Thai Red Roselle

Thai Red Roselle is a warm-season crop that is used to make hibiscus tea. We think this deep red beverage is a delightfully refreshing summer drink, though it does take a bit of effort (in both field & kitchen) to produce. Roselle is in the same family as okra, so we slot it into the same part of the crop rotation, displacing some small percentage of okra plants in exchange for this treat.

thai_red_roselle_1
Left: Roselle blossom; center: The plants are quite beautiful; right: The part of the plant that is ready for harvest, a seedpod enclosed by a calyx.

HANDLING & STORAGE

Roselle stores in the refrigerator in its raw form for at least a few days, possibly more. As this is very much a late-summer specialty, available usually for only a short time frame, we prioritize getting to it quickly to ensure there’s no waste.

IN THE KITCHEN

A spheroidal greenish seed pod is surrounded by a red calyx. The red calyx is the part of interest for tea. The only reference we’ve found to a culinary use for the seed pod is this roselle jelly recipe (and even then, it is only used to extract some pectin, then discarded).

thai_red_roselle_2

Here’s our preferred method for separating the calyx from the seedpod (illustrated above):

First, make a cut across the base to remove the stem end. Then, make a cut perpendicular to the first along the length of the pod. If the first cut was positioned properly, then the calyx should peel right off of the seed pod. Keep the calyx, discard the seed pod.

thai_red_roselle_3

To make iced tea:

  • ~25-30 calyxes (seed pods removed) per quart of water
  • honey or other sweetener to taste (start with ~2 Tbl/quart)

Bring water to a boil with calyxes, and simmer ~15 minutes. Add honey to taste. Let cool. Strain & refrigerate.

We’ve also experimented with adding roselle to ginger beer with excellent results; we just added a handful of roselle calyxes with the ginger & boiled both for 15 minutes. Otherwise, we followed the methods described by Sandor Katz in his excellent books.

PRESERVATION

Thai Red Roselle dries well. Remove & discard the seed pods (as for making fresh tea), then dehydrate until crisp. Store in glass jars. Can be used for either hot or iced tea. We have not experimented to see if the calyx:water ratio changes after dehydration, but it always seems that using an extravagant number of calyxes produces the deepest color & richest flavor.