Caipirinha, a playful-festive medicine | Gastronomy

Yon Pavón's caipirinha.
Yon Pavón’s caipirinha. (Jon Urbe | Foku)

And because? Well, because the national cocktail of Brazil began as a medicinal remedy against various ailments, but its flavor made it evolve towards more playful and festive uses. And even becoming, at present, one of the most requested cocktails in the world, behind the mojito. Based on cachaça, a particular Brazilian sugar cane liquor, its high alcohol content gives us the body of samba from the initial drink.

Already from its first documentary reference, the caipirinha appears linked to medicine. In the mid-nineteenth century, in the midst of the cholera epidemic in the Paraty area, in the State of Rio de Janeiro, the local authorities recommended taking a mixture of “medium liquor with water, sugar and limes”, as it appears in the Registry Mayor’s Officer.

Caipira was a term to refer to peasants, and Curupira, a mythological character

Of course, the medicinal cocktail was not yet called caipirinha, a name that did not appear until the beginning of the 20th century and that would come from the combination of the words “caipira” and “curupirinha”. Caipira was a term used to refer to countrymen, to peasants. And Curupirinha is the diminutive of Curupira, a mythological character from the forest similar to our Basajaun, although tiny and red-haired, more of the Galtzagorri type.

Of course, in Brazil they also use the word cupirinha to refer to that moment of, let’s say, confusion, in which after several drinks we begin to see blurry, something that is not to be desired with caipirinha.

From cholera to Spanish flu

Well, if the first medicinal use of the mixture was focused on cholera, the most solid, and, at the same time, the most accepted as the origin of the combination, takes us to the end of World War I and the spread of the Spanish flu. On that occasion, the recipe consisted of mixing cachaça, lemon, honey and garlic.

The function of the lemon was to provide vitamin C and that of the cachaça, which was already used by the slaves as medicine, to facilitate and accelerate the absorption of the vitamin in the body. The honey would sweeten the remedy. And the garlic? About its function there seems to be no references.

Cholera, scurvy, Spanish flu… the mixture of cachaça, sugar and lemon as medicine has been very recurrent

It is precisely because of the importance of vitamin C to prevent scurvy that Portuguese traffickers and sailors already drank a combination of cachaça, sugar and lemon on their journeys between Europe and America; that is, the current caipirinha in the strict sense.

At some point in its journey, the medicinal combination moved towards more recreational and festive uses. At first, the mixture was circumscribed to the environment of the slaves, who were the ones who consumed it as they had easy access to cachaça.

poor and rich

The Brazilian upper classes preferred other spirits such as whisky, cognac or wine and disdained cachaça as a slave drink. The point is that when the favorite liquors of the rich began to be scarce, they discovered that what their slaves drank at parties and rituals was not so bad either, with which cachaça and its cocktail rose to the sphere of the Brazilian elite.

Thus, caipirinha spread throughout Brazil and a hundred years ago, in February 1922, it gained international recognition when Brazilian modernists chose caipirinha as the official drink of the Modern Art Week in Sao Paulo. The presence of French intellectuals and artists at the event made the team travel to Paris and, from there, spread throughout the world. In 2003 the national government declared the caipirinha “typical drink of Brazil”.

the cachaça

But what is cachaça, the alcoholic base of caipirinha? Cachaça is a brandy made from sugar cane that is unique to Brazil. Its origin dates back to the 16th century, when the sugar cane industry began in the northeast, which soon became the main export product of the then Portuguese colony.

The remains of the production in the sugar mills were given to the slaves, who began to distill it and mix it with different fruits, giving it a medicinal use, in some cases; vitalizing for the long and very hard work days, in others; and, also, of course, for their parties and rituals.

Batidas were born from these mixtures with different fruit juices, among which the batida de limao, precursor of the caipirinha, prevailed.

Both cachaça and rum come from sugar cane, but they are not the same

The difference between cachaça and rum – both liquors made from sugar cane – is that while rum is made from sugar cane molasses, cachaça is made from fresh juice that is fermented and distills.

Cachaça, which is drier and less sweet than rum and can be between 38 and 54 proof, was first made exclusively for slaves, natives or sailors, until wealthy Brazilians discovered it and brought it to their parties and receptions.

Regarding the lemon that is mentioned in the combined recipes, Yon Pavón, from the Patricio Bar, in Lasarte, tells us that this Brazilian citrus fruit is smaller and greener than the one we know in these latitudes, which is why lime is used here to make the cocktail.


And so, following their instructions, we will take a lime and cut four dice-shaped pieces, which we will pour into an old fashioned type glass; that is, low and wide.

It is important to remove the white center from the inside of the lime or lemon because it gives a bitter taste. Put two tablespoons of sugar on top of the lime pieces and mash with a masher or, failing that, with the back of a spoon.

In this process it is necessary to have a good hand so that the mashed lime and sugar is left with the proper consistency; and it is that you have to crush with moderation so that the juice comes out but without crushing the rind too much to avoid its bitterness.

When it is ready, 6 cl of cachaça is poured, mixed and covered with crushed ice.

“It is a cocktail that is prepared in the same glass, without a shaker”, remembers Yon Pavón. “It is decorated with a slice of lime and it is taken with a straw, to drink from below.”

Caipiroska… and kontuz!

There is a very widespread variant of the caipirinha that is the caipiroska, in which cachaça is replaced by vodka. It is very popular because cachaça is a liquor that is not easy to find in some parts of the world.

Although cachaça is also difficult to find in these lands, what is not difficult at all is to have a cupirinha with a caipirinha, because its refreshing and pleasant flavor makes us forget that this cocktail is an alcoholic shot that can make with the samba makes a knot in our legs.

Honi Buruzko Guztia: Cocktail Recipes

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