Hey Griots Family! It’s me again, your favorite Nappy Expat, Heather. The last time we spoke, I gave you some insight into Omani cuisine. Well, I’m back with a new “New Love”… Cachaça (“ka-sha-sa”), Brazil’s official national spirit! Like I mentioned in my article last year, I like to research the food culture of a place before I visit; more or less to get a feel of what I can expect when I get there. Since I plan to visit the beautiful country of Brazil next year, I thought I’d get acquainted with some of the most popular traditional dishes and drinks Brazil has to offer. To my great surprise, I came across an alcoholic beverage steeped in a rich history that takes us from the sugar plantations of Brazil where kidnapped African and indigenous slaves discovered the delicious concoction, to how it is used to make some of the most delicious and refreshing cocktails of today. In other words, I FOUND MY NEW DRANK Hunnybees!
Cachaça… A brief history.
When researching the origins of cachaça, I had to go back, and I mean back, way back… all the way back to the 1500s when the Portuguese started to colonize the northeastern areas of Brazil. Now, due to the favorable climate conditions of Brazil’s coastal regions, an abundance of sugarcane plantations were established using the very same methods used in the Caribbean and the deep south of the United States. These plantations were humongous and needed 1000s of workers. The Portuguese decided to use imported slave labor from Africa along with a small amount South American Indigenous Tribes. Though most indigenous South Americans successfully escaped from the sugar cane plantations, the use of African Slave labor proved to be very advantageous to Portugal; as the crown profited from the taxes paid on African slaves by their owners, and Africans were less likely to successfully escape their bondage. This made the production of sugarcane immensely profitable.
Cachaça… Where did you come from?
It all began with the sugarcane manufacturing process. Slaves would first harvest the sugarcane. Then they would crush the sugarcane, stems and all, and boil them down. The boiled stems would create a very thick brown broth, otherwise known as molasses. What was left over from this boiling process, was an even thicker liquid called cagaça. This, mixed with the other fresh remnants of the sugarcane processing was usually fed to livestock. That mixture was poured into large troughs, but due to exposure to the hot climate, the cagaça would ferment. This fermented liquid had a very high alcohol content.
It’s safe to assume that horses, cows, and pigs were probably the first to consume this original form of Brazilian cachaça. It is also safe to speculate how this original form of cachaça went from being food for animals to being consumed by humans. One notion is that a slave or group of slaves were made to ingest the concoction as a form of punishment, but the slaves quickly realized the fantastic side effect the sweet “animal slop” had on them after consumption. Another speculation is that during the molasses processing, the slaves would mix the old molasses in with the newly made molasses. While this mixture boiled in those hot mills, the old fermenting molasses would evaporate and form droplets of pure, potent cachaça on the ceilings of the mills. The droplets would eventually drop into nearby containers, buckets and the heads of the slaves working in the mills.
It wasn’t too long before they realized they had something special on their hands, rolling down their faces and landing into their mouths. This is why many believe that’s the main reason why cachaça is often referred to as Pinga in Brazil, which translates to the word “drips.” Now there is another common nickname for cachaça in Brazil called Aguardente, which translates to mean “burning water.” With there being a reasonable alcohol content in those cachaça ceiling drippings, that liquid would drip into the fresh whip injuries that slaves suffered from on their backs. It is thought that the burning sensation caused by the alcohol coming in contact with those wounds inspired that nickname.
What I was not able to find was exactly how those ceiling drippings went from sugarcane processing residue to the bottled magnificence we enjoy today. Many different explanations were given, but none could take full credit. Here are two I found that made the most sense to me, you decide which one you think is the best explanation.
Historians think that the Arabs were the first to produce spirits from sugarcane back in the 15th century, and ultimately taught the Portuguese their methods during the Arab occupation of that part of Europe.
Back in 16th century Brazil, cachaça was labeled as a sugarcane wine that only slaves drank medicinally as a sort of stimulant to keep the slaves content while performing hard continuous labor. Eventually, local “white folks” got wind of the delicious alcoholic tonic and used it as a replacement for the expensive alcoholic beverages they imported from Europe.
I like explanation number two, myself. But regardless which explanation you choose, one thing is for certain; cachaça has made a name for itself as the premier “go to” liquor of choice in fantastically fruity tropical cocktails in Brazil and is making its way to liquor cabinets all over the world. Not to be confused with rum (derived from molasses), cachaça (derived from fresh sugarcane juice) has a lighter, earthy, sweet and spicy flavor that is refreshing and plays well (unaged-white or aged-silver) with a wide variety of mixers. Here are a few recipes I’m in love with right now. Please give them a try, so you and your friends can get your Brazilian Carnival Celebration on at home!!! Cheers y’all!
Classic Caipirinha (“kye-pur-een-yah”)
2 ounces cachaça
4-6 lime wedges
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
(***granulated (white) sugar or simple syrup is preferred)
Muddle the lime with the sugar in an old-fashioned glass. Add ice and cachaça and stir well.
This recipe makes 1 serving.
Sweet Tea Cachaça Cocktail
1 ounce of cachaça
1 cup of black iced tea
3 tablespoons of brown sugar
Juice from 1 lemon
Add all the ingredients together with some ice and shake well. This recipe makes 1 serving.
Blueberry Cachaça Mojito
2 ounces of cachaça
1 cup of blueberries
1 ounce of cherry syrup
1 cup of lemonade
Muddle the blueberries with the lemonade in an old-fashioned glass (or slow mix in a blender). Add ice, cherry syrup and cachaça, then stir well.
This recipe makes 1 serving.