karkady / egyptian hibiscus tea / كركديه

karkady egyptian hibiscus tea karkade

The first time I had karkady was in Cairo in 2006. Ramadan was in full swing and the October heat was relentless. My roommate and I were in a taxi on our way to al-Husayn Mosque, which we would visit a few times a week. She would go to the mosque to pray, then we’d hit up nearby Khan al-Khalili to shop for giant gaudy earrings and eat tameyya sandwiches. On the last stretch of the trip, the call to prayer rippled through the city. It was iftar — time to break the day’s fast. Drivers had a new sense of urgency, most pedestrians vanished from the street to fill their bellies, and our cab driver broke his fast with a cigarette.

As our taxi inched forward in bumper to bumper traffic, I noticed a man going from car to car and handing people bags with some sort of deep red liquid. When he got to our taxi, he handed me a bag and said something I didn’t understand. I had just enough time to thank him, but not enough to ask him what it was before he went on his merry way. I asked the cab driver if he knew what the drink was and he said, “karkady”. Well, OK! I didn’t know what that was but when a jovial toothless man hands you mystery drink in a plastic bag, what do you do? My roommate wasn’t interested, so I drank it in the most graceful way one can drink from a plastic bag (which is not at all).

As a fan of all things sour, it was love at first sip. Sweet but not overly so, with a tart flavor reminiscent of cranberry juice. After doing some investigating later on (aka googling), I learned karkady was made from made an infusion of hibiscus flowers. Serve it cold in the hot months and hot when fighting off those winter shivers. It wasn’t for another few years after leaving Egypt that I would revisit karkady, but now you’ll find a pitcher (or bottle) of it in my fridge about once a month.

To make karkady, you need dried red hibiscus flowers, which can be found at Middle Eastern and Latin American groceries (look for Flor de Jamaica), tea shops, and the bustling spice markets of Cairo. If none are available in your neck of the woods, there’s always Amazon, the Wal*Mart of the internet.

Unrelated, but here are some things I’ve been cooking lately:

Pulled Pork – I made about 5 pounds of pulled pork for Father’s Day. It had been so long since I cooked several pounds of pork that and I overcooked it a little bit, sadly. Dad came down for a visit and we feasted on pulled pork sandwiches and potato salad. I sent dad home with a big container of meat, then Cory and I used the remaining pork for sandwiches and tacos.

Black Bean, Cilantro and Apricot Salad – When we ran out of pulled pork, we still had several corn tortillas. I made a mango and black bean salad based off an apricot and black bean salad from the taste space. The recipe has been a regular in our kitchen for about 3 years now.

Quick Pickled Onions – from the Kitchn. I’ve quick pickled (and consumed) 4 jars of carrots in the last month and now I’m onto onions for salads and sandwiches.

Falafels – The last of my chickpeas are currently soaking as I type this. Falafels served over a bed of lettuce will be tomorrow’s dinner. Maybe I’ll buy more chickpeas before we move, but first I have to go through a pound of pinto beans, cranberry beans, and great northern beans. Anyone have any ideas what to do with those?

Tahini – ok, I haven’t made this yet. But I’m making it tomorrow! Again, from The Kitchn. I’ve never made tahini from scratch before, but I have a lot of sesame seeds I’ve been meaning to use up. I’m knee deep in Operation: Clear Out the Pantry.

Zucchini – zucchini everything. Chopped up raw and in salads, zucchini noodles, zucchini soups, and mastering mom’s zucchini bread.

Corn – with everything. Mostly corn on the cob, sometimes soup, and I made a corn, basil, and pesto pizza on Friday.

Popsicles – currently, mango lassi popsicles. But I’m really craving Vietnamese iced coffee and I think they’d make for some delicious popsicles.

Now, on with the show.

Karkady / Egyptian Hibiscus Drink

3/4 cup hibiscus petals
8 cups water
sugar, to taste (I recommend starting with 1/4 cup and taste testing from there)

Optional:
dried orange peel
grated ginger
a few squeezes of lime or lemon
a cinnamon stick

In a large pot, add hibiscus petals and water (add orange peel, ginger, and/or cinnamon stick, if using) and bring to a gentle boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Stir in sugar and give the drink a taste test and add more sugar, if necessary. You can skip this part, but I usually cover the pot and let it steep for another 1-3 hours. If adding lime or lemon, squeeze a bit of juice in and stir. Strain the mixture into a pitcher, discard the petals, and refrigerate the drink for several hours.

Serves 8-10

Share your thoughts. Don't be a weenie.
  1. Sue says:

    Have you tried Celestial Seasonings Red Zinger tea? Does Karkady taste a lot different? Just sayin’ cuz it is sure easier to find than dried hibiscus flowers. Red Zinger ingredients are : Hibiscus, rosehips, peppermint, West Indian lemongrass, orange peel, natural flavors, lemon verbena, licorice and wild cherry bark.

    Reply
    • rose says:

      I haven’t, but that sounds absolutely delicious! I imagine the taste is pretty similar if you add the spices from the recipe, but I usually just go the hibiscus, sugar, and water route.

      Reply
  2. Eileen says:

    Wow! I don’t think I would have been brave enough to drink a random plastic bag drink, but what an experience! And the tea itself sounds lovely. Yay!

    Reply
    • rose says:

      Hahah, right? I don’t know if I’d be so brave today, but I loved street food so much I didn’t care!

      Reply