Kitchn Love Letters

This Bottled, Sweet-yet-Spicy Sorrel Drink Tastes (Almost) as Good as the Fresh Stuff My Mom Used to Make

published Mar 28, 2022
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drink aisle at grocery store
Credit: Mara Weinraub

If you don’t know about sorrel, you should. A popular Caribbean drink with roots in West Africa that harken back hundreds of years, sorrel is made from dried hibiscus flower, various spices, and sugar. (In addition to being the name of the drink itself, sorrel is a Caribbean name for the flower. There is also a tart and even acidic leafy herb called sorrel.) My mother, who hails from Guyana, would make this sweet-yet-spicy drink that resembles red fruit punch for special occasions like birthdays, family cookouts, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. When I saw Ma preparing this beverage, I knew that a festive meal — greens, fish cakes, potato salad, curry chicken, rice and peas, macaroni and cheese, and of course some kind of homemade dessert — was soon to be had and enjoyed by all who came to our home. Even my dad, who hails from Barbados and was partial to his rum and other spirits, would indulge in and enjoy Ma’s sorrel, best served chilled or on ice.

Sorrel, for my four sisters and me, is synonymous with our Caribbean roots, family, and celebration. We each have vivid memories, watching our mother make gallons of it at a time: “Whenever you saw those beautiful, deep burgundy, funny looking flowers sitting in a clear bag on the table, you just knew that a delicious drink was going to follow shortly after and you couldn’t wait!” recalls my sister, Kinyetta.

Credit: Samantha Hunter

As an adult, my opportunities to enjoy homemade sorrel have become few and far between. So you can imagine my utter joy and delight when, one day, while ordering some curry chicken (or maybe it was ackee and saltfish, another one of my favorite Caribbean dishes) from my local Caribbean restaurant, I discovered Tropical Rhythms Sorrel Ginger Flavored Drink on the menu. Excitedly, I ordered a bottle and was thrilled by just how much it reminded me of my ma’s homemade version.

Buy: Grace Tropical Rhythms Sorrel Ginger Flavored Drink, 16 ounces at Instacart (prices vary)

Like her sorrel, this one is equal parts sweet and savory, with a tartness that hibiscus is known and appreciated for. Infused with ginger emulsion, its spiciness might be a bit jarring if you haven’t had it before, but I can’t imagine what this drink would taste like without this invigorating flavor profile. It’s actually spicier than my ma’s sorrel (she was always careful not to add too many cloves to her mix, so as not to overpower the sorrel or the cinnamon). A few times I’ve even diluted this bottled drink with water to ease the heat; it also doubles as a way for me stretch the drink the bit further (something I don’t mind at all). 

Credit: Samantha Hunter

The longer I take to finish a bottle, the longer I can swim in those cherished childhood memories. Maybe one day, I’ll take the time to purchase some dried sorrel, boil and strain it, then sweeten and spice the sorrel-infused water before chilling it to enjoy — but I won’t need any special occasion. I’ll make it just because I love it. Until then, it’s enough knowing that I can purchase this bottle and get a taste of home in a glass whenever I wish.

What drink reminds you of your childhood? Tell us in the comments below.