My parents recently came back from a vacation in the Dominican Republic with a gift for me: two small bottles of Mamajuana. For the uninitiated, Mamajuana is a rum-based beverage that’s extremely popular in the Dominican. What exactly is in this mysterious beverage, and what does it taste like?
Mamajuana takes its name from the squat bottle that holds the drink while it macerates. It’s a relatively new concoction, first appearing on the scene in the 1950s. The drink was a smash hit among the musicians on the Dominican merengue scene, inspiring the song “Mama Juana” by Tatico Henriquez. Some people say that the native Taino people were among the first to experiment with mixing rum and Mamajuana herbs.
The exact ingredients that go into Mamajuana can vary, depending on who is making the beverage. Mamajuana generally consists of dark rum that has been allowed to macerate for 3-4 days with a variety of herbs and barks. The rum mixture is then strained off, and mixed with red wine or honey before being served as a shot.
Wikipedia notes that the most common Mamajuana ingredients include the following:
Anamú (Petiveria alliacea)
Anis Estrellado (Illicium verum)
Bohuco Pega Palo (Cissus verticillata)
Albahaca (Ocimum basilicum)
Canelilla (Cinnamodendron ekmanii)
Bojuco Caro (Princess Vine)
Marabeli (Securidaca virgata)
Clavo Dulce (Whole Clove)
Maguey (Agave spp.) leaves
Timacle (Chiococca alba)
In plain English, the common ingredients include agave leaves, star anise, pokeweed, woody grape vines, clove, and milkberry (related to the coffee plant). Some people also add turtle shell or turtle organs for purported aphrodisiac effects.
People in the Dominican Republic swear by the health benefits of Mamajuana, but these claims are unlikely to be wholly accurate. In addition to its reputation as “liquid Viagra,” a reputation it has yet to live up to according to my male friends who have tried it, Mamajuana is also said to help treat everything from the flu to an upset stomach to kidney and liver issues.
Okay, But What Does It Taste Like?
I’ve sampled two kinds of Mamajuana. The first, Tremols, is a commercially prepared brand that has already had all of the bark and whatnot strained out. The second, Karribu, comes as part of a DIY kit. The kit comes with a bottle of Mamajuana herbs, a container of honey, and a bottle of Don Rhon rum. You pour the rum into the bottle with the herbs, let it sit for at least three days, then mix the liquid with the honey and serve.
The Tremols had a gentler taste than the “homemade” stuff, with notes that were not unlike herbal tea or the sugarcane alcohol cachaca. It’s perfume-y in the pleasant way that violet pastilles or floral gin can taste.
The Karribu kit’s Mamajuana had a much more aggressive flavor, similar to the afterburn of absinthe or malort (a wormwood schnapps popular in Chicago). The Karribu was far more medicinal-tasting. In fact, it was not unlike how I’ve imagined a bottle of Chanel No. 5 would taste.
I drank both of these neat, as well as mixed with honey, which greatly improved their flavor. I also tried the Karribu with honey and red wine, and found it really tamed the woody flavor. I used 1 oz of Mamajuana, 3 oz of wine (a Trader Joe’s Zinfandel I had kicking around the house), and a tablespoon of honey. The overall taste of this cocktail was wine-forward, with a pleasantly oaky aftertaste.
Where To Buy Mamajuana
Unless you’re planning a trip to the Dominican Republic sometime soon, it might be tough to find a bottle of Mamajuana to try. Depending on your local liquor laws, however, you can order a bottle online. International Wine Shop sells Hispanola brand Mamajuana for around $20 a bottle, while Budget Bottle sells Kalembu brand for around $12 a pop.
Featured photo credit: Peaceloveandchocolate