Sorrel: The Sour Herb

The word sorrel is derived from a French word meaning sour. It is a relative of buckwheat and different from Jamaican sorrel, which is in the hibiscus family. The sorrel herb has been in use since ancient times in both Egypt and Europe.

At the start of the colonial era, sorrel soup was considered a staple of English cuisine. English settlers were delighted to find that there was sorrel in North America that the Native Americans were using in their food.

Today, you can find sorrel throughout Europe, Central Asia and in some parts of North America. Many of the varieties in America are indigenous with some cultivars introduced from Europe.

Flavor profile of sorrel

Given the origin of its name, it should not be surprising that sorrel is most notable for being sour. It has a strong acidic note that is the result of its oxalic acid content. Its intense acidity allows it to be used in salads in lieu of vinegar and is thought to make it ideal for pairing with eggs.

Health benefits of sorrel

Sorrel is loaded with multiple nutrients that can be beneficial for your health. Those nutrients include:

  • Vitamins: Sorrel is a particularly good source of vitamin C. You can get 48mg of this vitamin from a 100g serving, which is 80 percent of your daily recommended allowance. Along with vitamin C, sorrel also provides a lot of vitamin A. You can get 4,000 IU from a 100g serving, which is more than the amount that you need daily. Both vitamins are antioxidants that can help to protect the body from damage by free radicals.
  • Minerals: Sorrel is a good source of several important minerals. You can get almost a third of your daily iron needs met by consuming 100g of this herb and it also provides more than a quarter of the magnesium that you need each day. Iron is needed for the transportation of oxygen in the blood and magnesium is important for various body functions like nerve transmission and muscle contraction.
  • Phenolic antioxidants: Along with the antioxidant properties of its vitamin A and C, sorrel provides antioxidant benefits via compounds like quercetin and kaempferol. These antioxidants can help with healing and disease prevention.

The nutrients in sorrel make it beneficial for treating and preventing various health conditions such as:

  • Macular degeneration: Vitamin A consumption is associated with improved eyesight and a reduction in the development of macular degeneration and cataracts.
  • Anemia: The fact that sorrel provides a significant amount of iron means that it can increase the production of red blood cells, which increases energy levels. An adequate amount of iron in the diet can therefore prevent the development of anemia.
  • Cancer: The antioxidants in sorrel can neutralize free radicals, thus keeping healthy cells from mutating into cancerous ones.

You should keep in mind that along with all of its nutritional benefits, sorrel leaves also contain high levels of oxalic acid. A diet high in oxalic acid can cause kidney stones. Note also that foods rich in oxalic acid can develop a metallic flavor if they are cooked in aluminum or cast iron cookware.

Common uses for sorrel

One of the traditional uses of sorrel is in soups with a smooth texture. The fact that the herb dissolves easily in heated liquids makes it suitable for this application. Among Vietnamese Americans, the herb is known as Rau Chua and its use is limited to the U.S. where it is used to add a sour note to dishes. Along with its popularity as a soup ingredient in England, it is also used in sauces for fish.