Living in Zihuatanejo, Mexico really changed the way I think about food. Everything is über-fresh and they are unbelievably resourceful, never letting anything go to waste.
One of my favorite things to drink when we lived there—other than Herradura Reposado tequila with a side of sangrita—was aguas frescas (flavored waters).
Sort of like the way Americans love their iced tea, aquas frescas are the non-alcoholic drink of choice in Mexico. Aguas frescas are very authentic and refreshing drinks that are absolutely delicious. Made from fruit (that may be overripe and needs to be used), grains, dried flowers or pods and combined with sugar and water, aguas frescas are great on a hot day and could even be made into an impressive and unique adult beverage by adding a splash of rum, vodka or tequila, if you are so inclined.
Served in big glass jarras (jars), aguas frescas are enjoyed in comida corridas (literally translated to mean fast food restaurants, although not like a Taco Bell, this is homemade food served quickly and very reasonably if not altogether cheap) as well as in the better restaurants.
Some of the flavors you’ll find include agua de melon (cantelope), agua de sandia (watermelon), agua de pina (pineapple), agua de tamarindo (tamarind), agua de limon (lime) and agua de pepino (cucumber).
Of course, there’s my least favorite horchata (made from rice and cinnamon) and then my all-time fave agua de jamaica (pronounced ha-mike-uh), which is really more like a tea than an agua fresca.
When we moved back to San Antonio, it was one of the first things I tracked down because agua de jamaica had become an essential part of my culinary world.
Made from dried hibiscus flowers, agua de jamaica is unbelievable. It’s bright red, refreshingly tart like a cranberry but a little sweet, contains vitamin C and is a natural diuretic.
You’ve probably seen it promoted in the health food stores or in the tea aisles where it sells for $6 a box. But don’t be fooled by packaging or marketing tactics.
Just go to the produce department (generally found near the jalapenos) of your local grocery store (or Latin grocery if you have one) and pick up a bag of Flor de Jamaica for $2 and you’ll be making and loving agua de jamaica muy pronto, and just in time for the summer heat.
Agua de Jamaica (Hibiscus Tea)
- 9 cups water divided, 6 cups and 3 cups
- 2 cups flor de jamaica also known as dried hibiscus flowers
- 1/2 - 1 cup sugar depending on your preference (start with 1/2 cup adding more if needed), you could also use honey, maple syrup, Stevia drops or other natural sweetener
- A sprig of mint of squeeze of lime for additional flavor and/or garnish for each glass
Place 6 cups of water in a pot and add the 2 cups of flor de jamaica. Turn on the heat to high, stirring occasionally and bring to a boil. The minute you turn on the heat, you will notice the water begin to turn red from the flowers and, as the heat increases, the red color will deepen. This is my favorite part.
After boiling for 1-2 minutes, turn off the heat and allow everything to steep for 20-30 minutes.
Prepare your pitcher and get a sieve or small colander ready to strain the liquid into, reserving all of the flor de jamaica. Carefully place the flor de jamaica in the trash, so as not to stain the floor, you or your clothes.
Add the remaining 3 cups of water and your choice of sweetener to the agua de jamaica and stir until everything has dissolved. Taste and add more sweetener if needed. The trick is to create a tart-yet-ever-so-slightly sweet drink.
Chill thoroughly and serve over ice. You may want to add a squeeze of lime or a sprig of mint for additional flavor or garnish to each glass.