Wednesday, June 30, 2010

INGREDIENTS - Vinagreira, a versatile Hibiscus

Hibiscus Sabdariffa, one of the many members of the Hibiscus family, is an important medicinal and culinary ingredient in many corners of the world. In English, the common name for this plant is the Roselle or Rosella, though in the Caribbean it's known as Sorrel. In Spanish-speaking Latin America the name is Flor de Jamaica and in Brazil it's called Vinagreira.

The plant is cultivated commercially in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Various parts of the plant have commercial value - the woody stems yield bast fiber, which is used to produce burlap. The calyx of the flower is exported to Europe and North America where it produces a natural food coloring, and the dried calyces are used to make infused teas called "Hibiscus Tea" or in Spanish "agua de Jamaica".  Anyone who has drunk Red Zinger tea has already sampled Hibiscus Sabdariffa, and it's this plant which gives the tea its brilliant red color. In many countries where this plant is cultivated, its leaves provide the most common culinary use, and among these countries is Brazil.

In Brazil, cultivation of vinagreira as a cooking ingredient is strongly associated with the remote Northeastern state of Maranhão. Maranhão differs from the other states of Brazil's Northeast in culture, racial mixture, dialect, art and history, as well as cuisine. Having been at various times a colony of France and the Netherlands, as well as of Portugal, and being largely inaccessible from other parts of Brazil during colonial times, Maranhão has a unique flavor all its own. For example, it is only in the traditional cooking of Maranhão that you find use of vinagreira , but there it is a keystone ingredient and is essential in the preparation of the most famous dish from Maranhão, cuxá.

Once you have tasted vinagreira leaves, you'll understand where the Portuguese name comes from, as the high Vitamin C content of the leaves gives them a very acidic taste. Other regional names for the plant in Maranhão include caruru azedo, which means "acidic caruru."

Future posts on Flavors of Brazil will be featuring the foods of Maranhão, and will include a number of recipes which include vinagreira. 

If you wish to grow  Hibiscus Sabdariffa in your own garden, whether for making hibiscus tea, using the leaves in a recipe from Flavors of Brazil, or just for the beauty of its flowers, seeds can be purchased online from Click here for a link to the ordering page for this plant.According to the site, it can be grown successfully in USDA zones 6-11.

1 comment:

  1. Is Hibiscus used in any other areas in Brazil ? or just people in Maranhão use it ?