Dried Hibiscus Calyces

The red calyx (plural calyces) of the hibiscus, also known as roselle, is one of those weird things that you pass in the market without even stopping to figure out what the heck it is, let alone what to do with it.

What do you do with an herb that is so riotously magenta, it makes beets green with envy?

Gnarly.

This is the herb Dracula kicks back with when he’s looking for his daily dose of Vitamin C. Throw a handful of calyces into a 2-liter pitcher, steep in a couple cups of hot water for a few minutes, and this stuff turns blood-red. Add cold water to fill the pitcher, ice and sugar to taste. It’s an all-natural substitute to fruit punch. In Caribbean countries, they make an agua fresca from it with ginger called “Agua de Flor de Jamaica.” In Jamaica, they add rum.

Speaking of taste, it has a cranberry-rhubarb tartness that is quite pleasant. Not entirely bitter, but not exactly a soothing brew either.

For a simple tea for one, two calyces, a packet of Splenda and eight ounces of hot water.

Epicurious.com has a whopping three recipes using hibiscus. The sorbet was kind of a given. I think an infused rice might be worth a try, although a fuscia-colored rice might turn away all but the most curious of eaters. I would also try a creme anglaise with it, because at least that circus color belongs on a dessert plate.

It’s been touted has having all sorts of medicinal properties, from lowering blood pressure to being a natural diuretic, and folk remedies for everything in between. It’s supposedly rich in pectin, which means we’ll be looking at a hibiscus-scented jam experiment in the near future.

The cap of an eggplant is also called a calyx. It’s also worth 17 points in Scrabble.

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