Rum: Origins & History

Rum is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugarcane by-products, such as molasses or honey, or directly from sugarcane juice, by a process of fermentation and distillation. The distillate, a clear liquid, is then usually aged in oak barrels. Rums are produced in various grades. Light rums are commonly used in cocktails, whereas “golden” and “dark” rums were typically consumed straight or neat, on the rocks, or used for cooking, but are now commonly consumed with mixers.

Premium rums are also available, made to be consumed either straight or iced. Rum plays a part in the culture of most islands of the West Indies as well as in The Maritimes and Newfoundland. This beverage has famous associations with the Royal Navy and piracy. Rum has also served as a popular medium of economic exchange, used to help fund enterprises such as slavery, organized crime, and military insurgencies. According to Maria Dembinska, the King of Cyprus, Peter I, brought rum with him as a gift for the other royal dignitaries at the Congress of Kraków, held in 1364. This is feasible given the position of Cyprus as a significant producer of sugar in the Middle Ages, although the alcoholic sugar drink named rum by Dembinska might not have resembled modern distilled rums very closely.

Moreover, Dembinska also suggests Cyprus rum was often drunk mixed with an almond milk drink, also produced in Cyprus, called soumada. Another early rum-like drink is brum. Produced by the Malay people, brum dates back thousands of years. Marco Polo also recorded a 14th-century account of a “very good wine of sugar” that was offered to him in the area that became modern-day Iran. The first distillation of rum in the Caribbean took place on the sugarcane plantations there in the 17th century. Plantation slaves discovered that molasses, a by-product of the sugar refining process, could be fermented into alcohol. Later, the distillation of these alcoholic by-products concentrated the alcohol and removed impurities, producing the first modern rums.

Furthermore, tradition suggests this type of rum first originated on the island of Barbados. However, in the decade of the 1620s, rum production was also recorded in Brazil. A liquid identified as rum has been found in a tin bottle found on the Swedish warship Vasa, which sank in 1628. Rum may also be used as a base in the manufacture of liqueurs and syrups, such as falernum. Rum is used in a number of cooked dishes as a flavoring agent in items such as rum balls or rum cakes. It is commonly used to macerate fruit used in fruitcakes and is also used in marinades for some Caribbean dishes.

It is also used in the preparation of rum, bananas Foster, and some hard sauces. Rum is sometimes mixed into ice cream, often with raisins, and in baking, it is occasionally used in Joe Forgers, a type of cookie from New England.

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