Roselle (known as Rosella in Australia) is a species of Hibiscus, a genus of flowering plants numbering in the hundreds and native to temperate, subtropical and tropical regions throughout the world.
It’s also known as red sorrel, Jamaica sorrel, Indian sorrel, Guinea sorrel, sour-sour, Queensland jelly plant, jelly okra, lemon bush, Florida cranberry, amongst a whole list of other names. Jelly okra doesn’t sound too lovely to me!
Roselle (Hibiscus sabdariffa) is commonly grown for bast fibre, which is used in the manufacture of rope, matting, carpets, paper and even furniture. The red sepals (part of the flower) are used as food colourings in America and Europe.
And flowers and syrup are used to flavour a variety of dishes, restorative infusions, diuretic tonics and medical ointments in places as far afield as Senegal, Burma, Sudan, India and Brazil. The Senegalese use the leaves too, as a vegetable green.
More recently, roselle seems to have become trendy in Western European bars and restaurants, where preserved flowers and syrups are now available.
When I was offered a jar of the flowers in their own syrup, I was curious, having heard of them only in the last year, but never having tried them. The 250 gram jar contains 11 flowers.
I decided to keep things simple and opted for trying the flowers in champagne, one of the most common serving suggestions. To my good fortune, I discovered a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Rosé in the cupboard. How serendipitous!
I took both Rosella and the champers along on a visit to friends and together, we gave it a try.
Our flowers never opened as beautifully as those in the marketing shots (no big shock there) and the rosé champagne did, perhaps, subtract a little from the beautiful colour that the syrup imparted.
However, we liked the fruity jam aroma and the sweet floral taste. And certainly, we enjoyed sipping our rather elegant and unusual aperitif…
…before tucking into a takeaway curry from the local curry house!