In this blog I have written on many local ingredients to sustain your body and I think is time to write about a very common local ingredient to sustain our spirit: Rum the ubiquitous liquor throughout Latin America. I love to cook with Rum, I find its flavor combines very well with fruits, nuts, butter, pork or chicken. The variety of cocktails with rum is huge and for the tropical heat there is nothing better than a cold rum cocktail.

Rum is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugarcane by-products such as molasses and sugarcane juice by a process of fermentation and distillation. The distillate, a clear liquid, is then usually aged in oak and other barrels. The majority of the world's rum production occurs in and around the Caribbean and in several Central American and South American countries, such as Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Colombia, Venezuela, Jamaica, Guyana, Puerto Rico, Brazil, and Cuba.

There are many explanations for the origin of the word Rum but the most probable origin is as a truncated version of rumbullion or rumbustion. Both words surfaced in English about the same time as rum did, and were slang terms for "tumult" or "uproar", which usually occurred in places where rum was served. The precursors to rum date back to antiquity. Development of fermented drinks produced from sugarcane juice is believed to have first occurred either in ancient India or China and spread from there. An example of such an early 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 what is modern-day Iran. The first distillation of rum took place on the sugarcane plantations of the Caribbean in the 17th century. Plantation slaves first discovered that molasses, a by-product of the sugar refining process, can be fermented into alcohol. Later, distillation of these alcoholic by-products concentrated the alcohol and removed impurities, producing the first true rums. Tradition suggests that rum first originated on the island of Barbados.

Rum played a vital role in the economic development of the European colonies in the American continent since it was one of the first locally manufactured products. When the European governments tried to tax the trade of rum and its ingredients, it led to protests and eventual rebellion for independence, such was the case of the Sugar Act passed by the British government to tax its American colonies. Rum was a very popular drink in 18th century America, at its inauguration George Washington insisted on having a barrel of fine Barbados rum.

There are 3 main styles in the production of Rum, which can be grouped by the language that is traditionally spoken where it is produced:

- Spanish-speaking islands and countries traditionally produce light rums with a fairly clean taste. Rums from Guatemala, Cuba, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Puerto Rico, Colombia and Venezuela are typical of this style. Rum from the U.S. Virgin Islands is also of this style. Due to the overwhelming influence of Puerto Rican rum, most rum consumed in the United States is produced in the Spanish-speaking style.

- English-speaking islands and countries are known for darker rums with a fuller taste that retains a greater amount of the underlying molasses flavor. Rums from Barbados, Belize, Bermuda, Saint Kitts, Trinidad & Tobago, the Demerara region of Guyana, and Jamaica are typical of this style.

- French-speaking islands are best known for their agricultural rums (rhum agricole). These rums, being produced exclusively from sugar cane juice, retain a greater amount of the original flavor of the sugar cane and are generally more expensive than molasses-based rums. Rums from Haiti, Guadeloupe and Martinique are typical of this style.

The terms used to describe rum depend on the location where it was produced. Despite variations the following terms are frequently used to describe types of rum:

- Light Rums, also referred to as silver rums and white rums. In general, light rum has very little flavor aside from a general sweetness, and serves accordingly as a base for cocktails.

- Gold Rums, also called amber rums, are medium-bodied rums which are generally aged. These gain their dark color from aging in wooden barrels (usually the charred white oak barrels that are the byproduct of Bourbon Whiskey). They have more flavor, and are stronger tasting than Silver Rum, and can be considered a midway-point between Silver/Light Rum and the darker varieties.

- Spiced Rum: These rums obtain their flavor through addition of spices and, sometimes, caramel. Most are darker in color, and based on gold rums. Some are significantly darker, while many cheaper brands are made from inexpensive white rums and darkened with artificial caramel color.

- Dark Rum, also known as black rum, classes as a grade darker than gold rum. It is generally aged longer, in heavily charred barrels. Dark rum has a much stronger flavor than either light or gold rum, and hints of spices can be detected, along with a strong molasses or caramel overtone. It is used to provide substance in rum drinks, as well as color. In addition to uses in mixed drinks, dark rum is the type of rum most commonly used in cooking. Two Central American countries, Nicaragua and Guatemala, produced two of the most award-winning dark rums in the world: Flor de Caña and Ron Zacapa Centenario, respectively.

- Flavored Rum: Some manufacturers have begun to sell rums which they have infused with flavors of fruits such as mango, orange, citrus, coconut or lime. These serve to flavor similarly themed tropical drinks which generally comprise less than 40% alcohol, and are also often drank neat or on the rocks.

- Over proof Rum is much higher than the standard 40% alcohol. Most of these rums bear greater than 75%, in fact, and preparations of 151 to 160 proof occur commonly.

- Premium Rum: As with other sipping spirits, such as Cognac and Scotch, a market exists for premium and super-premium rums. These are generally boutique brands which sell very aged and carefully produced rums. They have more character and flavor than their "mixing" counterparts, and are generally consumed without the addition of other ingredients.


