Liquid Diet: Mama . . . what?


On a recent trip to the Dominican Republic, I discovered the country’s national drink is called mamajuana. Yes, it sounds just like that — “mama wanna.” Now, I know what you’re thinking, because I thought the same thing: the Spanish pronunciation sounds oddly sexual to the English-honed ear. Something about the wanna, maybe. Turns out, this is more than just some translation-skewed coincidence. Mamajuana is supposedly muy bueno for a man’s virility.

The liquid component of the drink consists of rum, red wine and honey. Tree bark and herbs make up the solid ingredients, which are left to soak in the liquid. I bought a bottle the day I arrived at my resort in Punta Cana, and its contents looked like roots immersed in beet juice. “Aphrodisiac” was the only English word on the label, written in big yellow letters that flowed across the bottle’s body.

I dropped off my bags and the bottle in my room and left for the resort bar. I ordered a mamajuana. The bartender lifted what looked like an eight-litre glass jug from behind the counter and filled a plastic cup with four fingers’ worth of the stuff. I asked him how mamajuana was meant to be drunk. He tilted his head back and threw an imaginary shot down his throat. So I did the same with my real, three-ounce-plus shot.

It didn’t hit me as hard as I’d expected, possibly because of how much the honey cut the bitterness of the liquor (though I came to learn in the following days how much they doctored the liquor at the resort, so I’d bet the wine and rum were already in a weakened state). A woody (pardon the pun) aftertaste lingered. As I ordered two more, I wondered how long before it had its full effect.

Beyond mamajuana’s perceived procreative powers, the tincture apparently contains medicinal properties as well. Word has it the liquor helps bring out the healing qualities of the some of the herbs and roots used, such as timacle, which is a root that loosens ligaments, and jengibres amargo (a bitter member of the ginger family), which supposedly repels internal parasites. People also say red wine is good for the heart, and we all know honey, in small doses, is a healthful ingredient.

A local told me there are a few ways in which to brew mamajuana, but the main idea is to soak the bark (bejuco de costillas, or “vine ribs” as they are called) and herbs (canela — cinnamon — is good for flavouring, while bejuco de Indio, or “Indian vine,” and batata, or sweet potato, are both said to stimulate the lower regions of the body) in red wine long enough for them to lose their bitterness, usually a few days. The wine is then poured out and thrown away, though some prefer to drink it at this stage despite its now caustic taste. Rum and honey are then added to the solids — usually three or four parts rum to each part honey — and at that point it’s ready to drink, though like most booze, the longer it sits, the better the quality. Some people add fresh wine to it before drinking it. When the batch runs out, some just re-add the rum and honey to the bark and herbs, while others reintroduce wine.

I’d like to try making a version of this myself with mulled wine, rum and honey, though I’d probably stay away from the bark and herbs, as there’s such a variance in ingredients and most are native to the Dominican. Sure, my version might lack in the remedial department, but I’ll still have the honey. And although some obviously believe certain herbs can stimulate a man’s libido, let’s be honest — aren’t all alcoholic beverages aphrodisiacs?