bissap : hibiscus : sorrel ::::
Every year, my adventurous sister-in-law travels overseas for her birthday, immersing herself in volunteer work and disconnecting from social media for a good while. These travels aren’t a jetsetter’s choice of vacation: this is her time to reflect and get away from the usual hubbub of life, to dig ditches, to hike in remote areas, to process the living conditions of people groups perhaps not so different from some people in America. (Though, I am speaking for her, so I’m sure there is much more to it than that.)
On the most recent trip to Senegal, a host family introduced her to jus de bissap, a tart drink made from steeping Hibiscus sabdariffa flowers in boiled water like a tea then served chilled. The garnet colored drink is popular there and the reportedly the national drink of Senegal, as is the white bissap made with white hibiscus flowers. She couldn’t wait to show me how to make it when she visited us a couple months later. My sister-in-law also learned how to make the white bissap also, mixed with pineapple juice. I didn’t find any specific recipe for white bissap and pineapple, though there are many online that use the red flowers and pineapple.
I loved the drink on my first taste, tart and refreshing, and subsequently did more research on where one can find it. It’s all over Africa, in fact, as well as the Caribbean, each region contributing slightly different variations to the prep and flavors added. In Guinea, it is known as l’Oseille de Guinea and Guinea Sorrel. In Arabic speaking countries, it is known as Karkaday.
There is sobolo in Ghana, touted to aid in digestion and stimulates peristalsis as well as anti-nausea. It is made with spicy peppers and ginger, cold steeped overnight. Zobo in Nigeria is another version and believed to fight fever. Drink wanjo in Gambia. It is called sorrel in Jamaica and considered a traditional Christmas drink.
Given one of my life goals is to create simple syrups of almost any edible plant, in true form, I made bissap simple syrup then added sparkling water for a homemade bissap soda, controlling just how sweet and bubbly I want it in every glass.
Ergo, the alcohol add. Balanced with more syrup, you can easily turn this into a great vodka or whiskey cocktail. Serving iced bissap vodka soda in warm weather is refreshing, while a chilled and whiskey-spiked version with ginger is lovely for fall. It pairs well with the amaretto apple sour I created about five years ago.
I’m off to Colorado for work tomorrow, fully connected to social media with the constant hum of work driving me, perhaps finding an expectedly subpar syrupy hibiscus drink at the hotel. If I could take bissap with me through airport security, I would. Until I am back home, À votre santé! Fe Sehetak!
One year ago: poached chicken with miso
Two years ago: green apple basil fizz
Three years ago: seriously awesome black bean burgers
- 2 cups dried, unsweetened hibiscus
- 2½ cups water, plus more to rinse hibiscus before cooking
- Approx 1½ cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon orange blossom water
- Fresh mint, optional*
- Rinse hibiscus well. I do this in a deep bowl filled with water. Agitate the hibiscus in the water, allowing the sand to loosen and sink to the bottom of the bowl. Skim rinsed petals off the top of the water and place into a small pot.
- Add 2½ cups of water to pot. Bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat slightly, and simmer for 5 minutes. (If using African hibiscus, my sister-in-law's friend recommends "boiling off the microbes" for 5 to 7 minutes before using.)
- Add mint if using and allow mixture to sit off heat for a few minutes.
- Strain the beautiful garnet colored liquid into a bowl, pressing down on solids. Discard spent hibiscus (and mint). There should be approx 1½ cups of liquid. Add the vanilla and orange blossom water. NOTE: Whatever amount of liquid you have is the amount of sugar to add in next step. Please adjust.
- Rinse the pot you just used, and pour strained hibiscus juice back in. Add sugar and stir to help dissolve. Turn on heat to medium to simmer gently to completely dissolve sugar grit. This may only take a minute or two while continuing to stir.
- Cool slightly and pour into jar to cool to room temperature before storing in fridge.
- There may be a skin that forms, like a syrupy thickening at the edges, after cooling. Heat gently and mix in a little water to thin.
- I love this as a cocktail mixture. Use a mix of hibiscus syrup, seltzer, and a non-peaty, non-smoky whiskey for a REALLY good sour cocktail. If going for a no alcohol drink, mix a few tablespoons of syrup with seltzer in a 10 ounce glass, stir well, and adjust fluids to your desired sweetness.
- The syrup stores well in the fridge for weeks.