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Arrak (Araq) – and what one should know

Arrak – general:
The name Arrak comes from Arabic (from Arabic ‘araq: “sweat”), it was used for all alcoholic beverages in the Orient. It can be assumed that the Arabic term arose from observing the distillation process, when “drop for drop quality” trickles out of the still. In other places too, the Arabic language is characterized by the direct implementation of what is observed: Borrescht, for example, the garden herb that is used as a salad and vegetable, is called in Arabic, because of its sweat-inducing effect, Abu al-Araq, father of sweat “.
Arrak is considered to be the most diverse alcoholic drink in the world. Any kind of brandy from the Middle East to the Philippines is called arrak, although they are made from very different raw materials. As a rule, all alcoholic beverages called arrak tend towards “rum”. Almost all of the Batavia arrak from Java (Indonesia) is imported to Germany. Good qualities come from the west coast of India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The “real arraks” in our sense are produced by fermentation and subsequent distillation of rice, sugar cane molasses or sugar-containing vegetable juices using various processes. Palm wine, obtained from the cobs of the coconut palm, plays a special role in the plant juices. In India, for example, rice is sprouted, gently warmed to saccharification, mixed with palm wine and fermented. In Java, yeast and mold cultures are used. Fermentation begins after sugar cane molasses and palm wine have been added, and the taste of the end product is reminiscent of rum. Long storage in oak barrels refines the arrak’s taste and deepens its color.

Arrak in the Orient:
Our oriental arrak is different from this. Oriental arrak is alcohol mixed with aniseed.
The spirit has many names in the countries that have adopted Arrak from the Orient, or that are based on it: Raki in Turkey, Ouzo in Greece, Absinthe, Pastis, Ricard and Pernod in France, Sambuca in Italy , Mastika in Macedonia and Bulgaria. What they all have in common is their fine aniseed aroma – and their loyal fans. Oriental arrack is often made from dates. If you are looking for better qualities you will end up with the arraks made from grapes. Arrak in the Orient is likely to have its roots in the special position of Christians and Jews in the region, who retained them even when Islam took possession of the region and banned the consumption of alcohol, or reduced it to the internal circle of Jews and Christians . In the Muslim environment, distillation was only used to produce “al-kohl”, eye cosmetics for women. In doing so, however, the Muslims transported the method with them to Europe, where the Arabic word quickly referred to what was originally meant: alcohol.

Arrak manufacture:
The term alcohol also conceals the basic principle of production. The copper equipment in which the distillation was carried out provided the basis for this. Once the fermented mash was boiled in a copper part (Arabic “nuhas” = copper). The attempt was made to stay at the temperature between 80 ° of evaporation of the alcohol and 100 ° of evaporation of the water in order to have as little water as possible in the distillate. In a second copper part (Arabic “qattara” = dropper) the steam was cooled and was able to collect and was then collected, often in a glass vessel. Today the distillation is carried out in corresponding, partly ultra-modern plants of the manufacturing companies.
The fact that Arrak tastes one way or another has to do with many different factors. Each grape variety of each vintage and each region that is used here forms, depending on the art of the winemaker, a different marc from all other grapes for the fermentation process. Ultimately, this is nothing more than the fact that environmental conditions, climate, cultivation methods, solar radiation, the nature of the soil, etc. make the character of every wine and that every year new and different in the hands of every winemaker. These different starting points create the first factor. The next is the fermentation process itself and how “successfully” it can be implemented. Then comes the burning. The next factor after the burn is the frequency of the fire – Arrak can be burned up to four times, which increases the purity of the alcohol to the extreme. The other factors come from the anise. Where this has grown, under what conditions, how intense its aroma is, how the aniseed oil was obtained, how pure the oil is, etc. are all factors that also influence the taste, as well as the question of whether the aniseed oil is for distillation or afterwards was added.

