A tart and fruity, authentic Jamaican preserve
“This sorrel jelly gives you a taste of really authentic Jamaican flavour,” say Aaren from behind the array of delicious looking jams, jellies and preserves on the Pimento Hill stall. The first thing to know about Jamaican sorrel is that it is not the green-leafed—mainly French—plant that customers are familiar with.
“Jamaican sorrel is the fat outer petals which surround the young fruits on the hibiscus plant. If you eat them when picked they taste floral and sweet with a hint of tartness. When they are dried—which the majority are—it really intensifies the flavour and brings out its tartness,” he explains.
“Our jelly is handmade by Dawn, who owns the stall, and her husband Steve. It includes ingredients like ginger, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg and pimento pepper. Dawn also adds hibiscus flowers which are naturally sweet and adds another layer to the jelly.” Apart from the dried sorrel, all the other ingredients are fresh with no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives—it is even gluten free.
Rum and raisin ice cream
“The nice thing about the sorrel jelly is that it is very versatile,” Aaren continues. “Some of our customers use it as a substitute for cranberry. You can basically use it as a jam, at breakfast with yoghurt or porridge, or drizzle it over salads or desserts—it is very nice served with rum and raisin ice cream. Some customers have told us they like to use it as the filling for a victoria sponge cake.”
Patrick Williams, owner of Soul Food and a chef of Jamaican heritage, is a fan of this hugely versatile floral ingredient. “To get the best out of sorrel jelly, you really have to take a closer look at sorrel itself,” he says. “The petals are used to make drinks, wine and sauces—as well as jelly of course—all over the Caribbean, Latin America, West Africa.”
Because it appears around December in that area, it is traditionally a Christmas ingredient, but is now associated with any kind of celebration—perfect, therefore, for trying out this Jamaican Independence Day.
“It has a very distinct taste, which holds its own against other flavours. In the past I have come across pimento, ginger, cinnamon and a whole range of fruit juices combining well with sorrel, so there are some dishes you already know that would work well with a bit of the jelly added. It’s just a case of thinking about which dishes you already cook might benefit from sorrel’s distinctive edge. I think this sense of curiosity is the best way to approach using sorrel jelly.”
The jelly itself is delicious, but be creative in how you use it and what you use it with. “Don’t think of it as a fixed flavour like strawberry or raspberry jam, but more as an ingredient that you can experiment with”—no doubt if you follow Patrick’s advice, this little jar of Jamaican sunshine will become a staple in your store cupboard.