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Get Creative with Sweet-Tart Flor de Jamaica

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Make an Agua Fresca de Jamaica with lime.

In San Antonio, we most often see flor de jamaica used as the base for a pretty, red agua fresca. Sometimes, the flavor is good; sometimes it has been so diluted as to deliver only a bit of tang and a lot of sugar.

Dried flor de jamaica is readily available in San Antonio markets. (Don’t try to make your own from the hibiscus plant in your yard, though. This is a different variety, Hibiscus sabdariffa.)

You can take a small handful of the dried blooms and put them in hot water for jamaica tea, or cool it down, add a little sugar and make an agua fresca. Add it to hot, brewed green tea, along with mint, fresh lime and some sugar or agave nectar, if you wish. Cool it down, pour over ice, and you have a antioxidant-rich iced tea.

Jamaica has a good, tart flavor that is something like cranberry, along with a background flavor that is a little woodsy and herbal.  It is low in calories and research has indicated that jamaica tea can help moderate high blood pressure. It has antioxidants and vitamin C as well. Read more nutritional information about jamaica at

Use Jamaica Syrup to macerate fruit.

We have found that making a concentrate of this dried hibiscus (Jamaica) fruit or calyxes, the outer part of the flower, is a great way to focus the flavor and make jamaica work in many other ways. The great thing is that it is ready to pour into a glass half-full of water and you have an instant agua fresca. You can use it to macerate freshly diced cantaloupe, pears, mango, peaches or other fruits and make a salad.

Use the concentrate to make a sorbet. Or, add a little vodka, put it in the freezer in a shallow pan, then stir it frequently as it freezes until you have an icy, refreshing granita.

Check out this link for a steak sauce recipe that uses a jamaica concentrate.

Use Jamaica Syrup to make a margarita – the flavor goes well with lime and has the perfect amount of tanginess for the salty rim around the glass. Just make your favorite margarita, then add a few spoonsful of the Jamaica Syrup.  You’ll love the color!


Jamaica Syrup (Concentrate)

Straining jamaica flowers after steeping in hot water leaves a rich, garnet-red liquid.

8 cups water
6 ounces dried hibiscus flowers (about 2 cups)
1 1/2 cups sugar, or to taste
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice

Bring the water to a boil over high heat in a large saucepan. Add the Jamaica flowers. Reduce the heat to medium; cook for 10 minutes, stirring once or twice, then turn off the heat. Cool, then strain into a heatproof container.

Add the sugar and lime juice; stir to dissolve the sugar, then cover and refrigerate until ready to use. You can refrigerate the syrup, covered, for up to two months.

Makes 5 cups

From The Washington Post/Patricia Jinich, chef at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington.


Photographs by Bonnie Walker

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