Arrak and Anise:
Anise (Arabic “Jansoun”) is a very inconspicuous, delicate plant that can easily be identified by its smell. It is a maximum of half a meter high. The plant is characterized by a hard, hairy stem, parsley-like, larger leaves, white-flowered umbels and small, greenish, egg- or pear-shaped fruits that look similar to fennel, but are slightly smaller. The taste and smell is pleasantly spicy, aromatic-fresh, reminiscent of liquorice and fennel. Star anise tastes and smells like real anise, but has nothing to do with it botanically.
Like cumin and fennel, also umbelliferae, anise occurs throughout the Mediterranean. In the valleys of the Turkish Taurus Mountains, anise fields extend over many kilometers. Originally the anise probably comes from the Middle East. The Chinese used it as a tea and spice as early as 3,500 years ago. This makes anise one of the oldest spices in the world and looks back on a long history. The Romans refined wine, olives and bread with the spice and in the Middle Ages it was believed that anise would increase potency. Even today it is said to have an aphrodisiac effect. Hippocrates said that anise should not be missing in any garden. The typical aniseed taste: sweetish-hot and reminiscent of liquorice.

Anise in medicine:
Thousands of years ago, anise was cultivated in the Mediterranean area and used by the pharaohs as a remedy for toothache. Even then, anise was said to have a diuretic effect, among other things.
The plant contains a high proportion of essential oils, aniseic acid, boron, camphor and vitamin C, among other things.
Anise has an antibacterial effect and it also helps with: diseases of the lungs, asthma, whooping cough, stomach and intestinal upset, flatulence
Toothache, bad breath.
Pythagoras of Samos (around 550 BC) described bread seasoned with anise as a delicious delicacy. Anise is also frequently mentioned in the Hippocratic scriptures. Next, Theophrastus of Eresus (371-287 BC), successor to Aristotle, mentions the plant and, like Diocurides later, simply calls it “anison”. Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella, who died in AD 70, describes it in his works “Anisum aegyptictiacum”. Pliny secundarus the Elder, uses the term “Anisum” for the plant. The famous Roman poet Virgil (70 BC to 90 BC) is said to have raved about anise biscuits. She was probably not the only one who loved Virgil, as the ancient Romans have said that they used anise primarily for biscuits and cakes. But anise was not only prized in the Roman Empire and ancient Greece.
It is also said to have been part of the famous and legendary “Theriaks”. Rumor has it that the “Theriac” was an antidote to all poisons, which the Syrian King “Antiochus the Great” often used.
Anise was also known in India before the turn of the times, where it is described by Susruta under the name Atichatra as early as the 5th century BC. The Indians used it as a “galactagogue”, which means “milk-raising agent”. Anise was also known in Chinese medicine as a milking agent

Anise seems to be a miracle cure: it not only has a cough suppressant, anti-inflammatory and digestive effect, but can also be used against obesity, nausea, menopausal symptoms and sleep disorders. Also used in homeopathy, for example against loss of appetite and diarrhea, and as a sedative. Because of its antiseptic properties, anise is even used in toothpaste. Anisoel can also be used on inflamed skin and insect bites.
In folk medicine, anise has a leading position in the “warming herbs” category. Anise is considered a carminative, i.e. simply a gas that causes gas. The consumption of anise is also recommended for stomach problems. Consumption of aniseed after heavy meals is also recommended as it promotes digestion. It loosens the mucus from the body and makes coughing easier. Blood congestion in the lungs and uterus is also treated with anise. Anise soothes diarrhea and has a thirst-quenching effect. Anise helps against bad breath and gives a fresh complexion. The herb ensures good sleep and, it is said, stimulates cohabitation at the same time.
In the pharmacies of the 18th century, the panacea anise could be found in various forms as a medicine. There was distilled anise water made from the herb and seeds. It has been used for all of the above ailments. “Anise-spirit” and “anise-aquavit” were also considered to be panacea. Anise oil was sold under the name “Species de aniso”. Even aniseed salt was on offer.

