Jamaican Sorrel vs Hibiscus: Discover The Major Difference

Jamaican Sorrel and hibiscus are not the same. In Jamaica, Sorrel can either refer to the Roselle plant or to a festive beverage made from that plant.

Sorrel drink is popular on the island as well as around the Caribbean.

On the other hand, there are approximately 200 species of hibiscus plants. This includes the one the species that makes Jamaican Sorrel.

So let us look closer at Jamaican Sorrel vs Hibiscus.

Jamaican Sorrel vs Hibiscus

Jamaican Sorrel is different from Hibiscus in that most other species live a long time and some grow wild. However, Jamaican Sorrel is cultivated.

And sometimes Hibiscus teas have an acidic taste just like Jamaican Sorrel does. But that is where the similarity between Jamaican Sorrel drink and Hibiscus ends.

So, first we will identify what Jamaican Sorrel is, and then we will look at Hibiscus.

What Is Jamaican Sorrel?

Jamaican sorrel drink with fres calyces sitting on a table
Jamaican Sorrel

Jamaican Sorrel is a traditional drink that is served on festive occasions. It can best be described as a “Modified ice tea.”

The beverage is made from the calyces of the Roselle plant. Roselle is a species of Hibiscus that has been widely studied for its health benefits.

Roselle is a rich source of Vitamins and Minerals. This makes Jamaica Sorrel a healthy drink.

That, of course, depends on what you add when making the drink.

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Jamaican Sorrel Plant

he hibiscus species used for making Jamaican Sorrel is Hibiscus sabdariffa.  Other common names for this plant include: Rosella, Roselle, Flower of Jamaica and Red sorrel. 

Unlike other species of hibiscus that grow wild in Jamaica and live for years, Roselle is cultivated each year.  

Sorrel seeds are planted in the late summer to early fall in full sun. The Roselle plant grows to between 4 and  6 feet tall.

As the daylight gets shorter, the plant blooms beautiful white to light pick flowers that have a rich red center.

Shortly afterwards,  the calyces begin to appear.They are the red covers that protect the pods that encase the seed. The tender calyces are reaped and are either used fresh, sun dried, or frozen. 

On a side note, the earlier the reaping begins, the more the Sorrel plant will produce.

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How to Make Jamaican Sorrel

When making Jamaican Sorrel drink, the calyces are steeped in hot water with ginger root for hours. Very often Sorrel is steeped overnight.  

The next step is to strain the liquid and sweeten it with sugar. You can now add your favorite spice, whether it is cinnamon, nutmeg, or clove to the drink.

And because Sorrel is a festive drink, Jamaican rum is always added to the drink. Then the beverage is usually poured into a sealed container and placed in the refrigerator or served over ice. 

Christmas time is when Jamaican Sorrel is consumed the most. There are two reasons for that. First, that’s the time for reaping the Roselle calyces. So fresh Sorrel is readily available. 

Second, that is the season when most Jamaican families and friends get together. Sorrel and rum cake are staples on these occasions.  

So, Sorrel is served on those occasions similar to the way wine and beer are consumed in some cultures.

Note: If Sorrel drink is left to sit in a dark area inside a sealed container, the beverage begins to ferment.

Hibiscus Tea vs Sorrel

Hibiscus is used to make tea or it is consumed as a vegetable. And Hibiscus tea can be made from any of the hundreds of edible hibiscus plants, including Roselle.

Another difference between Hibiscus tea and Sorrel is that the tea is usually made from different sections of the plant.  Died leaves, stems and flower petals are often used to make tea.

One advantage of Hibiscus is that is is widely available. Therefore, many people can make a cup of fresh Hibiscus tea at any time.

Types of Hibiscus

The more than 200 species of hibiscus worldwide fall into two main groups: Perennial Hibiscus and Tropical Hibiscus.

Perennial Hibiscus. These varieties survive in warmer locations. 

One variety of perennial hibiscus the Rose of Sharon sometimes called Shrub Althea. This is a popular species in my suburban Philadelphia neighborhood.

The plant goes dormant in the winter but roars to life in the spring and blooms throughout the summer.

Hibiscus tea made from hibiscus flower petals
Fresh-made Hibiscus Tea

Tropical Hibiscus. They grow in tropical regions and thrive and bloom all year round. Tropical hibiscus have dark green shiny leaves that protect the plant from excess heat.

They produce large bright colored flowers.

A number of those species of hibiscus are grown in Jamaica and are used for ornamental purposes.

It is usual for them to grow wild from seeds being scattered by wind, birds or insects.

Unlike other species that grow wild in Jamaica, sorrel is cultivated each year.  It is grown for the sole purpose of harvesting the tender calyces. 

These are used to make beverages such as the Christmas time Sorrel drink and Hibiscus tea.

Sorrel seeds are planted in the late summer to early fall in full sun. The plants grew to between 4 and  6 feet tall.  

 How to Grow Jamaican Sorrel

As the daylight gets shorter the plant blooms beautiful white to light pick flowers that have a rich red center.

The calyces begin to appear. They are the red covers that protect the pods that encase the seed. 

Because in  Jamaica the plant is only cultivated for the calyces so the render ones are reaped and are either dried or frozen. The earlier the harvesting begins the more the plant will produce.

At the end of the reaping season the seeds are gathered for replanting the next year  and the rest of the plant is discarded.

What Does Sorrel Taste Like?

Jmaican Sorrel does not taste like your regular glass of ice tea. The basic drink has a tart taste similar to cranberry juice. And it looks that way to. If the Sorrel is made too strong the drink will become extremely acidic.

Spices such as  ginger and cinnamon are often used to lessen the acidity.  Sweetening the tea with lots of brown sugar will also help make it taste less tart.


What is the difference between Jamaican Sorrel and Hibiscus? Well. Jamaican sorrel refers to the name of the roselle plant or a beverage that Jamaicans make from the calyces of that plant.

Jamaican Sorrel plant is one of the many edible hibiscus species out. But it is not a perennial plant. It is cultivated annually.

In contrast there are about  two hundred species of Hibiscus plants. Most of them are edible. But in the Western world hibiscus flowers are mainly used to make tea.

And you can enjoy sorrel drinks either hot or cold. In addition, both Jamaican Sorrel and Hibiscus provide a number of health benefits.