Things and times have really changed with how we celebrate Christmas. I remember as a child growing up in the hills of St James, sorrel was only available at Christmas time, but now, it's available all year round, thanks to research that has made us all aware of the goodness of sorrel to our health, improved agricultural practices and increased availability of products made from sorrel.
Jamaican sorrel (Hibiscus sabdariffa) provides vitamin C, thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2). Flavonoids are healthy chemical substances found in plants such as sorrel and is also responsible for its deep red colour. Sorrel provides fibre - if pulp and seeds are used to make drink, stuffing or whatever dish or side item.
Local researcher, Dr Paul Gyles, professor at Northern Caribbean University, found that sorrel has substances that can rid the body of certain types of cancer cells, but these substances are found in the seeds and calyx (flower) of the sorrel.
Vitamin C in sorrel:
Helps to build the immune system and reduce the chances of getting certain illness such as the flu, especially at this time of the year.
Helps with the absorption of iron found in dried peas, dried beans and dark green leafy vegetables (non-heme iron).
Helps with the healing of cuts and bruises.
Vitamin B1 in sorrel:
Helps the body to get more energy for the brain and nerve cells from the starchy foods that are eaten.
Vitamin B2 in sorrel:
Helps the body to get energy from the fat that is stored on the body during exercise.
Prevents damage to cells.
Flavonoids in sorrel:
Help to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.
fibre in sorrel:
Helps to lower blood-sugar levels.
Helps to lower the 'bad cholesterol' or low density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol and increase the 'good cholesterol' or high-density lipoproteins (HDL) cholesterol.
The fibre content of sorrel is dependent on how the sorrel is prepared. When the whole sorrel flower (seeds and calyx) is used in making drink or other products, more fibre will be consumed and will be of greater health benefit.
Based on the results of Dr Gyles' research, the anti-cancer properties of sorrel are found in the entire sorrel (flower and seeds), and if consumed may reduce the risk of laryngeal and lung cancers.
TIPS FOR MAKING HEALTHIER SORREL DRINK
Use whole sorrel - calyx (flower) and seeds. This will result in less waste and getting more value for money.
Blend, grind or puree sorrel then steep overnight to retain vitamins. Using hot water destroys vitamin C and straining removes the fibre and some of the flavonoids.
Use less sugar or sweetening agents in order to reduce total calories consumed.
Add ginger and cloves for flavour. Do not use ginger or brown sugar for persons on a low-potassium diet such as persons with kidney disease. Ginger and brown sugar are high in potassium and may cause the heart to beat faster and result in a heart attack. Instead, use cloves and sweeten with white sugar.
For persons with diabetes or those trying to lose or maintain weight, sweeten drink with less sugar or with low calorie sweeteners.
Add soda or carbonated water to sorrel drink before serving for the fizz and 'sparkling' effect.
Use less alcohol (white rum) and more cloves for flavour.
Try white sorrel to make drink or combine both types of sorrel.
OTHER WAYS TO USE SORREL THIS CHRISTMAS
Make or buy locally made sorrel chutney to serve with poultry instead of cranberry sauce.
Make a sorrel sauce with the waste (what was strained off from making drink) and some sorrel liquid. Serve with meats and fish.
Use chopped or pureed sorrel to make stuffing for fish or meat.
Use whole sorrel to make a 'red smoothie' for breakfast or healthy snack.
Try locally made sorrel wines at dinner instead of imported wines.
Use sorrel jam on bread and crackers.
Enjoy the excellent taste of sorrel not only at Christmas time but throughout the year and reap the great health benefits.
Jazz up your Christmas menu and OUR Jamaican economy by using more sorrel products this and every Christmas!
Marsha N. Woolery, RD, is a registered dietitian/nutritionist at Fairview Medical and Dental Center, Montego Bay and adjunct lecturer at Northern Caribbean University; email: firstname.lastname@example.org