Gongura / Kenaf
[Sour Leaf, Decan Hemp, Java Jute, Kenaf, Jamaica (English); Hanf (Persian); Gongura, Pulicha, Keerai, Ambaadi, Mesta, Shougri (India); Teel, Til, Teal (North Africa); Dah, Gambo, Rama (West Africa); Papoula-de-são-francisco, Cãnhamo-brasileiro, Quenafe (Brazil); Cáñamo de la India, Cáñamo de gambo, Cáñamo Rosella, Pavona encendida, Yute de Java, Yute de Siam de gambo, (Spanish); and many, many more; [Hibiscus cannabinus]
This plant, probably originating in South Asia, is cultivated worldwide for many uses: rope fiber, paper, edible leaves, oil, animal feed and bedding, fiberboard, engineered wood and thread for fabrics. The ancient Egyptians used it to make the ropes and sails for their ships. It can grow to about 11 feet tall with stems up to 1 inch diameter. Currently small crops are grown in California, Texas and Louisiana, mostly for animal feed and bedding, but you can expect it to expand as more of its uses are exploited, particularly if hemp remains illegal in the US (hemp has similar fibrous properties but is not related).
The leaves are widely eaten in India, and preferred to the leaves of Roselle, but I haven't seen this plant here in Southern California. The seeds are pressed for cooking oil, which has a very similar fatty acid profile to Cottonseed Oil, but with more Omega 3. It is commonly called Gongura for culinary uses and Kenaf for industrial and fiber uses. This plant is closely related to the smaller, red stemmed Roselle / Gongura (Hibiscus sabdariffa), but has green stems and much different fruit pods. Roselle has wider culinary and medicinal useage. Photo by Darendrojit (cropped) distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution v3.0 Unported.
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Roselle / Hibiscus / Gongura
[Sour Leaf, Red Sorrel (English); Rosella (Australia, Indonesia); Belchanda (Nepal); Tengamora, Mwitha (Assam, India); Chukor, Gongura, Pulicha, Keerai, Pundi, Ambadi, LalChatni, Kutrum, Mathipuli (India); Chin baung (Burma); KraJiabDaeng (Thailand); Chaye-Torosh (Iran), Karkade (Arabic); Sorrel (Caribbean & Latin America); Flor de Jamaica (Mexico); Guragod, Labug, Labog (Philippines); Bissap (Africa); Hibiscus sabdariffa]
This plant is closely related to the taller, green stemmed Gongura / Kenaf (Hibiscus cannabinus) but Kenaf fruit pods are very different in structure. Like Kenaf, Roselle is primarily a fiber crop, growing to 8 feet tall, but also has a wide variety of culinary and medicinal uses.
The leaves are a very important herb or vegetable in a good part of India (Andhra, Karala, Karnataka, Assam and others), and valued for their iron content. They are used in a wide variety of pickles, dals and curries, particularly goat and mutton curries, but also with chicken and pork. They are also much used in Burma, especially with fish and shellfish, and in Africa, particularly Senegal, where they flavor a recipe for fish and rice.
Buying: Here in Southern California, red stemmed Roselle now appears in our Indian markets and some farmer's markets that have a good Asian grower. It is very seasonal - I have bought fresh leafy stems, as in the photo above, in early July, and long stems with lots of fruit but relatively few leaves in early November.
Storage: If in good condition, a bunch of gongura will last a week loosely wrapped in plastic and refrigerated. Should yours be a bit wilted, trim the stem ends and completely submerge the bunch in cold water for about 1/2 hour. Dry sufficiently that there is no free water (I use a salad spinner) and pack loosely in plastic.
Prep: For cooking, only the leaves are used, even the leaf stems are too fibrous for culinary usage. Leaf yield is about 40%, so you need about a 10 ounce bunch to yield 4 ounces of leaf. For some recipes, whole or coarsely chopped leaves are used, as in Indian goat or mutton curry, but others, like dal, want it chopped fine.
Cooking: Unlike other sour leaves such as spinach and sorrel, gongura is sturdy and needs at least 20 minutes simmering. It will hold up to quite a bit more.
This plant fruits prolifically. The fruit pod, similar to a short stubby okra pod, is surrounded by a calyx of dark red petal like sepals. There are two styles, the short one (photo) and the long one where the points around the base are also long. The photo specimens were purchased from an Asian vegetable grower at a farmer's market in Los Angeles.
The sepals could be used in salads as a color accent, but the pod is not particularly edible due to the many stiff fibers it contains. It is almost edible raw, but cooking hardens the sharp fibers while softening the pod, and the seeds remain quite stiff, quite unpleasant. They are, however, used by the Shan people in Burma as a souring agent in stews.
Simmering the whole calyces in water produces a brilliant crimson broth that is just a little sour and quite pleasant enough to serve as the basis for herb teas. It is best to remove the pod, which can make the broth a bit mucilaginous - it's related to okra, after all.
The calyces contains enough pectin that jam can be made from them using only sugar and calyces. I haven't been tempted to try this because jams require more sugar than I'm comfortable with in anything.
These fruits, have significant medicinal properties, particularly
for lowering blood pressure by helping increase nitric oxide and reducing
oxidized lipids in the blood. They are very high in vitamin C,
antioxidants and phytochemicals, and have been found useful in treating
metabolic diseases such as atherosclerosis, liver disease, cancer and
diabetes, The seeds are a good source of fat slouble antioxidants.
Jamaica / Hibiscus "Flowers"
This is the form most people are familiar with, the dried calyx. Bins and bags will be found in markets serving a wide variety of ethnicities. A metal tube with sharp teeth on the business end is slipped over the stem and used to core out the pod before drying.
These are used for making tea, usually called "hibiscus tea in North
America. This tea is used both for pleasure and for medicinal purposes.
In industry they are used as a food coloring, particularly in
Europe and the United States. They are also used to make economical
cold drinks throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, as well as
southern Europe, parts of Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
Called "Sorrel" in the Caribbean, it is mixed with sugar and various
herbs and spices. In Jamaica it is brewed with fresh ginger, then
chilled and strengthened with rum.
Jamaica / Hibiscus "Flowers"
for this form, the fruits are cored as for drying, but instead of
drying they are candied with a mixture of starch and finely powdered
sugar. They are quite pleasant, moderately sweet/sour with a lightly
chewy texture, more delicate than other candied fruits. They make a
very nice small desert that most guests will find quite surprising. I
buy these from a big multi-ethnic market in Los Angeles (Altadena,