Festive Holiday Drink: Sorrel


I had a fun time yesterday doing a cooking demo at Macy’s Union Square in San Francisco.  This was a great chance to promote the new 2018 calendar for the Thrive Kitchen and to share some healthier holiday treats.

Macys 12.2017.jpg

With Grace Hwang Lynch

Healthy holiday? What does that even mean?

For one, it does NOT mean deprivation.  You should enjoy yourself, that’s what celebrations are all about!  But don’t celebrate with a side of regret.  This means being thoughtful of how you celebrate (more on that below).

Appetizers are usually the downfall of eating out—high in fat, sugar, salt, carbs.  Not so with these plant-based tips to please your palate:

  • Get creative with vegetables
  • Use herbs, spices
  • Plating is key- eat with your eyes, eat the rainbow
  • Vary textures
  • Focus on flavor: acid, herbs/spices/aromatics, fat

One of the recipes I demonstrated was for a Christmas beverage from my husband’s home in Trinidad, in the Caribbean.  While Christmas season in North America is synonymous with images of Santa and the North Pole, candy canes and snow, it’s hard to transfer these images onto a tropical Caribbean island. There may not be snow In Trinidad, but Christmas is celebrated with equal enthusiasm. It’s mercifully less commercialized, and celebrated with local traditions which illustrate the multicultural influences which shaped Trinidad’s creole culture– native Amerindian, African, Indian and British colonial. It’s a time to visit family and friends and to enjoy special foods that are associated with the season.

On this music loving island (where steel pan, calypso, soca and chutney were all born), there is also local Christmas music. Traditionally, parranderos, the local version of carolers, would go from door to door with guitars and local string and percussion instruments to sing parang, Christmas folk music with Venezuelan origins. Parang was brought to Trinidad by Venezuelan migrants who were primarily of Amerindian and African heritage. The word is derived from two Spanish words: parranda, meaning a “spree or fête” and parar meaning “to stop.” Modern parang is more likely to be found in concert arenas, and it has morphed together with Trinidad’s soca into a new form known as soca parang, sung in English instead of Spanish. Sarina, of Trinigourmet.com, recently posted an excellent history of parang. Here’s a video from the Queen of Parang, Daisy Voisin:

What’s on the Trini Christmas table? You’ll still find a Christmas ham, but it will be flanked by treats you won’t find elsewhere. Hands are busy wrapping tamale-like pastelles, and serious home cooks are baking traditional Trinidad black cakes with fruit that’s been soaking in rum since the year before. No one would blink an eye to find curry and roti sitting side by side on the table with the pastelles and ham, and instead of Christmas tree shaped sugar cookies you’re more likely to find barfi, the Indian milk sweet. You’ll need a drink to wash down this feast. It would likely be ginger beer, Trinidad’s Carib beer, or ponche de creme, the local version of eggnog that’s spiked with tropical flavors of lime, Angostura bitters and local rum. And my favorite, sorrel, which is brewed from dried hibiscus flowers, which in Mexico are known as flor de jamaica, sweetened with sugar and steeped with sweet spices. My husband’s Auntie Doll, who shared her pastelles recipe with me, also makes a mean sorrel. Her secret? Brandy, “to taste.” Cheers!


Auntie Doll, visiting San Francisco

Trinidadian Sorrel (Agua de Jamaica)

You can also think of this as a non-alcoholic (as long as you leave out Auntie Doll’s brandy) alternative to mulled wine. Cheers!

Serves 12 (8 oz servings)


1-1/2 cups dried hibiscus/sorrel/jamaica flowers (available at Latin and Caribbean markets as “flor de jamaica”)

Water, 3 quarts

Sugar, to taste (start with 1/2 cup plus 2T)

cinnamon stick

2-3 star anise

1 slice fresh ginger

Auntie Doll’s secret ingredient: brandy to taste


  1.  Place hibiscus flowers, spices, and water into a large pot and bring to a boil.
  2.  Turn off heat and steep until you have a beverage the color of cranberry juice, about 10 minutes.
  3.  Add sugar to taste.
  4.  Strain, and serve over ice.
  5. Add brandy to taste, if you like.

Nutrition Info per 1 cup serving: 40 cal, 10g sugar

Sorrel, also known as roselle or hibiscus, is rich in antioxidants (more than green tea) and vitamin C. It is thought to lower cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure.   It also has laxative and diuretic effects.

And finally, some Healthy Holiday Eating Tips:

  1. Don’t deprive yourself: if you would be sad not to have that cup of eggnog or that latke that reminds you of this time of year, have a taste, or a small portion. Complete deprivation may make you binge.
  2. Pre-eat before going to those parties. Having a slightly full stomach won’t leave you as much room for gorging on those calorie-laden goodies.
  3. Think before you drink: is that beverage worth it? You may wish to decide if you prefer your holiday calories in solid or liquid form.

Some helpful figures to aid your decision:

pinot noir 5 oz, 121 cal

eggnog 8 oz,  343 cal

hot chocolate 8 oz,  222 cal

champagne, 89 cal

  1. Keep up your fitness routine!
  2. Don’t forget to sleep


Happy holidays! If you’d like a chance to start your New Year off right, there’s no better way than to take a cooking class with me in the Thrive Kitchen! These hands-on classes are open to the public and held at Kaiser Permanente San Francisco, Mission Bay.  We’re registering now for the 1/10/18 class, Soups and Salads of the World.  Details are available here and by emailing SFHealthEd@kp.org or calling 415-833-3450.  I hope to cook with you soon! You’re also welcome to join my healthy eating community on Facebook: www.Facebook.com/TheDoctorsSpicebox.  Thank you for your interest and support, I am very grateful to all of you.  To your health!

One response

  1. Pingback: Food as Medicine (with recipes) | spicebox travels

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