If you’ve spent much time traveling in Mexico or the southwestern United States, you may have seen folks enjoying an agua fresca on a hot day. Agua frescas are simply water blended with sugar, fresh fruit, seeds (like chia) or dried flowers to make a refreshing, non-alcoholic drink.
Fruits like lime, pineapple and watermelon are all popular in agua frescas, but none is more recognizable than the jewel-toned water of the hibiscus flower. Known across the region as agua de Jamaica, hibiscus aqua frescas are sweet and floral.
The hibiscus’ use in traditional Latin American cooking doesn’t stop there. In Mexico, the bright red flower can be found in everything from tacos to quesadillas, salsas, liquors and desserts.
Martin Matysik, a chef at the Culinary Institute of America, makes a hibiscus margarita, combining two of Mexico’s most beloved beverages for a hot-weather (or any-weather) cocktail.
In this recipe, we’ve used mescal, the earthier cousin to tequila. It’s a distilled spirit derived from the agave plant and has many regional styles.
You’ll also notice that the recipe includes honey liqueur, which should be available at most liquor stores. If you can’t find it, just omit it and add a dash of honey, which will provide the light sweetness and rich flavor that helps round out the tartness in the cocktail. Experiment with fragrant and floral honeys, like orange blossom.
Since this drink is otherwise sweetened, use unsweetened hibiscus water. If you’d like, you can make a big batch (use about 1 cup of dried flowers for every 3 cups of water), reserve some for the cocktail, and sweeten the rest to make a classic agua de Jamaica. Sweeten it to taste with simple syrup or agave syrup. The mixture also makes the perfect popsicle.
Dried hibiscus flowers can be purchased online, but you’re likely to pay a premium. If you have a local market that specializes in Mexican or Latin American products, you will almost certainly find hibiscus flowers and other regional delicacies. Because if you’re making margaritas, tacos can’t be far behind!
Start to finish: 5 minutes active, 4 hours inactive
1 lime wedge, for preparing glasses (optional)
Smoked vanilla salt, for garnish (optional)
2 ounces Hibiscus Water (recipe below)
1 ounce mescal
1 ounce honey liqueur
½ ounce orange liqueur
1 ounce agave syrup
½ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
Sliced limes, for garnish
Vanilla beans, for garnish (optional)
Prepare a tall glass by wiping the lime wedge around the top rim. Dip the rim of the glass in smoked salt, fill with ice, and set aside.
In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine the hibiscus water, mescal, honey liqueur, orange liqueur, agave syrup and lime juice. Shake vigorously, and then strain into the prepared glass. Garnish with lime and vanilla beans, if using, before serving.
Makes 8 servings (about 2 cups)
2 cups water
2/3 cup dried hibiscus flowers
In a large pitcher or container, combine the water and flowers. Set aside to soak for at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
Drain in a fine mesh sieve, using a wooden spoon to press out all of the liquid, and discard the flowers.
Nutrition information per serving: 307 calories; 1 calories from fat; 0 g fat (0 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 0 mg cholesterol; 2 mg sodium; 38 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 34 g sugar; 0 g protein.