Hibiscus Blossom Sorbet
The exotic and flamboyant blossoms of the hibiscus plant are a common ingredient in Mexican cuisine, particularly in sweet dishes and drinks but also in salads and sauces. Agua de Jamaica or Jamaican water for instance is one of the most popular drinks, and luridly coloured iced lollies – paletas, made from an infusion of the flowers, are a stand-by of every ice cream shop and street vendor throughout the country. Hibiscus Sabdariffa originated in Asia and is likely to have made its way to the New World aboard the fabled Manila Galleons which plied their trade across the Pacific Ocean between the Philippines and Acapulco. Having landed in the New World, it can now be seen in full bloom on the roadsides and in the gardens, and it is also grown commercially, particularly in the central state of Guerrero – and having received a sample of organic flor de Jamaica or hibiscus blossom from Steenbergs of Yorkshire, I set about recreating a favourite childhood flavour in this nieve or “snow” as a sorbet or water ice is called in Mexico. Hibiscus needs to be simmered and then left to brew in order to bring out its deep, tannic qualities which create a wonderfully vivid, flamboyant, fresh and palate-cleansing sherbet - and the key in this case is the exquisite balance of sweet and sharp. It is important not to overdo the honey as this will create a heavy, overpowering intensity, so be sure to taste as you go. Children are likely to find this sorbet unappealing and I think of it as being “adults only” – my favourite way to serve it is in a champagne saucer filled with pink champagne, as a palate cleanser between courses........ but it also makes a lovely revitalising end to a meal. I like to garnish this sorbet with organic edible dried flowers like rose petals and cornflowers from Steenbergs of Yorkshire which look like confetti, but blueberries, raspberries and pomegranate seeds are a good alternative. HIBISCUS BLOSSOM SORBET Serves 6 600 ml/1 pint/2 ½ cups water + 250 ml/8 fl oz/1 cup 100 g/4 oz dried hibiscus blossoms 150 g/5 oz mild, runny honey or to taste Rose petals and cornflowers, to garnish (optional) Place the 600 ml of water and hibiscus in a saucepan and bring to the boil over medium heat. Turn the heat right down and simmer for ten minutes. Set aside to steep for half an hour. Strain through a medium mesh sieve, pressing down well on the blossoms to extract all the liquid. Return to the saucepan and reduce by half, to about one cup. In a small saucepan, stir together the remaining water and honey. Bring slowly to the boil, stirring to dissolve the honey, and simmer for five minutes. Mix the honey water and hibiscus liquid and taste, adding more honey if necessary – but be careful not to over-sweeten. Cool and refrigerate until totally cold. Churn the sorbet in an icecream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. If you do not have a machine, freeze the mixture in a container for 30 minutes and then whip with an electric whisk until smooth. Repeat this whole procedure four or five times, until you have a sorbet consistency. To serve, soften the sorbet in the refrigerator for about five minutes before scooping but be aware that it melts quickly and does not like to be kept waiting so if you are not ready to eat it, return it to the freezer. See also my Hibiscus Blossom Water recipe. And what about this sorbet's nutritional talents? Firstly, it obviously contains a sweetener in the form of honey - and I must emphasise that sugar is sugar is sugar, whatever its original form, and therefore should be consumed with awareness and caution. But the body deals better with some sugars than others and honey does contain nutrients in the form of phytochemicals and antioxidants; it also has anti-bacterial properties, can soothe a sore throat and a digestive upset, and was applied externally in ancient China to salve wounds. Ideally I would use raw Manuka honey but that would require a considerable financial investment! And what about hibiscus? It flamboyant colour denotes a hefty content of antioxidant anthocyanins and it has a valuable reputation for lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as being anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial. So enjoy!