Roselle is more than just a pretty fruit: it’s been used in dishes, beverages and traditional medicine for centuries.
Origin of Roselle
Julia Morton attests in her book, “Fruits of Warm Climates” that roselle originated in the regions between and including India and Malaysia; shortly thereafter, she states it was brought to Africa. On the other hand, N.C. McClintock at the University of North Carolina claims it’s the other way around: that the 6,000-year-old roselle plant was first in Sudan and then spread to Asia.
During the slave trades in the mid 1600s, Africans brought roselle seeds to the New World. Shortly thereafter, roselle plants proliferated throughout Central and South America.
Today, several countries scattered throughout different regions of the world cultivate the fruit including Hawaii, Costa Rica, Florida, Australia, Mali, Nigeria, Chad, the Phillipines, Panama, Brazil, Mexico, and tropical Africa.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the world’s largest producers of roselle are China and Thailand. Interestingly, the FAO ranks roselle from Sudan as the highest quality, but poor packaging and distribution inhibits fruits from this part of the world from gaining global popularity.
Availability of Roselle in India
Roselle is a robust and thriving industry in India: In fact, the country is the fourth largest exporter of roselle plant parts to Germany and the fifth largest exporter of plant parts to the US for the nation’s thriving tea companies.
One reason for the number of roselle plants in India is the stalk’s ability to produce “mesta,” or, a tough fiber resembling jute. Roselle plants for the purposes of producing fiber are technically H. sabdariffa var. altissima, and edible roselles are H. sabdariffa var. rubra.
Roselles tolerate a remarkable variety of climates and soil conditions. These factors make them a suitable crop found in many states including West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Tripura, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Meghalaya.
Where to find Roselle in India
Roselles are not the easiest fruits for consumers in India to find. Roselles flower in October and harvest lasts mostly in December. The annual growing season is quite short (the gorgeous white flower lasts on the roselle for only a single day), but the brevity is offset by the prolific nature of the plants. A single plant may produce up to 250 roselles.
Checking for Ripeness in Roselle
Roselles are best plucked when the calyces (the petal-like parts of a roselle) are cheerfully red with a waxy appearance, but the interior capsule is green. As the calyces ripen, they go from green to red, and lastly become shrunken and dark. The white flower should fall from the calyx, but the pod inside should not open. If the pod opens, the calyx deteriorates rapidly. The stems should snap easily—if the stems have turned tough, then they’re overdue for picking. Begin near the bottom of the plant, as it ripens from the bottom up. Additionally, morning is the best time to harvest the fruit.
Taste of Roselle
Roselles can be eaten raw, but nobody would sit to enjoy a bowl of roselles with the same gusto as eating a bowl of grapes. Each fresh fruit is tart, resembling a cranberry with its sour notes and hints of sweetness. The texture is akin to a slightly crispier piece of dehydrated fruit leather: a bit chewy yet dense and compact.
Nutritional Value of Roselle
According to the USDA nutrient database, 100g of raw roselle contains the following nutritional information:
.6g Fat (1% RDI)
1g Protein (2% RDI)
287IU Vitamin A (6% RDI)
12mg Vitamin C (20% RDI)
Thiamin (1% RDI)
Riboflavin (2% RDI)
.3mg Niacin (2% RDI)
215mg Calcium (22% RDI)
1.5mg Iron (8% RDI)
51mg Magnesium (14% RDI)
37mg Phosphorous (4% RDI)
208mg Potassium (6% RDI)
*Fiber value taken from an analysis published by Purdue.
Health Benefits of Roselle
Roselle has been used as a therapeutic plant for centuries. Traditionally, extracts treat toothaches, urinary tract infections, colds, and even hangovers. In Senegal, the juice of leaves treat conjunctivitis and, when pulverized, soothes sores and ulcers. Root concoctions act as a potent laxative. Natives of various countries drink tea to stabilize blood pressure and lower cholesterol.