PRODUCTS: Bottled Rum, canned cocktails, Liqueurs

NUTRIENTS: Rum like any liquor has almost no nutrients for the body, however mixed with fresh fruit juices it can help you get some vitamins and consumed in moderation it will relax you and that will be good for your heart. The American Medical Association in a long term study on the effects of alcoholic beverage consumption, concluded that people who drink in moderation have better health than those who drink in excess or those who do not drink at all, moderation being no more than 2 drinks a day. So set yourself up for a couple of Rum cocktails, put some pleasant music, have a nice chat with your espouse or a friend, have a healthy protein snack like a fish ceviche or morsels of grilled chicken, these will lower the glycemic index of the moment. In your cocktails try to use the natural sweetness of ripe fruits to minimize the use of sugar.

STORING: Once bottled Rum will last pretty much for ever, however it will not improve with time and if the bottle is capped with a cork, this may deteriorate and spoil the Rum; bottles with screw cap are better to keep. Bottled rum should be stored in a cool dry place, there it can last years without loosing its bouquet.

DAIQUIRI: This is the foremost Rum cocktail, the name Daiquirí is also the name of a beach near Santiago, Cuba, and an iron mine in that area, it is a word of Caribbean indian origin. The cocktail was supposedly invented about 1900 in a bar named Venus in Santiago, about 23 miles east of the mine, by a group of American mining engineers. Among the engineers present was Jennings Cox, General Manager of the Spanish American Iron Co. Although stories persist that Cox invented the drink when he ran out of gin while entertaining American guests, the drink evolved naturally due to the prevalence of lime and sugar.

Consumption of the drink remained localized until 1909, when Admiral Lucius W. Johnson, a U.S. Navy medical officer, tried Cox's drink. Johnson subsequently introduced it to the Army and Navy Club in Washington, D.C., and drinkers of the daiquirí increased over the space of a few decades. The daiquirí was one of the favorite drinks of writer Ernest Hemingway and president John F. Kennedy.

The drink became popular in the 1940s, wartime rationing made whiskey, vodka, etc., hard to come by, yet because of Roosevelt's Good Neighbor policy (which opened up relations with Latin America), rum was easily obtainable. The Good Neighbor Policy helped make Latin America seem fashionable. As a consequence, rum-based drinks became fashionable, and the Daiquirí saw a tremendous rise in popularity in the US. The recipe for the classic Daiquiri is 1 shot (2 Oz) of white rum, 1 Oz of lime juice, 1/2 teaspoon of sugar put everything in a cocktail shaker with lots of cracked ice, shake well and pour over a chilled flute or martini glass decorated with a slice of lemon. One can use dark rum for a little color and put a maraschino cherry in the glass.

RUM BALLS: Process enough Graham Crackers (galletas Maria) for 3 cups of crumbs, in large bowl add 1 cup of powdered sugar, 1 cup of chopped Walnuts, 2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon of instant coffee, mix dry ingredients well; in a pan over low heat melt 1 stick of butter, remove from heat, add 1/4 cup of dark rum, 2 tablespoons of sweetened condensed milk, mix well and add liquid mixture to dry mix, knead to form bite size balls which can be rolled in various covers, powdered sugar, powdered cocoa, dry coconut, finely chopped nuts, Etc. If mixture is too dry to form balls add a little more condensed milk.

BANANAS FOSTER: This famous dessert was invented at Brennan's restaurant in New Orleans. In the 1950's, New Orleans was the major port of entry for bananas shipped from Central and South America. Owner Edward Brennan challenged his talented chef, Paul Blangé, to include bananas in a new culinary creation as a way of promoting the imported fruit. In 1951, Chef Paul created Bananas Foster. The scrumptious dessert was named for Richard Foster, a frequent patron, who was chairman of the New Orleans Crime Commission. Take 3 semi ripe bananas, peel, cut lengthwise and then in half, steep in 1/4 cup of dark rum for at least 30 minutes before cooking; in a pan over low heat melt 1/2 stick of butter, increase heat to medium and stir in 1/2 cup of dark brown sugar (panela, raspadura), stir in 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract and 1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, drain rum from bananas into pan and stir until mixture is bubbly, then add bananas and 1/4 cup of coarsely chopped walnuts. Cook turning over bananas until they are hot, about 3 minutes. Serve over balls of vanilla ice cream.

SHRIMP IN ONION RUM CREAM: Take 1 Kg. (2 Lb) of peeled deveined shrimp place in sealed bag with 1/2 cup of dark rum, refrigerate for at least 3 hours before cooking, turn occasionally to steep well all shrimp in the rum. Over low heat mix 2 tablespoons of butter with 4 tablespoons of olive oil until all butter is melted; increase to medium heat and cook stirring 1 small onion minced and 1 clove of garlic finely chopped, cook until they are soft, do not brown; add 1 cup of chicken broth, the rum from the shrimp, 1 tablespoon of teriyaki sauce, 1 cup of half milk & half cream, reduce heat to low and cook stirring for about 10 minutes until it thickens somewhat; add the shrimp and cook for 3 minutes stirring until shrimp turn pink, do not overcook. Decorate with some chopped red or yellow peppers, serve over pasta or with white rice on the side. Half & half can be replaced with evaporated milk or 3/4 cups of whole milk blended with 2 tablespoons of cream cheese.


  1. Juan,
    I really enjoy your posts and can't wait to try the shrimp recipe!

  2. I appreciate your comments, the original recipe uses shallots, the sweet and tasty little onions common in Europe and north America, sometimes you see them in the big cities of Lat Am. In the recipes of this blog I try to use ingredients that are readily available. Let me know if there is an ingredient that you would like to write about. Chef Juan