As we struggle to survive the summer heat, hibiscus syrup is a staple in our household. I first tasted it when I was a young girl attending Mexican parties — a rosy drink called “Jamaica.” Apparently you can’t have a party without the striking red, fruity drink if you are of Mexican ancestry. Hibiscus is known as “Jamaica” in Spanish and is popular in beating the extreme heat.
Years later I found hibiscus in a health food store for about eight bucks a pound. That same week I happened to be in a Mexican market and found it for four. Neither were certified organic or had any other sourcing or label claims. When people ask me “What is the difference between ‘hibiscus’ and ‘Jamaica’?” I answer “Four dollars a pound.”
We keep dried hibiscus by the gallon in our pantry, ready for summertime. In our hibiscus frenzy, we have found hibiscus “syrup” to be the most convenient way to use it by far. You prepare hibiscus like you would any tea but, in this case, you make it extra-strong and let it steep for a couple of hours. Strain, sweeten, and cool and then use it as an ingredient in any treat that strikes you.
The only warning with hibiscus is that it can stain so you probably want to send your toddlers outside with their hibiscus popsicles.
As you have experience with hibiscus you will want to adjust your sweeteners. This recipe is not very sweet but your dietary needs may require you to reduce the sweeteners. You may want a sweeter mixture if you are using this in desserts. In terms of sugar, a whole sugar like rapadura works in this recipe well.
The beauty of the syrup is its flexibility. Our most common use is simply to add it to sparkling water and create a hibiscus soda. As with any syrup, just add it to taste to the sparkling water.
The obvious extension is the popsicle. I actually keep hibiscus popsicles stock in the freezer. To make a popsicle, simply add your syrup to some water (or even to lemonade). Adjust the mixture to suit your tastes and pour it into popsicle molds. For more excitement, you can add whole berries to the pops first. Berries arrive in the heat of the summer making it an obvious marriage.
I have used hibiscus syrup in gelatin desserts as well simply using a hibiscus tea as the liquid base in the gelatin. In the picture here, I then poured it over fresh strawberries. It is simple and you simply cannot miss.