Many studies affirm its traditional health benefits:
--The Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging found that consuming hibiscus tea resulted in lower blood pressure in hypertensive and pre-hypertensive adults
--A study published in “Fitoterapia” summarizes several studies indicating that roselle extracts lowers blood pressure as effectively as some commercial medications. Additionally, extracts lower “bad” LDL cholesterol levels. Scientists cite the anthocyanins found in the extracts as the most probable cause.
--According to a 2012 study published in the “EXCLI Journal,” roselle calyx extracts showed protective properties against diabetes-induced sperm damage.
--According to “Urological Research,” roselle extracts inhibited calcium oxalate crystal deposits on kidneys in rats with no toxicity or negative side effects.
--A study published in “Food Chemistry” found that roselle leaf extracts showed strong anticancer activities in prostate cancer cells.
--A study published in “Food Control” shows that roselle seed extracts are antifungal, as they inhibit the growth of a few different aflatoxins.
--The Skin Deep Cosmetics database reports roselle extracts are perfectly safe for use in skin conditioning treatments.
--According to the “Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine,” roselle extracts showed significant immunoprotective effects based on their ability to protect human cells against cadmium-induced damage such as tumor necrosis.
--Its traditional use as a hangover remedy might be confirmed: according to a study published in “Drug and Chemical Toxicology,” roselle extracts act as a preventative agent for the liver by inhibiting damaging radicals and preserving drug detoxification enzymes.
--The “Journal of Chinese Integrative Medicine” published a report affirming roselle extract’s antinociceptive, anti-inflammatory and antidiarrheal qualities.
|An assortment of roselle cosmetics products|
How to Open/Cut:
The petal-like calyces are the edible part of a raw roselle. These are easily peeled off from the center of the roselle. If desired, nibble on the calyces to get an idea of the taste.
Roselles sold outside of countries in which they’re produced are generally sold in their dried form. Drying requires heating at a temperature no hotter than sun-drying. For this, many businesses use solar heaters that provide adequate ventilation and limit excess exposure to heat, dust, insects, birds and rodents. If drying, use a dehydrator.
Keep dried fruits in a glass jar out of direct sunlight and in a cool spot in the kitchen. Refrigeration isn’t necessary.
Roselle Recipe Ideas and Uses:
--The single most common use for roselle is tea, which is made quite easily by peeling the calyxes, boiling with water, stirring in syrup or sugar, and then serving warm or iced.
--Roselle jam is another common recipe: in this case, pectin isn’t necessary because the seeds in each pod contain plenty of it. Boil the pods for 15 minutes, strain the seeds, and keep the now pectin-rich water. Add the calyces and plenty of sugar. Boil until the mix is reduced and the texture is similar to jam.
--Use roselles as a garnish for salads and beverages. It’s not uncommon to find sorrels in Christmas flower arrangements in Europe, either.
--Make roselle syrup by dissolving sugar, water and calyces. The ratio for syrup is 1c chopped roselle calyces, 1c water, and 1.25c sugar. This syrup may be used for desserts, sweet breads or crepes.
--Use roselle syrup to make sodas and cocktails. This practice is common in the Caribbean, the Middle East, Africa, Mexico and Central America.
--Add roselle leaves to curry fries, as is common in Burma and throughout Assam. The leaves are mucilaginous and impart a sour taste in dishes.
--Roselle leaves also make one of Hyderabad’s best-known pickles, gongura pachadi. Once the leaves are dried, they’re gently sautéed with coriander seeds, oil, and fenugreek seeds. This is set aside while a host of more spices are placed in a grinder--more fenugreek, more coriander, garlic, cumin, and of course, chilies. The ground spices get added to the leaves, sautéed with more delicious Indian spices like curry leaves and mustard seeds, and ultimately, a pickle gets made at the end of the day. This pickle usually gets mixed with rice.
--In Senegal, the leaves are cooked and made into spinach-like dishes.
--In Nigeria, locals ferment the seeds to use as a type of cake called “sorrel meat.”
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