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Thursday 21 November 2019
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Sorrel as you’ve never seen it: think pink

A variety of black, white and pink sorrel. - ROGER JACOB
A variety of black, white and pink sorrel. - ROGER JACOB

FROM a single seed, Sharon Rosella Roopsingh is growing her dream – pink sorrel that she’s turned into a thriving business.

Four years ago, she and her husband, Renison, bought a tin of seeds. And from those seeds grew one pink plant. The unusual colour caught Roopsingh’s attention. (Incidentally, her middle name is also a variation of sorrel -- it's the name the fruit, a variety of hibiscus, goes by in Australia.)

"When my husband and I first saw it, it looked like the fruit (sorrel) on the tree was spoilt.” But they left it alone and eventually realised that’s just how the fruit was. “We found it unusual and exotic and we went with it."

So, they continued cultivating and soon found there was quite a demand for it, with customers requesting it specifically because of the colour.

Sorrel is usually red, dark red or black – varieties all of which Roopsing grows as well. That this version is pink, Roopsingh explained, surprises many people. But, she said, while the colour was different, “you still get sorrel flavour. It’s really nice."

Sorrel farmers Sharon Rosella Roopsingh and her son Matthew, with Agricola Credit Union representative Julia Thomas and Madonna Roudett of Mango Melee, at the official launch of Sorrel Food Melee second edition, hosted by Mango Melee, at the Agricola Credit Union conference room in Port of Spain last Friday. - ROGER JACOB

As a small farmer, Roopsingh said she tries to produce the best sorrel for her customers.

"We don't pick the sorrel young, only when they are mature because that’s when it’s at top quality." She also sells by order.

As a seasonal crop, October is usually the peak time for sorrel production. But Roopsingh isn’t letting that stop her.

"My plan is to carry production through (the year) because we had sorrel up until April this year."

Her son, Matthew, said the family garden in Coal Mine, Sangre Grande, currently has 1,000 sorrel trees. Right now, the focus is on serving the domestic market but if they see an international demand, they will look towards expansion.

Organic sorrel soap. - ROGER JACOB

But Matthew said, "If we see an international demand for the product, we will go forward to extending the expansion of the garden."

The process of growing a sorrel crop has not been easy, though, and the family has experienced its fair share of challenges. Sorrel is vulnerable to certain types of fungal diseases. Over time though, just like the theory of evolution proposes, there’s survival of the fittest, and Matthew notes that over time, the smaller varieties of sorrel would be eliminated and greater focus placed on the stronger varieties, which have a higher tolerance to disease.

TT Natural Artisans president Madonna Roudett said when the group learnt about Roopsingh's pink sorrel, they knew this was something they wanted to promote.

"We wanted to push the pink (sorrel). We love something new. It inspired a lot of the artisans."

Traditional sorrel drink made from the unconventional pink sorrel. - ROGER JACOB

The group’s main objective is to encourage innovation and new food products. Since partnering with Roopsingh, Roudett said the response from the public to pink sorrel has been overwhelming and people have been asking questions about how they can get a pink sorrel plant and the different foods in which they can use it.

The artisans circulated a picture of a pizza with sorrel as a topping, for example, which blew people’s minds.

Matthew notes that while sorrel is traditionally associated with Christmas, conversations with other entrepreneurs through the TT Natural Artisans group has opened the door to innovation and making sorrel more than just a holiday beverage.

"When people came to our house for Christmas, we brought out a clear drink from white sorrel. They were shocked, " Matthew said.

Cakes topped with sorrel jam. - ROGER JACOB

And there’s more to the fruit than just juice There’s also the potential to diversify the use sorrel, turning it into jams and jellies and even soaps. "We could have something like a demand throughout the year," Matthew said.

Those curious about pink sorrel – and sorrel lovers in general – will have the opportunity to sample the fruits in their glory at the annual Sorrel Food Melee, on November 17 from 11am-5pm at the Eddie Hart Savannah in Tacarigua. The festival will also involve a competition where people have to create the best sorrel dessert, condiment and beverage.

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