Sorrel has a remarkably bright and even tart flavor. Many people liken its taste to lemons, which makes sense since there is a real note of sourness in there. It can be tricky to work with, since that lemony flavor is mixed with a deep "greens" and grassy flavor. It is bright and deep, sharp and full of mineral all at once.
Look for sorrel in spring and summer at farmers markets and some specialty stores. I will warn you: this unique herb can be terribly difficult to find. One farmer I know stopped growing it, even though she loves it, because she just couldn't find enough customers for it. Help save sorrel! Get buying!
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 (see picture above).
- 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, however, look fabulous 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 is also a half-way point in terms of how to use it. More than anything else I can think of, it 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 (like this Sorrel Leek Soup) 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 makes 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 - adding 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. See How to Wash and Store Greens for more specifics.
Have more sorrel than you can use? Cook the leaves in a bit of butter until they wilt and fall apart. Freeze this "purée" to add to soups or stews for a taste of spring in the dead of winter.