What on earth are those strange alien squid like things? I thought the first time I saw them at the night market. Weeks later I see a photo of it in a cafe garnishing a drink called Roselle. It's Hibiscus Sabdariffa, the strange squid shape is the calyx of the flower. The drink which I of course had to try, was just 'ok', nothing to write home about, the garnish was perhaps a pickled calyx- weird.
The last time I was in Singapore however, I bought a bottled drink in Chinatown from a 'tonic drink' vendor - labeled Roselle and Hawthorn and it was a much different experience - a 'wow' that's thirst quenching, tasty goodness. When I saw alien squids available at the night market last week, I bought a half kilo to try. Researching this a little further, I discover that it is also known as Jamaican Sorrel so I proceed with the processing- boiling lightly but adding a little fresh ginger, per the Jamaican method. The result: 'wow'. On tasting it I thought, mint in this would be nice, which I discover, along with vanilla is how the Senegalese prepare it, called Bissap.
The homemade version without any sugar is more fruit juice like than a tea - somewhat cranberry like in flavor which jives with another of it's monikers Florida Cranberry. The color of the liquid is also gorgeous, a red somewhere between beet and blackcurrant juice. It tastes and looks like something that's awfully good for you and it apparently is, being rich in antioxidants and high in calcium, niacin, riboflavin and iron. I wonder if using the dried version is as good, it's a main component of Red Zinger tea which is not a favorite of mine.
Although I haven't seen it before in these parts, according to Edible & Medicinal Flowers By Margaret Joan Roberts, recorded use of the edibility of the plant was documented in Java around 1862, so it's indigenous to the region. It has a local name Assam Susur and it's name implies that it is considered a sour fruit which usually means its used in cooking for that property but I don't see it's inclusion in, or recipes for it. I did find however that Ulicha Keerai or Gongura leaves are used in Tamil and Andra Pradesh cuisine, althouth its not quite the same plant but a close relative Hibiscus Cannabinus. The leaves are also used in Myammar cuisine where it's called Chin Baung Ywet.
The plant itself is quite pretty, it reminds me of that Red Okra I planted a couple of years ago which is not surprising as they are both in the Mallow family. The obvious next step is to try planting the seeds, there's an empty corner in the flowerd bed where a few might look really good and of course there's all these culinary things to do with it -check out this Roselle Granita.