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Arak (Raki) - Spirit of the East
After the discovery of distillation around 800 BC in India, arak or raki was the very first spirit ever made. Arak is, in fact, a generic name for a group of fiery, clear distillates, the base material of which, and even the method of production, vary greatly according to the region it is made in. The drink was brought to the Middle East and the Mediterranean by early Arab spice traders, hence its common name, arak, derived from araq, the Arabic word for juice.
Arak (Raki) Production
In some regions, such as Java, Borneo and Sumatra, the base of the drink is often the fermented juice of sugarcane, whereas in other areas it is possibly rice. In India, the base source of arak or raki is commonly the sap of palm trees, because it ferments quite readily in sultry temperatures. In the Middle East and in North Africa, dates and figs are often used in the making of arak. In Cyprus and Greece grapes, raisins and plums are often used as flavourings. In the Balkan, arak is made from figs and plums and never grapes.
Types of Raki
The most famous form of arak found in the West today is the Greek or Turkish raki. The taste and quality of raki varies greatly - some are fine, coloured and based on old cask-aged brandies, while others may be rather raw, colourless and with up to 50% alcohol by volume.
How to Serve Arak or Raki
Arak is usually served in sparing measures. Due to its rough potency, it's usually not chilled and best sipped appreciatively rather than downed at once.
A more basic grade of raki is often drunk with ice as an appetizer in Greece and Turkey.
In the Mediterranean, raki is almost always taken as an aperitif. With mellower examples of raki you can wait until after the end of the meal alongside the coffee.