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What is Sorrel?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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Sorrel, is a green leafy plant used in cooking. There are many related plants that use this term as part of their names, but only two are normally used in the kitchen. Garden or common sorrel has large leaves and is often harvested from the wild. French sorrel has smaller leaves and is more commonly grown in gardens. Leaves from the plant are used in cooking, and they give a pleasant lemon flavor to many dishes. The sourness is due to oxalic acid, which can be toxic in large quantities, so the plant should be consumed in moderation.

Uses

Young plants may be harvested for use in salads, soups or stews. If a cook is planning on adding it to salads, he or she should stick with small tender leaves that have a fruity lemon taste. Young leaves are also excellent when lightly cooked, similar in taste to cooked chard or spinach but with a distinctive lightly sour flavor. For soups and stews, older plants add more tang and flavor.

One well known use for this plant is in sorrel soup, an Eastern European dish that can be served hot or cold. Although recipes vary, it often starts with a base of chicken broth and may include eggs, potatoes, and/or heavy cream to give it a thicker, creamy texture. The leaves are also commonly used as an accompaniment to fish.

Sources

The plant is not often found in grocery stores unless there is a good selection of local produce. Shipping it is difficult, as it does not keep well after harvest even when refrigerated. A good place to look for sorrel is in specialty food stores, where it may be available fresh or in pureed, canned varieties. For most uses, fresh is preferable, though the canned version can be used successfully in many cooked dishes. Shoppers may also want to try a farmer's market to see if it is available from local farms.

Nutrition

From a nutritional standpoint, sorrel provides a number of vitamins and minerals. It has high levels of vitamins A, B9 and C, and moderate levels of potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Because of the oxalic acid in this plant, however, it is not good for everyone. This chemical may aggravate the conditions of people with gout and kidney or bladder stones. In addition, it can be toxic in large quantities, so the plant should be consumed in moderation.

Cultivation

Sorrel seedlings are not often found in garden centers, but it is easy to start from seed. The plant is a perennial, but it does not take heat well so many grow it as a spring-time annual. Garden sorrel reaches about 3 feet (91.44 cm) tall while the more dainty French variety grows to about 1 foot (30.48 cm). It is the leaves that are harvested for use, leaving the stocks to grow more. The only usual garden pests are mites and aphids, both of which can often be controlled by applying insecticidal soap.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon996259 — On Aug 01, 2016

The Nigerian drink Zobo or the Carribean sorrel drink are made with hibiscus, not with the sorrel used in cooking in Europe.

By anon960840 — On Jul 12, 2014

I use parsley and lots of it in a blender with 2 slices of white bread that were soaked in sherry vinegar. Slowly drizzle a neutral oil on it and salt and pepper to taste.

By anon264038 — On Apr 26, 2012

I have grown it for several years. My father used to grow it at his cottage. I took several of the plants and transplanted them at my home. It has grown now for three years. Very good taste to it. I use it like lettuce or spinach and even make a salad out of it.

By anon220512 — On Oct 07, 2011

Sorrel is made into a popular drink in Nigeria called Zobo, Sobo, or Zoborodo. The dried leaves/flowers of the red variety are boiled in water to reveal a tangy delicious taste. Some people boil their sorrel with pineapple peels, cardamom and cloves then add sugar and vanilla essence to the strained drink. It is best drunk fresh or within a week because it will ferment after a few days left in the fridge.

By anon214387 — On Sep 14, 2011

Sorrel is commonly grown in Florida, planted in June and harvested in December. I'd like to know if there is a market available and where.

By anon187899 — On Jun 19, 2011

I live in South Carolina and am growing my own sorrel without difficulty. Contact me if you have any questions.

By anon182505 — On Jun 02, 2011

I live in NJ. I'm growing my own sorrel in a flower pot on the deck (away from deer) for the second consecutive year. It's very easy. I planted the sorrel last year, I hardly watered it, it grew out again this spring, I harvested it numerous times, and of course enjoyed eating it.

By anon154262 — On Feb 20, 2011

I live in NC. Has anyone had luck growing sorrel in my state?

By anon134916 — On Dec 16, 2010

Where can I buy fresh sorrel in the USA?

By anon133871 — On Dec 12, 2010

Sorrel is called Kardeh in persian language and they make the best soup(ash) in the city of Shiraz in Iran. They make it in the huge pot and they sell it in the street during the winter time.

By anon97587 — On Jul 20, 2010

sorrel is used in India also to make some pickles and for making chicken also. It is popular in other ways and good source of iron.

By anon50759 — On Oct 31, 2009

If there is a Russian community in the area, there will probably be sorrel in the farmer's market. They use it, in part because it is delicious and big part because they claim it brings down blood pressure. In Southern California it grows wild, with little trumpet like yellow flowers. As kids we loved chewing on the sour stems.

By anon31696 — On May 10, 2009

Sorrel is a popular ingredient in Russian cooking and is used for making excellent soups for which Russian cuisine is so famous. Refills your body with vitamins and refreshes taste buds. Interested?

I can share my recipe.

By kmcguinn — On May 04, 2009

Does anyone have advice on splitting sorrel?

By anon20556 — On Nov 02, 2008

Sorrel is very popular in south and east Romania. The taste is sour, not bitter. I like it better than spinach. Also popular in (Eastern) Europe: orach. Tastes like spinach but is purple :)

sorrel (Rumex pattientia) + orach (Atriplex hortensis) + lovage (Levisticum officinale) + parsley + spring onion + knorr (chicken taste) + vermicelli pasta = great soup

By bookworm — On Jul 25, 2008

Sorrel is a commonly used ingredient in French cooking. It is used in soups, such as health soup, omelets, and to make green sauce served with fish. One can also chop some leaves and add them to salad. Use small leaves in salads since they are generally less bitter than large ones.

By anon11269 — On Apr 12, 2008

Hi fusspot,

This is a really good question. I looked this up for you and there were a bunch of suggestions, but most everyone suggested baby spinach as a reasonable substitute. Though because sorrel is bitter you might try instead rocket/arugula or young dandelion leaves, which would give you more of the bite and bitterness of sorrel. Another suggestion to get the bitter taste is to prepare a sauce with a bit of bite to it. One suggestion I found was garlic aioli, a homemade mayo. Hope that helps.

By fusspot — On Apr 12, 2008

Which other herb/veg could I use to make a sorrel sauce for fishcakes if I am unable to get sorrel?

Many thanks.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen

Writer

With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a DelightedCooking contributor, Tricia...
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