|Caribbean Kombucha: Guarapo de Pina|
There are certain food products that have become the "face" of health foods, of which are included Kale, Quinoa and Kombucha. The association between these foods, health and veganism is immediate. Like one hit wonders, pseudo-health geeks are packing their homes with these products to join the fad and/or feel just a tad bit healthier. So, now you add quinoa to your swine chops or slowly swallow your Synergy kombucha and strategically place your empty glass bottle for all to see your pro-health stance. However, these foods have origins far removed from the latest trend in the predominantly white (in genes and mind) health movement. These foods are part of the gastronomical tradition of different Black peoples around the world who have harvested and prepared these foods for thousands of years, becoming the heart of the culinary traditions in those ancestral cultures. For example, Quinoa is the sacred grain cultivated by the Andean peoples of South America. Most notably, the Inca civilization of Peru. In the same fashion, Kombucha is an ancient Chinese fermented elixir whose recipe was taught to Westerners who visited China and took it with them. It could have also reached the Western world through travels of the original peoples, as well as the adaptation of half originals inhabiting Russia and Eastern European countries.
|SCOBY fermenting Tea into Kombucha|
Kombucha is fermented black or green teas achieved through the incorporation of a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast, called a SCOBY. The population of bacteria and yeast interact with each other, in a give and take relationship, where they feed off another producing a fermentation resulting in enzymes and probiotics. The SCOBY resembles fungi or a large wet mushroom. The Chinese refer to it in mandarin as xiaomu and haomo in Cantonese, meaning "fermentation mother." We see here a biological organism being named through its feminine reality (The Black woman), another creation of God (the Black man). In essence, it is the SCOBY and its process that births Kombucha.
Fermented drinks are not unique only to the Asian Eastern World, other original peoples have traditionally practiced making fermented drinks as well. In the Spanish and English speaking Caribbean, you find a variety of these drinks, ranging from fruit peels, roots to barks. In Trinidad, you find ginger beer made by fermenting the extract of the ginger root for about a day. In Jamaica, you find fermented sorrel (Hibiscus) drink made by boiling rice, allspice, citrus peels, and cloves, the rice is what aids in the fermentation while it sits for a few days. Some folks like to include additional spirits. In Cuba, you find guarapo de caña. This drink is made by fermenting the skin of the sugar cane. Puerto Rico is known for its famous mabi. In Mexico, they make guarapo de maiz through the fermentation of toasted corn, panela (sugar) and water. Truly, one can find a version of a guarapo (fermented drink) in most South American countries. It is important to note that an association with a particular country is done by popularity only, as you can find mabi and guarapo de caña all over the Caribbean and parts of South America.
In the Dominican Republic, the fermented juices I grew up drinking were guarapo de piña and mabi also known directly through its Taino origins as bejuco indio. Bejuco referring to tree bark and indio to its indigenous Black roots. It's name let's you know it's fermented by dealing with the bark of that particular tree. In Quisqueya, the names vary depending on the town you are in. Some refer to guarapo as simply juice without the fermentation. The origin of the tree of the bark used to make mabi comes from one area of the D.R. called El Seibo. Very much like how Agave is only grown in Tequila, Mexico. In earlier times, this delicious juice was sweetened with melao (sugar cane syrup) or honey. Currently, people use various sweeteners. The taste is truly unique due to the fermentation.
|Guarapo fermentation taking place on its 2nd Day|
Fermentation is simply the metabolic process of living bacteria converting sugars into acids, gases or alcohol. Fermentation also occurs with the growth of microorganisms in bulk on a medium that promotes this growth to create a specific chemical product. In drinks like guarapos what is most likely taking place is a fermentation where the bacteria already present in the fruit skin are starting to use the sugar and convert it into cellular energy, in turn, creating organic acids. These acids become part of the byproduct alongside other compounds like the enzymes produced. That's why in drinks like guarapo the indication that a biochemical process is taking place is through the white froth that develops on top of the water. Literally, what is happening is the creation of enzymes and probiotics.
Due to the properties achieved during fermentation, guarapo de piña has many health benefits. It helps in fighting parasites, with fluid retention, constipation and inflammation. Pineapple skin is high in bromelain, which is an enzyme that aids in digestion. It extends to the other parts of the digestive process by aiding intestinal functioning, including the protection of microbial flora in the colon and alleviating hemorrhoids. It helps with the healing of injuries, cleanses the blood, fights cellulite and gets rid of excess fluid. It also has anti-carcinogenic properties, keeping your skin smooth and youthful. Truly a drink of the Gods and Earths!
The beauty of this drink lies in the process of fermentation, which differs greatly to the processing of the European wine, alcohol and beer, known as the spirits. Literally, the techniques employed in the making of these drinks, while ancient in origin (especially with the methods of making wine-where literally it use to be a fermented grape juice), are creating a product where all the aiding elements are essentially dead, making it toxic and poisonous for the body. You are literally left with the alcohol component of it, all other properties die in the process. Fermented drinks in the fashion of guarapo de piña are living, for they retain the enzymes and probiotics that form as a by product of the chemical process.
The rise in popularity of these drinks comes at a cost. Companies that are mass producing brands for profit are causing environmental hazards that are hurting the plants from where these drinks originate and the wildlife that depends on these plants to live. Of example, is the cacheo de oveido, a palm tree from which another mabi-like drink is made. This tree takes about 100 years to mature, yet they are using so much of it that the tree dies and wither. Our ancestors used the plant in moderation and most likely knew from what parts of the plant to take knowing it would regenerate.
It is in the fashion of this right and exact practice of our ancestors that I base the recipe provided below. My own practice and consumption of what I call this "Caribbean Kombucha."
|More Guarapo sweetened and served chilled|