Recipe : Agua de Jamaica

Aguas frescas (1) are fresh (non-alcoholic) drinks made from various fruits (2), cereals (3), flowers (4), or seeds (5) blended with sugar and water. They are ubiquitous in Mexico and Central America and are regularly purchased from street vendors.

  1. “cool waters”, or literally “fresh waters” : also called refrescos. Refrescos are also a name for commercially bottled carbonated drinks
  2. mango, pineapple, guava, kiwi fruit, cucumber, limon, watermelon; the choices are endless, name a fruit and its probably in an agua. Even that most Mexican ingredient of all, the nopal, is used in agua frescas.
  3. amaranth, oats, rice (horchata)
  4. flor de jamaica, bougainvillea
  5. chia, morro seed (also called horchata)
This was my favourite refresco when I was last in México (pre COVID of course).
A popular Mexican cocktail, the Paloma (also called the poor mans margarita) is made from Squirt and tequila.

Agua frescas are of course not carbonated.

Some of the more popular flavours include tamarind, hibiscus (flor de jamaica), and horchata (1).

1 See Post Horchata for more information on this drink and Amaranth and the Tzoalli Heresy for a recipe for Horchata de Amaranto (Amaranth horchata)

Jamaica on far right and horchata 2nd from the left.

A common way to purchase aguas frescas is by the bolsa (bag).

Todays agua will be made from flor de jamaica (1). This is without a doubt my favourite agua (horchata being a close second). Jamaica is a fruity tangy drink that reminds me a little of cranberry juice (mainly because of the tang not the flavour). It is dark red and extremely sour when it has not been diluted and sweetened.

  1. See Posts Flor de Jamaica (Hibiscus sabdariffa) for more information on this plant and its medicinal uses and Flor de Jamaica : The C-Bomb for an example of the processing of the fresh flor de jamaica.

It is not the actual flower that is used but the calyxes (1).

  1. the outer part of the flower structure that protects the flower bud/blossom.

I get my jamaica from Chillin out in WA. These guys supply a range of Mexican textiles, ingredients, and canned products as well as tortillas por supuesto. Chef Kenny who runs the place has also created his own range of chile based products.

Chef Kenny at work.
Visit Chillin Out in WA at http://www.chillin.mobi/

Today we make agua de jamaica.

The ingredients are very simple

  • 12 cups of water (8 for the jamaica and 4 for the sugar syrup)
  • 1kg sugar
  • 3 – 4 cups flor de jamaica

Go through your flowers. I have purchased them from several suppliers and the quality can vary greatly. Look at your flowers. The size and colour of the flower itself can vary as more than one variety of this plant can be used. The have (so far) all tasted pretty much the same. The photo above is not the best and the white bits you can see are not unusual. Is there any hint of mould? Don’t use them if they are mouldy. Give your flowers a smell. You should almost be able to smell the tang of the drink itself. They should be dry and somewhat pliable. You shouldn’t be able to crumble them into a powder with your hands. If this is the case your flowers are probably too old and past their best. Pick out any bits of twigs or plant material that doesn’t belong. There is no need to wash them. You will be boiling them soon and 10 – 15 minutes of boiling will kill any errant bacteria.

Place the flowers and the water (8 cups – 1 litre) in a stainless steel or glass/pyrex pot. Don’t use aluminium as the somewhat acidic flower infusion may react with the metal. Bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and simmer for 15 minutes. Take off the heat and allow the liquid to cool with the flowers in it. When cool strain out the flowers.

To make a sugar syrup mix 1kg of sugar and 1 litre of water in a pot. White sugar is the best for sweetening the drink without adding its own flavour. You could use brown sugar (1), agave syrup or even honey as a sweetener but these will change the flavour of the finished product.

  1. panela, piloncillo

Mix over a low heat until the sugar dissolves.

When the liquid becomes clear (meaning the sugar has dissolved) turn the heat up and bring to the boil.

Boil the liquid rapidly for 5 to 10 minutes then take off the heat and allow to cool.

This recipe provided me with 1500ml of a strong jamaica infusion (1) and 1400ml of a 1:1 sugar syrup (2). Normally I would add 1500ml of each ingredient to 7 litres of water to make 10 litres of a nicely sweetened (3) agua fresca. In this latest mix I only used 1200ml of the sugar syrup (and all of the jamaica) and enough water to bring it up to 10 litres. This produced a slightly sourer version of the drink which is preferred by a chilango (4) friend of mine. This gentleman has roots in Guerrero, which oddly enough is the Mexican state responsible for nearly 3/4’s of Mexico’s jamaica production (5). ¡Viva el Presidente!

  1. for a stronger flavoured decoction just keep simmering the water for 15 – 20 minutes more before turning off the heat and allowing the liquid to cool with the jamaica in it.
  2. 1kg of sugar to 1 litre of water
  3. to my mind anyway
  4. a slang term for a resident of México city.
  5. https://www.gob.mx/agricultura/articulos/refrescante-y-nutritivo-sabor-de-la-jamaica?idiom=es

I keep the two liquids separate as it allows me to make the drink as strong/weak or as sour/sweet as I need it to be. You could just as easily mix the two and use it as you would cordial (1).

  1. a non alcoholic concentrated fruit drink, usually very sweet.
A selection of popular cordials in Australia.

NOTE.

The hibiscus flower used in this drink is not the same as what is typically known as a hibiscus. The flower that is typically shown when advertising a “hibiscus flower” drink is usually incorrect.

All of these products contain flor de jamaica (Hibiscus sabdariffa) which is not the flower depicted on the packaging. Do not think that other varieties of hibiscus will make a drink anything like jamaica.

These are various varieties of hibiscus and none will work the same as flor de jamaica.

This is the calyx (1) typical of hibiscus flowers. Simply by looking at it you can see it is quite different to flor de jamiaca.

  1. the part of the flower used to make agua de jamaica
Flor de jamaica calyx (just prior to flower blooming)
It hurts my brain when they do this.

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