from The Natural Vitality Chef
“Agua fresca”, fresh water, is the name given to a variety of cold drinks in Mexico. Not the type which comes out of a bottle or carton and is more usually known as a “refresco” or refresher, but the kind which is lovingly made by hand from natural ingredients, and which is more likely than not the ancestor of today’s multimillion dollar “soft drinks” business. When I was a child growing up in Mexico, our cook made a different one every day and left it in the refrigerator for the household to drink at leisure, and it always took pride of place at the lunch table. My favourite will for ever be agua de jamaica or Jamaican water.
Hibiscus blossoms are the calyxes of the hibiscus sabdariffa, which is native to Asia rather than the Americas. It is commonly used worldwide as a tea and herbal remedy with many medicinal properties, including a valuable reputation as a laxative, a diuretic, an astringent, an anti-inflammatory and a slimming aid among others. But therapeutic uses aside, its gorgeous deep magenta colouring is matched by an equally gorgeous sweet tart flavour, slightly tannic and with a hint of ripe summer fruit, reminiscent of a soft young wine.
It is important to keep the sweetness in the Jamaican water to a minimum, as this ensures its characteristic lightness and freshness – if it is even slightly on the cloying side, it will somehow parch your throat rather than slake your thirst. And bearing in mind its healing talents, it is worth making it with a natural sweetener like honey, so that it can be drunk with wild abandon and a clear conscience - although if your conscience is not apt to bother you anyway, you can add a slug of rum to it the way they do in the Caribbean!
Organic hibiscus blossoms are available from Steenbergs of Yorkshire.
See also my Hibiscus Blossom Sorbet recipe.
JAMAICAN WATER - AGUA DE JAMAICA
1 litre/1 3/4 pints/4 1/4 cups water
25 g/1 oz hibiscus blossoms
75 ml/5 tbsp mild runny honey or to taste
Bring the water to the boil in a medium saucepan and add the hibiscus blossoms. Cover the pan, turn the heat right down and leave to simmer for 10 minutes.
Set aside to steep until cool.
Strain the agua, pressing down well on the blossoms to extract all the liquid and flavour.
Stir the honey into the dark pink Jamaican water and chill. Taste for sweetness and add a bit more honey if necessary but only a bit!
Serve in tall glasses, with several cubes of ice.
See also my Hisbiscus Blossom Sorbet