Saturday, February 6, 2010

Jamaica Agua Fresca (Red Hibiscus Refresher): A "Vanillaicious" Simple Saturday Sipper

Bad, bad blogger! Shortly before Christmas I received some black garlic and vanilla beans to try from the kind people at Marx Foods but time kind of got away from me and I haven't done very much with them yet. I pulled out a cookbook I bought a few years ago, "The Vanilla Chef" by Patricia Rain and started tagging recipes to try the vanilla beans in and found one for Jamaica Agua Fresca (Red Hibiscus Refresher) and decided it would make the perfect Simple Saturday Sipper. February is American Heart Month and hibiscus is rich in riboflavin, niacin, calcium, and iron, contains antioxidants and is thought to be beneficial in lowering blood pressure and controlling cholesterol. (BTW: If you read this blog regularly, you may wonder how many different drinks made with hibiscus one person can make--the answer if you count the number next to the "hibiscus" label on my side bar is at least 7!) ;-)

Justin at Marx Foods was kind enough to send me a generous sample (6 each!) of both Madagascar and Tahitian vanilla beans. Based on the descriptions on their website (below), I chose a Tahitian bean for this recipe thinking the more fruity and floral fragrance and sweetness would pair well with the hibiscus.

"Madagascar vanilla beans are botanically known as Vanilla planifolia or Bourbon vanilla beans. These beans are long and slender with a rich flavor and aroma. Madagascar vanilla beans have thick, oily skin with an abundance of seeds. They are the most common vanilla beans on the market today."

"Tahitian vanilla beans are usually shorter, plumper, and contain a higher oil and water content than Bourbon beans. When compared to Bourbon vanilla beans, they have a slightly more fruity and floral aroma, but an equally rich vanilla flavor."

About the refresher the book says, "Jamaica flowers (dried hibiscus) can be found in Mexican, Latin American, or Asian grocery stores, or in the ethnic section of supermarkets. Jamaica is often used as a tea as well."

Jamaica Agua Fresca (Red Hibiscus Refresher)
"The Vanilla Chef" by Patricia Rain
(Makes 2 Quarts)

1 quart water
2/3 cup (1 ounce) dried hibiscus flowers
3/4-1 cup sugar (to taste) (see my Notes/Results below)
1 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise
1 quart cold water

In a large saucepan, bring the quart of water to a boil. Add flowers and vanilla bean to the boiling water, remove from the stove, and allow to steep for at least 20 minutes. Strain the mixture into a 2-quart pitcher, saving the vanilla bean for another use. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Add cold water and adjust sweetening. Chill and serve over ice.

Variation: Cut cold water to 1 pint and add 1 quart cold ginger ale.

Notes/Results: Really good. It is interesting how the vanilla sweetens and softens the tangy taste of the hibiscus. Since I used the hibiscus I had on hand which was half dried hibiscus and half dried sweetened hibiscus, there was no need in my mind for the extra sugar--it was plenty sweet without. I think the 3/4 to 1 cup mentioned in the recipe would be a bit to sweet regardless and would definitely add it to taste.

Vanilla Tip: Reuse your beans! Both the book and the Marx foods website recommend rinsing and drying the vanilla bean after steeping it to use again as a lot of the flavor still remains. (I feel bad for all the beans I have used once and tossed over the years!) Marx Foods says: "There are dozens of ways to use vanilla beans. When you have a recipe that calls for the inner scraping of the vanilla beans, don’t throw away the pod. They still have plenty of flavor left in them. In fact, depending on how you use them, vanilla bean can often be reused over and over again. For example, if you want to soak them in a beverage such a mulled cider or lemonade take them out when finished and rinse and dry the bean. If there is only the pod left, or, if you've used the bean several times for flavoring beverages let the pieces dry, and retire them to the sugar or coffee jar as they will exude a delicate flavor and fragrance for some time to come. Beans that have been used once or twice can also be ground up and used to add additional flavor to ice creams, cookies, and many other foods."

I have a few more vanilla recipes tagged in "The Vanilla Chef" to try out more of my vanilla samples, and will be experimenting with the black garlic soon too. Mahalo to Marx Foods for giving me a chance to try them!

Enjoy your Saturday!


  1. I always throw the pods into sugar, they make for great vanilla sugar :)

  2. Vanilla is by and far my favorite flavor. In baked goods, ice cream, coffee...I just love it. This drink looks delicious and that cookbook sounds awesome.

    I saw dried hibiscus in Trader Joe's the other day and thought of you. :D

  3. Vanilla is so exotic and romantic to me. What a fabulous pairing with the sexy hibiscus! Well timed for Valentine's week. xoxo

  4. I really lover the sippers you find for us to sample. I love the color of this one and pairing it with vanilla takes it to another level. Have a wonderful day, Deb.

  5. That looks so very delicious. I love the pairing of floral with vanilla, and the color is so very decadent. Lovely.

  6. I had no idea there was such a difference between the vanilla beans! The drink looks fabulous.

  7. Oh looks so pretty and refreshing!

  8. I love Jamaica drink!!!Beautiful color.

  9. what a beautiful looking drink!

  10. How fun to receive so many vanilla beans. I've had some hibiscus drinks and have really enjoyed them. I love your photos with the flowers and everything. Very pretty Deb!
    I usually put my empty vanilla pods into my sugar container, but sometimes I put them in simple syrup which ends up being added to iced tea or some type of fruit sorbet.

  11. Oh good heavens this looks deeee-lish. My mouth is watering just looking at it, and I even have some hibiscus in the basement!

  12. I love wild hibiscus flowers which we call sorrel here in the Caribbean. I have been baking with it a lot recently. Just covered a cheesecake with it. Delicious. I love how you styled this series of photos

  13. I recently saw some hibiscus flowers at the store and thought "what the heck do you do with those", which sent out a message to the universe asking you to tell me! Can't wait to grab some and give this a try. Thanks for the post...


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