Some people say you should never mix your liquors if you want a clear head the next morning. But for drinkers of Dominican mamajuana, blending different alcohols is kind of the point. In fact, mamajuana is the ultimate fusion drink, combining local herbs with rum and red wine brought by the Spanish from abroad (these days, the rum is often local too). The result is a beverage that many consider healthy for cold recovery and the liver. But mostly, it’s famed as a powerful aphrodisiac, giving it an alternative name: the baby-maker.
It’s popularly thought that hundreds of years ago, mamajuana was just a medicinal tea drunk by the DR’s original inhabitants, the Taíno people. When Christopher Columbus arrived, bringing with him centuries of Spanish rule, the tea’s herbs were added to rum, red wine, and honey to create a spicy-sweet shot. Others say that the drink was invented by Dominican Jesus Rodriguez in the 1950s as a health tonic.
Mamajuana’s ingredients can vary, and often number more than a dozen. Some, like cloves and raisins, might be familiar. Others, like West Indian milkberry, pega palo, and a cinnamon-like bark known as canelilla, are perhaps not. Often, the herbs are sold in bags or bottles for people to add to their own booze. Usually, the first batch of mamajuana from fresh herbs is discarded, since the flavors are too strong to be drinkable. Afterward, the herbs can be used several times as the mamajuana is drunk. In addition to the herbal ingredients, some mamajuana is said to contain sea turtle penises, upping the aphrodisiac factor.
One mystery is the drink’s unusual name, which has a fairly similar sound to another “Mary J.” The name mamajuana actually comes from the French term dame-jeanne, slang for the wicker-wrapped wine jugs you might still see at Italian restaurants. These large bottles are perfect for filling with herbs, bark, and liquor.
Where to Try It
Mamajuana Cafe247 Dyckman St., New York, New York, 10034, United States
This chain of restaurants offers cocktails made with their eponymous spirit.