Malaysian Monday 93: Malaysian “Ribena”

Monday, July 9, 2012

 Happy Monday everyone. Wow, it’s been a while since a MM post actually fell on a Monday. All I can say is, don’t get too used to it :)

Before I start, I owe a huge thank you to Shannon from Just as Delish who hosted the Muhibbah Malaysian Round Up #22 last week. If you haven’t seen the round-up yet, do head over there to feast your eyes on all the goodies.

Thank you also to everyone who contributed to the round-up, things just wouldn’t be the same without you!

Ok, back to this “Ribena”. I’m assuming the drink was named after the more-famous (and trademarked/ copyrighted) brand because of the vibrant colour and somewhat similar taste. But unlike “proper” Ribena, this drink is made from flowers, or more correctly, the sepals of a species of Hibiscus flower.

In Malaysia, the flowers are either called “ribena” flowers or Roselle flowers. Some of you in other parts of the world might know this as a Sorrel flower. According to  this blog named potpet...potpet.., the Malay name for the plant is “asam susur”.

I’m glad I found the above mentioned blog because I had never actually prepared this drink before. In fact, when I was living in Malaysia, I had heard a lot about this drink but had never actually tasted it either.

So, you can imagine my excitement when I saw a bag of the flowers for sale at the local wet market.  “How did you recognise these if you’ve never had them before Shaz?” you might be asking. Well, my friends, you know how I like trying new stuff.  And one of these things just happened to be wild hibiscus flowers in syrup. Look familiar? Of course, when I first tried those hibiscus flowers, I hadn’t yet put two and two together and didn’t realise they were the same as these “ribena”/ roselle blooms.

When I brought the bag home (S$2.80 for 500g), I also realised I’d seen them in one of my cookbooks before. they are:

From this book. Haven't been to the Caribbean yet but definitely a dream of mine to visit one day :)

In the recipe shown in the book, dried Sorrel flowers are used, first soaked in water and then sugar and spices added to make a syrup. Of course, the Jamaicans know how to take it up a notch because they add a shot of rum to the sorrel syrup when making it into a drink.

The Malaysian way of preparing the flowers is slightly simpler (recipe below). First, the sepals are separated from the seed pod inside. I was curious and sliced a pod open. The seeds look like okra seeds don’t they? I shouldn’t have been surprised considering okra belongs to the Hibiscus family as well. I did wonder if these Roselle seed pods would be tasty but I was too lazy to find out so they got turfed. If anyone has ever cooked them, let me know.


 The patterning on the seed pod looks like a hibiscus doesn't it?

Everyone loved this drink, even Mr. Kitchen Hand who declared it “better than the real thing”. There is a very mild bitter edge to the drink (so mild that even the MCs were happy to drink it) and I thought I recognised the flavour. Then it hit me, I used to drink a rosehip and hibiscus tea blend (unfortunately I can’t remember the brand, it may have been either Planet Organics or Nerada). I’d even used this tea in a previous post, when I’d turned it into granita.

Isn’t it amazing that one ingredient had turned up in my food radar in so many permutations and yet I had never realised they were one and the same until this post. That’s why I love blogging. I learn so much from it and meet so many wonderful souls.

Speaking of wonderful souls, I do apologise for not returning comments very regularly, I’m in the middle of a busy term (studying, argh!) and promise to come by and visit your blogs soon.

Have a great start to the week and if you’d like to take part in the next Muhibbah Malaysian Round Up, send your entries to Suresh from 3 Hungry Tummies, at sureshchong(at)yahoo(dot)com.

Here’s how I made the drink. Treat it as a rough guide and feel free to make it your own way.

500g fresh Roselle flowers - wash the whole flowers well, then pull the sepals off and set them aside. Throw the seed pods away (or cook them if you’re feeling adventurous and let me know how they taste!)
about 1 1/2 litres of water
about 3/4 cup sugar (or to taste)

Place the flowers and cold/ room temp water into a large pan and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for about half and hour or fourty minutes until the speals are soft and the water has taken on a glorious colour and is slighty viscous.

Strain the liquid into a large jug or bowl, and while it is still hot, add the sugar and stir until all the sugar has dissolved.

Let is cool then serve with lots of ice. You can add a little more water to think it down before serving if desired.