December 13, 2010

From the Tree of Life: Amarula Liqueur

By Sarah Doyle

Mottled against the azure South African sky, the fruit of the marula tree hangs like perfect orbs of sunlight, its piquant, sweet flesh hidden beneath a thick layer of golden skin. To the people and wildlife of Africa, it is a true botanical treasure, with archaeological evidence revealing its consumption since 10,000 B.C. Every part of the tree—bark, pulp, leaf, seed, skin—has been assigned a nutritional, medicinal, or spiritual purpose, making it one of the most versatile flora on the entire continent.

The myths that envelope the marula tree are as plentiful as the elephants, rhinoceros, giraffes, and kudu who feast on its succulent fruit. Highly prolific, (the tree has been known to produce up to two tons of fruit per year,) the dioecious marula tree has been seen as a sex symbol of sorts, believed by some to possess aphrodisiac-like qualities and bestow fertility upon all who eat its fruit. Known as “the marriage tree,” by numerous tribes, the marula’s fertile boughs have been a traditional wedding site for 1000s of years, a custom that is still practiced to this day.

The plum-sized marula fruit (Scelerocarya birrea) belongs to the mango family and possesses a flavor far from its tropical, blush-skinned cousin: mildly sweet, lip-puckeringly sour, and slightly vegetal; it’s not your average fruit salad compadre. Peel away its substantial skin and a glistening, translucent flesh is revealed, while a copious dose of juice forms a healthy puddle in your lap. Marula pulp contains four times more vitamin C than the average orange, while its obese edible kernel boasts 31 grams of protein (per 100g of fruit) and an antioxidant-rich oil that is frequently used in cooking and cosmetics.

Marula fruit is usually consumed either fresh or in the form of juice, jam, or beer, a highly potent brew made from overripe fruit. Locals swear by this heady concoction, which has been at the epicenter of numerous ceremonies, rituals, and festivals for centuries. Forming an ethanol level of nearly 3 percent after falling upon the ground, an overripe marula is virtually a beer starter-kit.

Indigenous to Africa, the marula fruit cannot be cultivated, therefore its consumption by U.S. consumers had been virtually impossible for years. Now, however, the taste of marula can be exxperienced in Amarula Cream, a luscious liqueur made from distilled, oak-aged marula spirit and fresh cream. Unlike many cream liqueurs, which can be as heavy as a wooly winter muffler on the palate, Amarula coats the tongue in a light sheath of flavors—caramel, buttered rum, milk chocolate, and butterscotch—which subtly reveal themselves like the intricate layers of a petit four. It’s a kind addition to ice cream, dessert sauces, milkshakes, and eggnog, and surprisingly light sipped neat, over ice.

Amarula can be purchased from specialty beverage stores, such as BevMo.
Suggested retail price: $

1 comment :

ClaireWalter said...

A friend who traveled to South Africa several years ago fell in love w/ Amarula Cream. I'd never heard of it before he brought us a bottle. It is just as good and smooth as you described, but until I read your post, I didn't know anything about the beverage's backstory. So thanks.

Claire @