Hibiscus Heaven

Hibiscus boasts a tart flavor similar to that of rhubarb or cranberries. A versatile and colorful addition to your pantry, here’s your guide to using dried hibiscus flowers in everything from refreshing cocktails to savory chutney and sugary sweet candies.

All of these recipes start from this basic hibiscus syrup: In a large saucepan, combine 8 cups water with 4 cups sugar and heat until sugar dissolves. Add an 8-ounce bag hibiscus flowers; reduce to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let steep until cool (or longer for a more concentrated flavor). Strain, reserving both flowers and liquid.

1. Gin-ger cooler
Combine 1½ ounces gin, 1 ounce Domaine de Canton Ginger Liqueur, 2 to 3 ounces hibiscus syrup, ½ ounce lime juice and ice in a cocktail shaker. Shake, strain into a Collins glass and top with seltzer.

2. Lemonade
Combine 1 cup hibiscus syrup, 3 cups water, the juice of 8 lemons and ½ cup sugar. Mix well and pour over 2 glasses of ice and serve.

3. Paleta
For this refreshing Mexican popsicle, dilute 2 cups hibiscus syrup with 1 cup water. Combine with the juice of 4 limes, pour into popsicle molds and freeze for several hours.

4. Chutney
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine 1 cup sugar, ¾ cup cider vinegar, 3 tablespoons yellow mustard seed, 3 minced garlic cloves, ½ tablespoon kosher salt, 10 peppercorns and 1 2-inch piece of minced ginger, and heat until sugar dissolves. Add 1 cup chopped hydrated hibiscus flowers from simple syrup recipe, 4 cups diced rhubarb, 1 8-ounce bag dried apricots and 1 cup diced white onion and cook until sauce is thickened but rhubarb isn’t falling apart. Serve as a savory complement to pork or turkey or place on a cheese plate.

5. Vinaigrette
Whisk together 1/3 cup grape seed oil, ¼ cup apple cider vinegar, 2 to 3 tablespoons honey, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, 8 grinds pepper, 3 tablespoons hibiscus syrup and 1 tablespoon poppy seeds until combined. It’s delicious served on a salad of mixed baby spinach, mandarin orange slices, chopped walnuts and crumbled Gorgonzola cheese.

6. Wine cooler
Add desired amount of hibiscus syrup to a glass of Sauvignon Blanc wine and top with a bit of seltzer. With or without ice, it’s refreshing and colorful.

7. Glaze
Heat 1 cup hibiscus syrup in a small saucepan over high heat and reduce until syrup thickens to a glaze. (It’s finished when the sauce drips slowly off the back of a spoon.) It will thicken as it cools. Add 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. When cool, drizzle over vanilla ice cream for a tart and spicy contrast to the cool, creamy dessert, or use as a glaze for pork.

8. Candied hibiscus flowers
Remove hibiscus flowers from syrup mixture and toss with generous amount of superfine (castor) sugar. Spread on a sheet pan and let dry completely (a fan helps). When dry, add to yogurt and your favorite granola for a sweet and crunchy breakfast or snack.

Dried hibiscus flowers are available at Carniceria Latino Americana Grocery (hibiscus here is known as flor de Jamaica), 2800 Cherokee St., St. Louis, 314.773.1707