Did you know that there are 149 crops (84 fruits, 35 vegetables, 12 root crops and 18 herbs) that are grown in Trinidad, not counting the varieties within many of them? Estimates have it that our food import bill is at $4 billion annually and growing. Oil centricity, industrialisation and the non-agricultural business sector have put paid significantly to the agricultural sector. Our fertile soil, such as in the Macqueripe Valley can once again be put to agricultural use to help reduce our dependence on foreign and often processed foods.
In this installment in the series FOOD FOR THOUGHT, GROW & EAT LOCAL, we focus on sorrel (scientific name Hibiscus Sabdariffa) and will feature ginger (scientific name Zingiberofficinale) in the next, the two popular drinks associated with T&T's Christmas season.
A common sight which heralds the coming of Christmas is vans parked on the side of roadways filled with the bright red sorrel. Sorrel–Hibiscus sabdariffa belongs to the hibiscus family and is a short shrub that bears flowers quite like ochro and hibiscus. Once the flower falls off, the calyx at the base of the flower swells and thickens and grows to cover the seed capsule. This cover is what we know as sorrel and is used in the delicious drink of the same name.
While there is no definite conclusion, some experts have identified the region from India to Malaysia as the origin of the plant (mainly due to the wide variety of species which occur there, including one that is used for fibre) while others claim it is from West Africa where it is used as a tea and for medicinal purposes. What is for sure though, is that seeds of sorrel moved from West Africa to the Americas via the slave trade.
Where once the bright red variety sorrel was only available during the Christmas season, introduction of new varieties which are daylight insensitive, makes production possible year-round. Also, there is a popular variety that is now in cultivation with deep maroon to black calyces with a stronger sorrel flavour. There is also a variety of sorrel with white calyces.
Sorrel is traditionally used for making a popular Christmas-time drink where the fresh calyces are removed from the seed, washed and either boiled or left to steep overnight (the addition of spices such ascinnamon, cloves and ginger can be added to enhance the flavour). It can be used either in its fresh state or dried. The resulting maroon liquid is then strained and sweetened.
Sorrel is inherently tart which makes them the perfect medium for other food items like jam, jelly, syrup, gelatin, dessert, pudding, cake, ice cream and flavouring. Sorrel can be used for the making of tea and is also used in the pharmaceutical and food industries.
Infusions of the leaves or calyces are regarded as diuretic and hypotensive. They have also been found to have antispasmodic, anthelmintic and antibacterial properties and are used as a cooling herb which increases the flow of blood to the skin, dilating the pores for the cooling effect. The leaves can by cooked like spinach and the seeds dried and eaten. The seeds can also be roasted and ground into a powder and used in soups and sauces.
The sorrel plant grows to a height of 1.5 to three metres with many branches and flowers and bears annually. The tree should be planted around July/August. With varieties that can be cultivated year-round, production is now not limited. Research has been conducted on sorrel at UWI and CARDI in the '80s and '90s focusing on its use as a natural food colouring agent and extraction of its high pectin content.
Research has also been carried out on pests and diseases of sorrel which can be a limiting factor to successful production. When the Hibiscus Mealy bug was ravaging plants across the island in the late '90s, sorrel was adversely affected and production fell drastically until biological control was established.
Last year sorrel was being sold during the high season at an average of $5-7 per lb. In December 2013, The Ministry of Food Production unveiled the first ever seed stamp produced in the Caribbean region. The stamp was inspired by the World Food Day's 2013 theme Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition and was selected as the feature for the stamp as all parts of the sorrel are edible.
This series is written by Nasser Khan in collaboration with Cynthra Persad, retired Director of Research, Ministry of Agriculture. For information on acquiring copies of the two Crops of T&T charts, email email@example.com
1.5 lb fresh sorrel flowers
8 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
2 pieces of dried orange peel
thick slice of ginger
�2 Remove the core from the sorrel flowers and discard
�2 Place all ingredients in a large pot, cover with water and bring to a boil.
�2 Reduce to a gentle simmer for about 30 minutes.
�2 Remove from heat, cover and let it steep for a few hours, even overnight.
�2 Double strain with a very fine strainer or cheese cloth.
�2 Chill and sweeten to your liking. For a stronger drink, increase the amount of sorrel petals you use. Significantly increase the amount of sorrel petals and the brew can be used as a concentrate. Simply bottle and store in the fridge. Use as needed (add a small amount to water, sweeten).
Description Calcium (mg) Iron(mg) Potassium(mg) Sodium (mg) Zinc (mg) Vit.A Thiamin(mg) Riboflavin(mg) Niacin(mg) Vit C
(Per 100 mg)
Sorrel–Raw 110 2.2 5 0.04 0.06 4 18
–Dried 659 9 0.12 0.28 3.8 7