My childhood kitchen in Lagos, Nigeria, was a culinary laboratory of sorts. My mother, a research and development engineer for a chocolate company, dedicated an entire kitchen cupboard to mysterious bottles of essences and bags of unusual ingredients. She was forever experimenting with new flavor profiles and using her willing children as guinea pigs. This is how I came to know about red hibiscus flowers. The plant grew in our yard and our kitchen often carried the faint, sweet smell of its drying petals. We steeped the flowers in a tisane we called “red tea” and served the drink chilled and over ice. The tart nature of the dried petals lends itself well to sweeteners, like sugar or honey, and mom often infused the tea with berries, fresh herbs or—my favorite—fresh ginger. Little did I know then that red hibiscus flowers are turned into drinks all over the world. In Nigeria, they’re called sobo, in Latin America, they’re called flor de jamaica, and in Caribbean countries, they’re called sorrel. You can buy the dried flowers at many international markets and online at Amazon.com. But when I was a kid, I thought the drink was my mother’s own crafty invention.
An Unusual Herbal Iced Tea