, and tequila with ice, and shake until well chilled, about 30 seconds.

Mix salt and sugar together on a small plate and spread to the edges. Run a lime wedge over the lip of the serving glass, then dip the rim into the salt and sugar mixture.

Add ice to the glass, pour the Rosa de Jamaica margarita, and serve immediately.

Written by: Natalie Rose

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