Deep burgundy in colour and tart on the tongue, hibiscus tea or juice is served in many parts of Africa. It is called bissap in Senegal, where the sweetened juice is a common drink with meals, served as karkanji in Chad, with ice, ginger and spices, and in Tanzania I have bought packets of dried hibiscus flowers labeled rosella. It’s also popular as sorrel in the Caribbean, which of course shares a culinary heritage with Africa.
In Dakar, Senegal, I have also seen it frozen in small plastic bags and served as ice lollies to delighted children. The flavour is rich and refreshing at the same time. It reminds me of Scandinavian lingonberries, which are slightly sourer than the cranberries of North America or the UK. Because of its powerful tang it is hard to drink more than a glass of bissap juice unless diluted with extra water, and it is often heavily sweetened with sugar or honey.
Inspired by the ice lollies, I have devised a recipe for bissap sorbet. It is magnificent in colour, and will certainly bring spectacle to any meal. I couldn’t add too much sugar to the hibiscus juice as sugar affects the freezing of ice cream, and the result is quite a sharp sorbet. Though very possible as a dessert, especially on a sweltering hot day, I will probably serve it more often in small portions as an amuse-bouche between courses. For that, I think it will be brilliant.
- 400 ml bissap juice
- 50 gram glycose
- 100 ml sugar
- 1 gelatin leaf
- 100 ml water
Make the hibiscus juice following instructions on packet of dried hibiscus flowers, then chill in the fridge.
Soak the gelatin leaf in cold water for 5-10 minutes.
As the gelatin is soaking, combine water, sugar and glycose in a pot and boil until sugar has dissolved (this will be quite quick).
Add the gelatin to the hot sugar mix and stir to dissolve.
Add the bissap juice and chill the mix in the fridge.
Churn in ice cream maker.
No ice cream maker? The best way to make ice cream if you don’t have an ice cream maker is to freeze the mix in a large bowl and bring it out every hour or so to whisk using a hand mixer – this beats some air into the ice cream, which is partly what gives ice cream it’s consistency. It’s perfectly possible to make decent ice cream this way, just hard work.