Brewing nectar / Ambrosia
One souvenir a visitor always carries home from his holidays in Goa are cashew nuts. Cashew trees abound the Goan hillsides. The flowering in January leads to luscious, brilliantly coloured fruit in March, April and early May. It is then plucked, while the apple is used in the process of producing "Feni", the nuts are roasted for consumption.
Ironic though it is, the Portuguese imported this leafy tree to Goa where after taking root, it has given Goa the distinction of being the originator of the delicious alcohol "Feni". Distillation does not occur in the monsoons as the humidity is not conducive to the process of fermentation.
The distillation of cashew into Feni, involves a three part process.
1. After the cashew is plucked from the tree, the nut is separated from the cashew apple.
2. The cashew is squeezed for extraction of 'Niro' ( a sweet juice which tastes best when had chilled).
3. Finally the 'niro' is then allowed to ferment and later poured in a big earthen pot and continuously boiled for distillation.
The first distillate is called 'urak' (which has a very low alcohol content). Subsequent distillates yield feni. The nuts are separately roasted and cracked for consumption.
Some of the Medicinal Uses of Cashew Feni
in case of diarrhea and dysentery.
Relieves toothaches, sore gums, infectious swellings and mouth ulcers.
Promotes the flow of urine.
Alcoholic solution is used to expel worms from the body.
The Goans prize the sap which the toddy tapper collects every day from the base of a fresh leaf. The fresh sap (sura)
can be drunk as a sweetish juice before it begins to ferment in the warmth, or it can be processed to produce vinegar or
jaggery sugar. Most Goans however, prefer it as the lightly alcoholic fermented urak or the intoxicating feni which is
produced through distillation.
The Portuguese introduced the Western art of distilling when they settled in the palm fringed shores of Goa in 1510.
The sap flows when the apex of an unopened flower bud is “tapped”, by slicing it off and tapping it with a stick to make
the cells burst and so the juice to flow which starts in about 3 weeks on the first cut from then on, successive flower buds
are tapped so that the sap can be collected for half a year. Food production of course stops during this period, but the tapping appears to result in an improved crop of nuts, where the yield has been previously poor.
The skillful tapper ties a circle of rope around the ankles and with a cutter in hand shins up the tall smooth trunk of the palm, two or three times a day, to empty the pot of sap.