The botanical name of the plant is right there in the first paragraph to highlight that the drink is made from a specific variety of hibiscus. That means you can’t go into your garden, pluck the flowers off your ornamental hibiscus and use them to make this drink.
I was introduced to hibiscus juice in the most unlikely place. It was our first afternoon in Bacolod City in 2014 and we were touring the museum. The suffocating heat left us feeling dehydrated, our parched mouths and throats led us to the Museum Cafe (or did our host suggest that we go there? I can’t remember…) and someone recommended hibiscus juice.
The drink was lovely. Sweet and tangy, and the color was simply invigorating. And it intrigued me endlessly that it was made from hibiscus which we know in the Philippines as gumamela. But because I knew that the gumamela flowers growing in our garden were not edible, I had to read up and that was how I learned that hibiscus drink is made from the sepals, not petals, of the roselle flower.
The popular belief is that hibiscus brew originated in Africa and was brought to America by enslaved Africans. Roselle blooms around Christmas time in Africa. As the drink spread, hibiscus brew became a popular Christmas drink in the Caribbean and Latin America. Roselle is also made into agua fresca in Mexico. In Panama, spices like ginger, cloves and cardamon are added to the drink.
While hibiscus drink may be new to the Philippines (or to me, at least) in 2014, it has long been served in Thailand where it is sweetened to the max and mixed with ice. It is also a popular drink in Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia.
The basic drink is simple enough to make. You boil the sepals, leave them to steep until cool, then you stir in sugar until dissolved. Drop ice into glasses, pour in the strained brew and enjoy.
Ice-cold hibiscus (roselle) juice
- 8 to 10 buds dried hibiscus
- sugar to taste
- Place the dried hibiscus in a pot. Add two cups of water. Bring to the boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Turn off the heat. Leave to cool and infuse for about 20 minutes.
- Add sugar to taste.
- Drop ice into glasses and pour in the strained brew.