When I was a kid, there was a small chain of healthy Mexican restaurants in the Pacific Northwest called Macheezmo Mouse (they’ve been closed for at least ten years, but I hear there’s a movement afoot to bring back the Mouse).
They served brown rice, black beans, and whole wheat tortillas long before anyone other fast casual restaurant was even considering the idea of adding whole grains to their menu. They had a location just a mile or so away from our house in NW Portland and so it was a regular stop for us on nights when my parents weren’t cooking.
The soda fountain at Macheezmo Mouse was a serve yourself situation, and in addition to the regular corporate offerings, they always had a drink available that they called Cactus Cooler. It was deep red, super tangy, quite sweet and I adored it.
It wasn’t until years later than a friend served me a glass of iced and lightly sweetened hibiscus tea (also known as agua de Jamaica), did I realize that the Cactus Cooler of my youth was nothing more than an infusion of hibiscus flowers, made on a very large scale.
Recently, I picked up a bag of dried hibiscus flowers at an international grocery store. At first, I made large batches of hibiscus tea, but as so often happens to me, quickly ran out of space in my refrigerator for a two-quart jar of the stuff (I dream of having a larger fridge on a near-daily basis). So, I used my skills as a small batch maker and scaled down my hibiscus operation.
Instead of making an iced tea, I opted to make a concentrate. Each batch makes just two cups of deeply red, sweet, tangy liquid. I pour a tablespoon or two into either sparkling or flat water, and have even used a couple drops as a sweetener in a mug of hot herbal tea (it works gorgeously). It also is a nice addition to cocktails and I plan on making it a regular player in my warm weather kitchen. Hibiscus-ade for everyone!
Hibiscus naturally contains a goodly amount of acid (according to Wikipedia, it contains 15-30% organic acids). I’ve not done a pH test on this concentrate, but my sense is that it is probably high enough in acid to be safe for boiling water bath canning.
However, at the moment, I’m opting to make small batches that I can keep in the fridge and use relatively quickly. I do plan on giving it a pH test in the near future and will add canning instructions to this recipe if it passes muster.
Hibiscus Concentrate Recipe
- 1 cup dried hibiscus flowers
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 cups filtered water
- Combine the ingredients in a saucepan and place over high heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved.
- Let the concentrate boil for 5 minutes.
- When time is up, remove pot from heat. Let the concentrate steep for an additional 10 minutes.
- Strain the concentrate into a jar or bottle. Let it cool until it is at room temperature, then refrigerate.
- The concentrate will keep 2-3 weeks in the fridge.
I loved that Cactus Cooler! And their ancho sauce? I think that was what it was. I really Macheezmo when I lived in PDX. And now I’m totally making this!!
Boss Sauce! Truly the best stuff ever!
I love Hibiscus tea, hot or iced! I add it to lemonade, and I often serve it hot with ginger syrup in it; it’s a great throat soother.
Oooh! Two of my faves in one! I make both of these (tho usually not at the same time), so I’ll have to put them together. Thanks for the idea tip!
The two to three week lifespan might not work well in my house, but I could see filling an ice cube tray with the concentrate for long-term access to single servings.
Do you think it would store longer with some acid addition?
Like I said in the post, I actually think that the hibiscus concentrate is acidic enough on its own for boiling water bath canning. I just want to test the pH before committing to that statement.
I can’t wait to to hear if this is shelf-stable, I adore this stuff and would love to make a big batch to store.
Any word on the shelf stable verdict? I’d love to give this as gifts!
Sera, I’m so sorry. I haven’t had a chance to test the pH of the hibiscus concentrate yet.
Hi, Marisa, my RSS reader is no longer picking up new entries for your blog. The last one that shows up is from April 25. I am using foodinjars.com/feed and have also tried http://feedpress.me/FIJ. The RSS link on your site actually leads to a page that asks for your email address to subscribe that way, so I’m not sure if I should be using some other address for the feed. I wonder if anyone else is having this happen or if it’s just me.
I first became aware of the wonder of hibiscus in Egypt. After a long day of trekking around ruins, we were treated to a hot, sweet, ruby-red beverage called “karkady”. This is quite similar, although the karkady was so syrupy and sweet it was practically a concentrate itself. It was glorious. I found a recipe as soon as I got home and still make it from time to time. Thanks for the reminder!
I have a big bag of hibiscus flowers I bought at the farmer’s market. Love your idea of making the concentrate. My fridge often runs out of room too!
I had forgotten about Macheezo! That was in the days before I ate whole grain, and I it a bit weird. I would love it now. (Of course I’m now in Canada…). I remember the drink and may have to try this. 🙂
oooh that sounds lovely. I wonder if that grows here….
