For ages, Hibiscus sabdariffa flowers (also known as Roselle) have been used to make one of the most popular drinks in the entire African continent. In fact, from Dakar in Senegal to Cairo in Egypt, it’s not uncommon to find street vendors selling chilled Hibiscus juice or Hibiscus tea at bus stations, markets, or even stadiums during sport events.
Originally from West Africa (many say from Senegal in particular, from where the name Bissap comes from), Bissap has become widely popular over the last three decades in the other parts of the continent thanks to the different waves of immigrants from countries like Senegal, Guinea or Benin. It’s important to note that while Bissap is the common name used to call hibiscus juice, the drink is known under different names in other part of the continent. For example, in Nigeria, the drink is known as Zobo, in Mali as Dabileni and in Egypt as Karkadé where the Hibiscus tea has been part of the culinary heritage since Ancient Egypt.
As you have guessed, Bissap is among my favorite natural juices, along with ginger juice, because it brings back so many childhood memories. And Roselle or Hibiscus sabdariffa is also known to have various medicinal properties in addition of being rich in minerals and vitamin C. It’s a pretty simple drink to make. Trust me if a thirteen years old girl, I was once, can do it, anyone can make Bissap on their own. The concept is simple; you just have to let the Hibiscus flowers infuse in hot and boiling water for about ten minutes and add sugar.
In addition to be a simple recipe, it doesn’t require many ingredients. The main ingredients needed are dried hibiscus flowers, which can be bought at your local Asian market or at your Caribbean market, water, sugar and an aroma of your liking (mint, vanilla extract, lemon juice, orange juice, pineapple juice…etc.). Commonly, the aroma used is mint, but I don’t really fancy the strong flavor of mint so I usually prefer to use lemon or lime instead. It’s worth noting that Bissap sold by street vendors in Africa is usually overly too sweet for my palate, so in my recipe I tried to reduce the sugar content of the drink by adding ice cubes. And since I wanted to add my own twist, I decided to let my hibiscus flowers infuse with the pomegranate seeds.
Normally, sugar is directly added to the infused water turned red, but I prefer to make sugar syrup that I will be adding to the preparation because I want sugar to entirely be dissolved.
Prep: 10 min Cook: 15 min Servings: 2 Litres
1 cup of dried hibiscus flowers
2 cups of sugar
Seeds of one pomegranate
Juice of 1 or 2 Lemon(s)
Frozen blueberries (Optional)
1. This step is optional but I love to rinse the dried hibiscus flowers with cold water because most of the time you can find dirt inside the package. Just for precaution, I rinse them.
2. For the sugar syrup, in a saucepan, pour 2 cups of sugar to 2 cups of water. Over medium heat, bring it to a boil until sugar has completely dissolved. Remove it from the heat and let it chill in the fridge for 10 minutes.
3. In another saucepan, bring about 6-7 cups of water to a boil, then add the hibiscus flowers and pomegranate seeds. Immediately turn off the heat and let infuse with the lid on for about 15 minutes or more, depending on how red you want your drink to be.
4. Once the infusion time is up, using a strainer lined with cheesecloth or towel paper (in order to bar any sediment to pass through the strainer), pour the red liquid into a large measuring jug (You can always skip the measuring jug and immediately transfer it into your pitcher, however this step can be helpful if you want to make sure that no sediment will be transfer in your serving pitcher). Add the lemon juice and stir.
5. Pour the liquid into your serving pitcher. Add sugar syrup and stir. Since Bissap is better served icy cold, let your drink chill in the fridge until it’s time to serve.
6. Add ice in your glasses topped with frozen blueberries and pour the Bissap. And this will be one of your favorite drinks for hot summery days!
If you choose to add mint as Aroma instead of lime juice, let the mint leaves infuse with the Hibiscus flower in the hot water. And add fresh mint leaves in the serving pitcher as decoration.
As I said in the introduction, you can use any type of aromas for your Bissap: mint leaves, melted minted candy, vanilla extract, orange juice, lemon juice, pineapple juice, even liquors. It’s up to you and your palate.
It’s possible to mix Bissap juice with sparkling water, Sprite, Ginger ale or any type of soda if you want to.
You can make Bissap syrup and use it as sweetener in your alcoholic cocktails.