In Mexico and Central America, flor de jamaica refers to a species of hibiscus used to make a striking ruby-colored infusion with a rich citrus flavor. Its vibrancy is akin to a photo of Merlot after a perky Instagram filter.
The dried ingredient, technically the flower’s protective calyx, is called karkade in the Middle East, bissap in West Africa and sorrel in much of the Caribbean. You may also know it as the main ingredient in Red Zinger tea.
Perhaps nowhere is hibiscus more ubiquitous as it is in Mexico. It came with the first Spanish conquistadors that brought it from Jamaica, which the Spanish conquered 25 years earlier. Agua de jamaica is now as common in Mexico as lemonade is in the U.S. It’s loved for its vivid color, ease to make and complex, refreshing taste. Even in non-Mexican groceries, dried hibiscus is often labelled as jamaica.
Wines described in terms of tart red fruits and berries, like cranberry, raspberry, pomegranate and sour cherry, often evoke hibiscus as well. Hibiscus also has tannins, which gives it a subtle astringency that’s a natural match with red wine.
Some sangrias are more like punch, overwhelmed by chopped fruit and soda. This recipe, however, creates an elegant, not-too-sweet sangria for people who love wine and don’t want to mask its flavors.
While an inexpensive wine is fine to use, choose one you’d enjoy drinking on its own. Almost any red will work, but the best will echo the flavors of the jamaica. Look for unoaked bottlings with red fruit flavors and good acidity. Gamay, Sangiovese, Barbera, cool-climate Pinot Noir and young Grenache are fantastic options.
If refrigerated, the leftover hibiscus mixture will keep for weeks. You can drink it on its own, or use as a cocktail mixer. You can also add it to rice, salad dressings or ceviche to impart a hint of color. Mince any of the leftover flowers from the garnish and fry with onion and garlic for a terrific taco filling that pairs great with guacamole or queso fresco.
- 1 cup dried hibiscus flowers
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 star anise and/or 1 cinnamon stick, optional
- 2 750-ml bottles red wine
- 1 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
- 1 cup blanco Tequila
- ½ cup triple sec, like Cointreau
Rinse hibiscus in large bowl of cold water to remove any grit. Transfer to saucepan with sugar and 5 cups water (and spices, if using). Boil for 1 minute, then remove from heat, cover and let steep for 2 hours. Strain and reserve flowers.
In a large pitcher, stir together 2 cups hibiscus mixture, wine, orange juice, Tequila and triple sec.
Serve in ice-filled glasses. Garnish with reserved flowers and strips of orange zest.