Palm wine, popularly called toddy, is your best desi alternative to whisky, gin or rum.
Earlier this month, I was invited for lunch at my childhood friend’s house. As a huge fan of Malayali cuisine, I headed straight for the kitchen in search of some lipsmacking traditional malayali food. But before I could gorge on some appams — a pancake made with fermented rice batter and coconut milk — I handed over a bottle of toddy or palm wine to my friend as a thank you gesture.
If you are thinking why toddy instead of your usual spirits or a bottle of fine wine, allow me to acquaint you with one of the most popular alcoholic drinks in the country — the south of it at least. We Indians have been consuming palm wine or toddy right since the 18th century. A famous drink in South India, toddy plays a crucial role in most of the daily households. Since most families owned coconut farms, the “toddy tappers” would arrive in the morning, extract toddy from the coconut sap and give a bottle or two to the owners before going to the toddy shop to sell it.
By morning, the sweet toddy found its way to the kitchen to make appams, as a substitute for yeast. On the breakfast table, children would be given toddy as a source of protein. It’s only by evening that it would turn into a bitter and strong drink.
The white liquid that is collected initially tends to be sweet and non-alcoholic. Within two hours, toddy turns into an alcoholic drink with at least four per cent alcohol content. In parts of India, the unfermented sap is distributed by semi-government agencies. Spices are added to brew the drink and give it a distinct taste.
Palm wine can also be used for distilling other stronger drinks such as burukutu, charayam, local gin, arrack and whiskey.
Studies reveal that its production has become a source of household income in some countries such as Philippines, South Africa, Cambodia, Ghana, Congo, Sri Lanka and others. So it isn’t necessary that we should always sip on whisky, gin or rum for celebratory days. We also have options of these natural drinks that are to some extent, healthy. Cheers!
Ketan Swami is a food and beverage manager at Mars Hospitality