In Cuba, guarapo is simply freshly-pressed sugar cane juice, and is drunk on the spot, without waiting for it to ferment. But in Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Mexico, they homebrew guarapo from pineapples or oranges, and the fragrant fluid sits on the kitchen counter top to ferment until it’s bubbly.
I learned to make guarapo de piña – pineapple homebrew – when I lived in Venezuela. It’s the most refreshing drink there is on a torrid summer day, and it has all the flavor and perfume of fresh pineapple. And it’s all natural, with a slight fizz that owes nothing to industrial additives. Venezuelan mothers used to ferment it only one day, and give it to their kids after school while it was still mild and non-alcoholic, to help them withstand the afternoon’s heat.
I like to let guarapo de piña ferment for several days and drink it as a mildl tipple. But watch out. If ferments more than three or four days, it gets strong. You won’t notice it, relaxing and quaffing along…till you get up from your chair.
Traditionally, guarapo is made with papelón, aka panela or rapadura; a chunk of unrefined cane sugar. But lacking papelón, I’ve made delicious guarapo with brown sugar. The surprising part of guarapo de piña is that it’s made with the pineapple rinds, not the fruit itself. It’s a clever way to use every part of those expensive pineapples you buy as a treat, thus avoiding food waste too.
It couldn’t be easier to make guarapo de piña. Take a ripe, sweet-smelling pineapple, and scrub it, the rind still on, with water only. You want to get rid of any dirt, but not to destroy the natural yeast on the rind. That yeast is what will start the fermentation.
Now stand it on its flat end and slice the rind off, taking some flesh with it. You may want to cube and freeze some of the fruit to drop into the drink instead of ice cubes.
Place the rind pieces in a large bowl or jar with 2 liters (8 cups) of fresh, filtered water.
Stir a cup of brown sugar in.
Cover the jar with a clean kitchen towel. Preferably, the jar should sit in a dark corner. But covering it entirely with the towel will protect the contents from the light and keep houseflies off.
Stir the rinds and water once a day. White bubbles will form on the surface; that’s fine.
Wait 1 day for a mild drink that’s safe for kids to drink. Allow it ferment 2-3 days if you want an alcoholic kick to it. Taste the guarapo after 2 days and decide if it’s strong/sweet enough for you. Don’t let it go longer than 4 days, especially in the summer, or it will ferment out and become vinegar.
Strain into a pitcher and sweeten again if needed. Serve with plenty of ice. Transfer it to a clean bottle and store in the refrigerator, but drink it up over the next couple of days. And don’t close it hermetically; it will continue to ferment, even in the fridge. I found that out at dinner once when I opened a tightly-closed bottle of guarapo that fountained all over my lasagna.
Guarapo’s delicous – enjoy!
Photo of guarapo de piña by saboreandoacolombia.blogspot.com