The Dominican Republic has many social, economic and cultural characteristics that distinguish it: its beaches, the charisma of its people, mountains, history, artists, baseball players, music, social and political stability. Its culture is the result of African, indigenous and European heritage. In this combination of history and destiny appears the mamajuana, an emblematic product made with a mixture of plant bark, alcohol and honey. A sip of this drink tastes Dominican and tourists have come to appreciate it over the years.
The aromatic and sweet drink is the result of the maceration or fermentation of small pieces of palo de Brasil, marabelí, canelilla leaves, cloves, Indian creeper, star anise, rum, honey and popular red wine. There are those who consider that it has other secret ingredients that add some extra power.
Mamajuana has gone from being an herbal mixture to being a reference for Dominicans. It has its origins in the Tainos, who used the concoction of plant barks to heal illnesses. With the arrival of Christopher Columbus and the African slaves, processes were added and then alcohol until it became known as it is today: a product of ethyl tasting that invades the palate of the most cautious drinkers.
According to historian Rafael Ramírez, years ago the drink was consumed by a more popular sector of society with less purchasing power, while nowadays the mixture has gained reputation, becoming an identifying feature of Dominicans.
Attractive for tourism
Mamajuana adds value to the Dominican rum industry. It is also an attraction for night and alcohol tourism. Jose Alberto or “El amiguito”, as the Mercado Modelo vendor is known, explained that Dominicans not residing in the country are the main buyers of the drink. It is also in high demand by tourists, especially Puerto Ricans.
Handicraft vendor Fausto Jiménez pointed out that this mixture refines ordinary beverages and makes them of higher quality. He emphasized that many people look for the product as a souvenir, especially foreigners.
He pointed out that not all of them have the same quality, since they do not have the diversity of plant chips required for a “good mamajuana”. Jiménez said that many of the bottles only have “palo de Brasil”, which means that the flavor and the characteristic smell of the drink is not the same.
Prices range from RD$350 for a small bottle with a design inspired by leather craftsmanship and hand-painting to RD$3,500 for a bottle of approximately 3.4 liters. The product is also available in plastic travel packs. Depending on the weight, they can go from RD$250 and up.
Alcadio Cabrera, wholesale distributor, stated that the bags of bark to make the liquor cost from RD$1,300 to RD$1,500. As a merchant, he has been in the market for more than 50 years. He explained that in addition to the traditional mamajuana of plants, there is the seafood mamajuana. To this one, octopus, squid and raw clams are added to the typical herbal combination, which, according to the vendor, is preserved because of the alcohol content and can cost RD$1,500.
Properties of mamajuana
The vendor pointed out that one of the main properties attributed to the drink is that of being a sexual stimulant. According to Cabrera, the plants that compose it help the function of the kidneys, eliminating stones and functioning as a diuretic. “Mamajuana is good for everything,” he said.
Among the specifications written on the drink’s labels, the curative qualities for flu are highlighted, in addition to aiding digestion and improving liver function. Although it is true that the veracity of the medical attributes given to the cocktail has not been proved, consumers express feeling better after drinking it, although this is only related to the ethyl part.
Mamajuana is an industry that moves millions of pesos every year. The product is not only homemade, but several companies under the free trade zone regime manufacture the product and export it to countries such as the United States, Germany, China, United Kingdom and Canada. It is also available in the Amazon portal.
According to data from the National Council of Free Export Zones (CNZFE), the value of exports between 2018 and 2021 is around US$163,511.46. Despite the negative impact of covid-19 on the economy, 2020 was the year with the highest exports, with a value of US$72,062.71, followed by 2019 with US$58,244.29. Outside of the CNZFE data, the country does not have specific statistics on the volume of sales or how much the industry generates locally.
The company Spicy Exports, in addition to producing and exporting the traditional mix of sticks, has the Mamajuana Spicy and Spicy Tequila, two versions of the product in its liquid form and ready to drink, without the need to mix with any other product.
The president of Spicy Exports, Francis Richiez, revealed that the company was born from the idea of offering tourists a unique product from the Dominican Republic. “We have bet on mamajuana from the beginning and we have made the product more sophisticated,” he said.
He emphasized that the idea began in 2003, but it was in 2005 when the company was formed and the finished product was achieved, with Italian-made bottles and cork, giving a colorful aspect to the rudimentary spirit. “Mamajuana is unique. It captures the attention and has a mystique of our country that no other country has,” he said.
He pointed out that the liquid version was born due to the demands of some countries with phytosanitary controls and, above all, to provide a standard product, which maintains its flavor. “The traditional mamajuana de palo is very good, but over time it loses intensity in its flavor because it is refillable. In addition, the flavor varies depending on the amount and type of alcohol, wine and honey added. That is why we created Spicy, it is always the same flavor and quality and that is what people like,” he added.
The vice-president of Spicy Exports, Héctor Bruguera, said that the liquid product was well accepted internationally, being the one with the highest sales within the company’s portfolio of products. The main export markets are the United States and Aruba. He confessed that mamajuana is the product with the highest sustained growth trend over time.
Like Spicy Exports, other rum companies have a liquid version of mamajuana. In addition, the distinctive flavor of the drink has been an inspiration to create other products such as beers, ice creams and even hair care lines.
The craft brewery Búnker elaborated Madre Vieja, a sparkling drink with mamajuana flavor.
According to what was posted on its website, it won the award for best beer at Oktoberfest 2018.
The peculiar flavor of the Dominican drink crossed the Mediterranean reaching the Italian ice cream factory, Prodotti Stella, which created Flor del Caribe. An adult-only ice cream flavored with mamajuana and honey.
Also, some local hair cosmetics companies have a whole range of products inspired by the liquor. Some of them can be found on Amazon.
Several companies sell the product on Amazon. One of them is the company Ramón Mamajuana, who told elDinero that they started selling the product in 2001 because it is a reflection of Dominican culture and because of its popularity among tourists.
They emphasized that the product is produced in the Dominican Republic and is taken to the United States, where they have a distribution record. They have two presentations, the traditional one and the one with cinnamon.
According to the description posted on the website, the ingredients are inspected by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Prices range from US$29.95 for a 25-ounce glass bottle to US$70.95 for a one-gallon presentation.