Anise in the kitchen:
Anise is one of the oldest culinary herbs and was used in the kitchens of ancient Egypt, Greece, Crete, Cyprus and Syria. In ancient Greece, anise was added to bread. In Rome, an aniseed cake called “mustacea” was served at the end of a feast. This should not only taste good, but also help digestion after gluttony. For the same reason, after rich meals in India, a plate of aniseed seeds is still placed on the table to nibble on.
In today’s kitchen, the area of application of aniseed seems to be limited to Christmas cookies, fruit compotes, cakes, biscuits, baked goods and bread. The spice can be used in many ways! Above all, it is a shame to forego two of its salient properties in the kitchen: anise aids digestion and is an excellent preservative because it prevents mold from forming.
Like its close relatives, caraway and coriander, anise can be added to all flatulent dishes. A pinch of aniseed on cabbage soups, cabbage rolls, lentil dishes, jellied meat and boiled meat will certainly add an interesting note and the consequences of the enjoyment for the digestive tract are immediately alleviated.
The aniseed fruits and the oil can be used very well to flavor jams, candies, jellies, pears and quinces. For one thing, it’s tasty, and for another, adding anise to all of the sweets will reduce mold growth. Cheese and canned cucumbers also last longer with aniseed.

Arrak from Middle Eastern countries:
Arrak is made in every country in the Middle East. Of course, opinions about which Arrak is better, or even “the best”, differ widely and you can spend whole evenings discussing who is right and who is not. Well-known arrack brands are:
From Lebanon:
Ksara, Kefraya, Massaya, Touma and Fakra;
From Syria:
Arrak Rayan and Al Mimas,
From Jordan:
Haddad and Zoumot;
From Palestine:
Golden Eagle and Sabbath;
Unfortunately, the arrak varieties produced in Israel cannot keep up.
According to the oriental tradition, arrak is the medicine par excellence – to be used internally as well as externally!
Of course, the Arrak is already available from 40 percent alcohol by volume, but the real Arrak starts at 50 revolutions; so it must be on fire. “House brand”, that is, arrack made within the family, often according to classic family recipes, can also have 70% volume. Water and ice are added to it, which flocculates the aniseed in the alcohol and creates a milky white liquid, of which the arrack is also inherited his nickname “milk of wisdom”. In other regions (which themselves have little to do with Arrak), such as Iraq, there is also the honorary name “Halib as Assad” – “lion’s milk”.
It is a kind of standard drink: just like in Germany, depending on the region, you drink wine or beer, in France or Italy first of all wine, so in the countries of the Middle East, especially among the Christians there, of course, you drink it first Arrack.
The inexperienced European guest should be careful and rather follow the tradition of his hosts and at the same time drink mineral water with the Arrak and not, following one’s own habit, wine or beer: The Arrak can have consequences if its effectiveness is underestimated.
Enjoying Arrak is therefore a holistic event and by all means cult and in any case more than just drinking. That is why there is also a separate term for toasting with arrack. While you usually toast with the neighbor with “sachten”, “käsak” or similar “Prost” words, the term “möhabba” is reserved for good wishes in the context of drinking a drink, a word that does not come straight from the Arabic translate. It relates to the human senses, which is why one holds the glass of Arrak upright when toasting it to be able to “see” it, then usually puts it on the table or bumps the glasses to “hear” it can. Then it is held under the nose so that you can “smell” it, before it is drunk in small sips in order to be able to “taste” it. Then there is only one thing left: “Be happy.” When toasting glasses, it is also considered particularly polite to try to bring your own glass under the edge of the other glass in order to show honor to your guest or the other person.
In the countries of the Middle East, a dish often served too arrak is “tabulee”, a parsley salad made with millet semolina, lemon juice, salt, pepper and water. This not only has to do with the good, tasty composition of the salad with the arrack, but also with the fact that the parsley reduces the effects of the alcohol in the arrack. So if you are invited for afternoon coffee with Christians in the Middle East, always expect parsley salad and arrack to be served before coffee and cake.

Arrak Touma

Anise specialty from Touma, Lebanon
Capacity: 0.5 liters
Alcohol: 50%

Price: 17.50 euros

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