Wednesday, January 18, 2012

INGREDIENTS - Azedinha (Sorrel)

The European herb sorrel, which came to Brazil with Portuguese colonists and which has been enthusiastically adopted by Brazil cooks, is very appropriately named in Portuguese. It's known as azedinha, which can be translated literally as "the little sour one." Anyone who's familiar with the taste of sorrel will know how well that name describes the plant - sorrel's primary taste is a sharp, tangy sourness. (Incidentally, the English name refers to the same characteristic - sorrel derives from an old French word surele, meaning "sour.")

The sour taste of sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is due to the presence of oxalic acid in the plant. In high concentrations, oxalic acid is toxic and can be fatally poisonous, although it would almost be impossible to eat enough sorrel to receive a toxic dose. Spinach also contains oxalic acid, though in a lesser quantity than sorrel. The only food plant that has dangerously high concentrations of this acid is rhubarb and in rhubarb oxalic acid is only found in the leaves of the plant, which are not normally eaten. Rhubarb stalks do not contain the acid. Black tea also has oxalic acid in low concentrations.

Sorrel grows well in most regions of Brazil with the exception of the tropical rain forest zone in the the country's north. It's used most frequently in parts of Brazil where there is a population whose ancestries can be traced back to Europe - to Portugal, Spain or Italy in particular. Sorrel is used to flavor soups stews and sauces, dishes whose flavor can be lifted and freshened by a hint of acid. Adding sorrel to a dish has the same effect as adding a squeeze of lemon or lime juice - it cuts fatty richness and perks up the flavor of the dish's protein component.

In the next post, Flavors of Brazil will publish a Brazilian recipe for grilled salmon with a sorrel sauce.

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