When discussing hibiscus, it is important to note that there are two different plants with that name and both of them have culinary applications. There is a flower of Asian origin that is used as a food coloring in Malaysia. This hibiscus is Hibiscus rosa-sinensis and it belongs to the mallow family. The hibiscus that is more common in the west and that is used as a powdered spice, tea and as a food coloring is Hibiscus sabdariffa. This hibiscus also belongs to the mallow family and most likely originated in Africa. Hibiscus sabdariffa is thought to have been domesticated in the Sudan 6,000 years ago. It was introduced to India and the Americas in the 17th century and to Southeast Asia at the start of the 20th century. The plant was cultivated for its fibers, which were used in making sugar sacks for the Indonesian sugar industry.
The plant still grows wild in parts of Ghana, Niger and Angola.
The use of it in powder form most likely started in Africa. In the Cote d’Ivoire, it is dried and ground to be used as a spice and for tea-making purposes.
Today, hibiscus is a cultivated for export in the Sudan. It is the second major export in that part of the world behind pearl millet.
Hibiscus powder flavor profile
Hibiscus is mainly tart with fruity background notes. Some liken its flavor to that of berries or of citrus. It could be considered a combination of the two, similar to the flavor of pomegranate.
Health benefits of hibiscus powder
Hibiscus powder offers multiple nutrients, including:
- Vitamin A: Hibiscus powder can provide you with 6 percent of the vitamin A that you need on a daily basis in each 100 g serving. One of Vitamin A’s big nutritional benefits is the fact that it is an antioxidant, which means that it helps to scavenge the free radicals that can cause major diseases.
- Vitamin C: A 100 g serving of hibiscus powder can provide as much as 31 percent of the vitamin C that you need each day. Along with being an antioxidant, vitamin C is needed for a functioning immune system and for collagen production.
- Fatty acids: Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are among hibiscus powder’s health boosting compounds. These are two fatty acids that your body cannot produce on its own and that are important for the function of your immune system and blood pressure regulation among other benefits.
You can use hibiscus powder to treat or prevent the following ailments:
- High blood pressure: There are various studies suggesting that hibiscus tea is effective for reducing blood pressure in people with mild hypertension or pre-hypertension.
- High cholesterol: According to the results of various animal studies, hibiscus may be useful for lowering levels of low-density lipoprotein, which is also called bad cholesterol.
- Liver disease: Researchers conducting animal studies have found that the liver lesions associated with liver disease can be treated with tea made from hibiscus powder. This is due to anthocyanins in hibiscus.
Common uses of hibiscus powder
The most popular way to use hibiscus powder is to make hibiscus tea. The tea can be served iced with ginger and a sweetener, which is how hibiscus is traditionally used in West Africa and in Jamaica. In Cote d’Ivoire, this beverage is called bissap and typically includes mint. Mint enhances its flavor as well as its nutritional value. Other uses for it include akpi sauce. Akpi sauce is a savory and spicy sauce used in Cameroon, Angola and Cote d’Ivoire.