When most people think of wine, you probably have the visuals of Napa Valley or a French vineyard with rolling hills of grape vines intertwined with colors of red, purple and green hanging fruit. Here in The Gambia, when you think of wine, there is a different picture. For some, it starts at a golf course.
In The Gambia, inside of the 18-hole Fajara Club golf course lies a goldmine of what is known here as palm wine. In this mainly Muslim country, it is difficult to find this drink in stores as there is no official production company for the wine. To get it, you must find a local palm wine tapper to climb up the palm trees to get it for you. Because no production is done on the wine itself, it contains no preservatives so it is drunk fresh within the first two days. Seen as a detox tool, it is said to cleanse the body as it contains plenty of Vitamin C and various other nutrients. None of this has been formally tested here with our Gambian Palm Wine, as this is all oral history from one of the palm wine tappers himself told me in our interview – but he stands firmly behind his view.
John “Paco” Jarju, a very experienced wine tapper has been tapping palm wine since 1995 – a craft he learned from his father, who in turn learned from his father. There are many palm wine tappers that scale the trunks of these high flying trees to collect this liquid gold sap from the palm fruits in their recycled bottles. How do they do it?
Using tightly bound branches wrapped in rubbers and other materials, they create an oval shape where one side rests on the outside of the trunk and the opposite end counterbalances behind the tappers back as they scale the tree. Seems pretty easy right? After a try, I left it to the professionals – that was intense work!
After my visit, I needed to know more – why don’t you hear more about palm wine if it has so many health benefits? Why drink it? Are the benefits here not so well known simply because of the religious morals found within the country? Who else drinks it?
According to Pulse Social Network in Nigeria, palm wine is consumed all over the world from the Caribbean, Asia, South America and more. When it comes to health benefits, the list never ends. It is good for the eyes and contains calcium and vitamin C. It is said to filter your blood like Paco had told me – which according to him is why right after consumption you experience slight stomach pains. It even relieves menstrual cramps and aids in pregnancy pain. Women past the seven months of pregnancy drink it like a tea to endure the pain, but only when it is fresh. Some articles even say that it cures cancer due to the riboflavin content. Palm wine at the end of the day is like a fruit so if it begins to ferment, that is like consumption of old spoiled fruit.
The more you know! So raise your glass to this all-natural low technology wine found all over the world and sip up all the benefits with moderation.