Sorrel has a remarkably bright and tart flavor. Many people liken its taste to lemons, which is likely due to its sour flavor. It can be tricky to work with since that lemony flavor is mixed with a deep grassy flavor.
Look for sorrel in spring and summer at farmers markets and some specialty stores. This unique herb can be terribly difficult to find. If you have trouble finding it, ask at your local market. If there is no demand, farmers may not bring it to sell.
Types of Sorrel
Sorrel is part of the knotweed family that includes rhubarb and buckwheat, as well as wild docks, rau rum, and knotweed. There are several varieties people consume and that may be for sale at farmers markets.
- Common sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is the one most readily available at markets and nurseries for planting. It is a deep-rooted perennial that will last for years and years if it finds a spot it likes. It has a sharp flavor and somewhat large, arrow-shaped leaves.
- French sorrel (Rumex scutatus) is also cultivated, so you'll see it at markets sometimes. It has a milder flavor than does common sorrel, with smaller and more rounded leaves.
- Red-veined sorrel (Rumex sanguineus) has, as you may have already guessed, deep red veins running through its leaves. It has a very mild, almost un-sorrel-like flavor with very little of the tartness usually associated with this plant. It does stand out in a salad.
- Sheep's sorrel (Rumex acetosella) grows wild in much of the United States. It is about as sour as common sorrel, but with smaller leaves. It is foraged rather than cultivated.
How to Use Sorrel
Sorrel falls straight between herbs and greens. Use it as a leafy herb, like parsley or basil or mint, chopping it up to use in marinades and dressings or stirring it into soups or casseroles for a bit of fresh flavor. Or, use it as a green, ripping the tender leaves into salads and stir-fries.
The tart and bright flavor of sorrel make it particularly good at adding some life to potatoes, eggs, and whole grains. It is also delicious with smoked or oily fish like salmon or mackerel. Sorrel is classically paired with cream, sour cream, or yogurt. This adds a vibrant green color and tartness to these plain items as their fatty creaminess tames the sharp flavor of the sorrel.
Sorrel is also a great addition to other cooked greens. Add a handful or two when you cook spinach, chard, or kale for a lovely sour kick.
If you're going to use it within a day or two, simply keep sorrel loosely wrapped in plastic in the fridge. For longer storage, rinse it clean, pat it dry, and roll the leaves up in paper towels before putting them in the plastic. The paper towels will sop up any excess liquid, keeping the leaves at once dry but in a damp-enough environment. Learn how to wash and store greens if you are planning to use them frequently.
If you find yourself with more sorrel than you can use, cook the leaves in a bit of butter until they wilt and fall apart. The final result will be like a sorrel puree. Freeze this purée to add to soups or stews for a taste of spring in the dead of winter.