If you happen to have a Mexican grocery store in your area that’s a great place to get dried hibiscus (Jamaica). Mine sells it in the bulk section for about $2.99 a pound – and a pound is a lot of dried hibiscus!
My bag of hibiscus flowers was going begging until this morning when I read your fabulous idea! It’s still too early to try as a cocktail, but after I put in the last of my tomato plants, it will be the perfect refresher!
O.M.G.!! The Mouse!! I know what we will be drinking this summer! Thanks for the jolt of memory!
I made this last week and my 3-year-old and I both love it. It was particularly refreshing after mowing the lawn. 🙂 Thanks for the recipe!
Wow Love Hibiscus tea ….the concentrate sounds amazing….you can also powder the hibiscus petals and blend into white buttercream frosting for an amazing and beautifully colored frosting for cupcakes….especially good for chocolate spicy cupcakes
I’ve been watching Rick Bayless’ newest series which is centered around the cuisine of Oaxaca, and watched his daughter make a simple syrup Jamaica concentrate for another drink. I finally got to the new Mexican market in town and saw these flowers, but I didn’t know how much to buy, but I’m going back for at least a couple of cups worth to try. This sounds delicious, and I’m ready for something new since my SodaStream machine broke last week.
Are these specialty dried hibiscus or can I dry my own. I have quite a few perennial hibiscus in my garden.
The Cactus Cooler was actually a blend of hibiscus and peppermint, sweetened with apple juice. Now you can recreate it at home. 🙂
Thanks for sharing that, Kalera! I will definitely try recreating it!
Visiting the city of Padova recently we at a fantastic small restaurant called La Finestra. Carlo, the owner proudly brought over his own home-made after dinner drink challenging us to guess what was in it…We were completely off, but he was kind enough to share the recipe.
Infused (probably vodka?) with hibiscus, fresh ginger and juniper berries! (and sugar, of course). YUM! Try it!
After several failed attempts I finally got it to work and shared it with my coworkers for the New Year.
I would also like to note one thing you don’t mention here: hibiscus also contains high quantities of pectin, so on some attempts I ended up with vodka jelly 🙂 . Did you run into that problem boiling and chilling the sweetened hibiscus, or was it just my bad luck?
Dying to know if you ever checked the PH level to see if this would be safe to can. I have been drying my hibiscus for the past few weeks. I just found your blog and will be checking back often.
I’ve not checked the pH myself, but did a little online research and found that hibiscus tea typically has a pH of 2.5, which is well below the 4.6 cut-off. So you could can it in a boiling water bath.
Read this recipe, went into the kitchen and made it! I think mint or chamomile might be next!
Hi, Marisa. I, too, used to eat at the Macheesmo Mouse on the SW park blocks back in the day. I remember asking an employee what was in the Cactus Cooler, and I believe her response was that it contained a mix of peppermint tea, one of the “zinger” teas (red or lemon), which is primarily hibiscus flowers, and a touch of apple juice. I’m planning on making a batch this Memorial Day weekend.
What ratio to water are y’all using when serving as traditional jamaica?
Fresh hibiscus, also called roselle, is often made into jellies and is acidic enough for water bath canning. Would the dried have a similar ph?
Unfortunately, I don’t know what the pH of dried hibiscus is, so I don’t have the information necessary to guide you. I believe it to have similar acid levels to the fresh versions, but I can’t say for sure.
Hi there! I am wondering if you ever managed to check out the shelf stability of this wonderful recipe?
I’m sorry, but I was never able to confirm it.
I found out over at nutritionfacts.org that hibiscus tea has more antioxidants than even green tea. I cold brew 1/2 cup of hibiscus flower pedals in 1 Quart of water overnight. I dilute this 8 to 1 and carbonate it UNSWEETED. It’s quite tasty and satisfying without any sweetener.
Thanks for following up and your awesome recipes and advice 🙂
Oh my goodness!! I was going to try to can this but its soooooo good I go through it in days so no need to can!! Great recipe!!! My next trick is to try it in my gin and tonic!
I’m so glad you like it!
How did canning it work out? I am thinking about adding some dried extracted leaves with dried extracted lemon peel to a batch of potatoes and canning it to see how it turns out. Any ideas on this subject would be greatly appreciated.
This hibiscus concentrate is acidic enough to be safely canned. However, you really don’t want to mess around when it comes to canning potatoes. If canned improperly, they can be really dangerous. I’d stick to the NCHFP recommendations and not improvise.