Angostura bitters is a compound made primarily from gentian (genus Gentiana), a flowering plant with bitter-tasting leaves. Gentians are native to temperate regions from Asia to Europe to North America, with some of its many species found in northwestern Africa, eastern Australia, and the Andes. Gentians can be annuals, biennials, or perennials.
J.G.B. Siegert, a German physician living in Angostura, Venezuela, first developed Angostura bitters in 1824 as a remedy for stomach maladies. Although the compound did not perform as expected, it was exported to England and Trinidad, where it was adopted as an ingredient in cocktails, as the bitters do help in mild cases of nausea or upset stomach. Angostura bitters is generally about 45 percent alcohol by volume.
Besides its use in cocktails such as Bermuda Rum Swizzle, Bloody Mary, Manhattan, Old Fashioned, and Rob Roy, Angostura bitters can also be added to soups, glazes for poultry or pork, turkey stuffings, fish dishes, even tomato sauces, custards, and fruit medleys.
Bitters are mentioned in the Bible (Exodus 12:8, Young's Literal Translation) but the reference is probably to bitter herbs.
Anisette is a liqueur made from the seeds of the anise plant (Pimpinella anisum). Aniseeds have a distinctive licorice taste and are used in making not only anisette but sambuca, anis, ouzo, raki, arak, and pastis. Usually, anisette is served after a meal, to aid digestion or relaxation, either at room temperature, mixed with water, on the rocks, or added to tea or coffee. Sometimes it is mixed with brandy and is used to flavor baked goods, fruit dishes—even seafood.
Anisette is also used to make a number of cocktails, such as Jelly Bean, Oyster Bay, Lady in Green, Dance with a Dream, Green Opal, Malayan Gold, and Brandy Champarelle.
Apple cider (often known simply as cider) is made from the juice of apples. In North America, cider is traditionally an unfermented beverage; in other parts of the world, cider means fermented apple juice, which is known in the United States as hard cider.
Cider is not the same as apple juice. Cider is usually made from early apples, which tend to be less sweet and more acidic, so cider has more tang than apple juice. Often, ciders are made from a number of different apple varieties (and these are not usually the varieties used for eating), to produce a balanced taste, and the exact proportions have become highly guarded secrets at cider mills. Cider also tends to be unfiltered, with suspended solid particles that make it opaque.
To make cider, the apples are ground to a very fine pulp. This pulp is compressed into a cake (called a cheese) that is then placed under pressure until all the juice (called must) has been squeezed out. The juice is placed in vats or casks for slight aging before being sold as cider. Many connoisseurs consider fresh cider superior in taste, but because of the possibility of salmonella and E. coli contamination, health regulations now generally require apple ciders to be pasteurized before they can be sold. The pulp is used as livestock feed or as the base for apple liqueurs such as apple brandy.
Hard cider is produced from fermenting the must (juice) that is used to make cider. Hard cider is usually above 6 percent alcohol by volume.
Another alcoholic beverage made from cider is applejack, which results from freeze distillation or evaporative distillation. Applejack can have as much as 30– 40 percent alcohol by volume, but home-produced applejack may also contain deadly toxins and is thus illegal in many places.
During colder weather, cider is often served hot or mulled (that is, flavored with cinnamon, orange peel, nutmeg, cloves, and other spices). Sparkling cider is also available; it is a carbonated, nonalcoholic cider or apple-juice beverage.
Beer is one of the oldest manufactured beverages, probably dating from about 5000 b.c.e. The oldest recorded evidence is believed to be the ancient Sumerian tablet of 4000 b.c.e., which shows a group of people drinking from a communal bowl through reed straws. The Epic of Gilgamesh, which dates from about 1900 b.c.e., provides the oldest beer recipe and relates how beer was made from barley bread. Beer was a popular beverage in all the ancient civilizations: Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman, although wine came to replace beer,which began to be seen as fit only for “barbarians.” Beer was undoubtedly known to the ancient Israelites from their time in Egypt. Nevertheless, beer maintained its importance through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, gradually moving from home-based to commercial breweries, with pubs and even monasteries becoming major manufacturers of beer. Up until the 15th century c.e., many beers were made without hops, though hops had been introduced to beer brewing by the 11th century, and perhaps as early as the 9th. Unhopped beers were known as ales; hopped beers were called beer. However, by the 16th century, all ales and beers were made with hops, and any strong beer was called an ale. Beer-making is nowan enormous industry,withmajor breweries producing large quantities of brand-name beers for world-wide consumption andmicrobreweriesmaking small amounts of specialty beers for local use.
Today, most beers are either ales or lagers. Ales are brewed using top-fermenting yeasts, at higher temperatures than lagers. The result is a significant amount of esters and other flavor and aroma products, which makes ales very flavorful. Lagers, on the other hand, are brewed by using bottom-fermenting yeasts, with two phases, the fermentation and the lagering, both of which take place at temperatures lower than those used for ales. The lagering process was discovered only in the 16th century, by accident.
Beer is made from a combination of water, malted barley or other grains, hops, and yeast. Sometimes adjuncts such as corn or rice are added, as a source of sugar, to increase the alcohol content of the final product. Clarifying agents are also involved, to rid the beer of any particulate residue.
Because water is the principal ingredient of beer, it has a large effect on the character of the beer. In general, harder water is best for darker beers such as stouts and porters; softer water, for light-colored beers like pilsners.
As a source of malt, barley is the most commonly used, but wheat, rice, oats, rye, maize, and even sorghum can be substituted. Malt forms when the grain is allowed to soak in water and germinate, then dried in a kiln. This process yields the enzymes that convert the grain starch into fermentable sugar.
Hops are grown specifically for use in brewing beer. Hops add a certain bitterness to the end product, to balance the sweetness provided by the malt. Contributing aroma, hops also provide an antibiotic effect that facilitates the activity of the yeast and determine the endurance of the beer's foamy head.
The fungus yeast causes the fermentation of the sugars in the grains, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. The major strains of yeast are ale yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and lager yeast (S. uvarum). Beers average 4 to 6 percent alcohol by volume, though some beers have alcohol content as low as 2 percent and others as high as 14 percent. Specialty beers may even have as much as 20 percent alcohol.
Brewing beer requires the following steps:
- Mashing: The malted grains are ground, then soaked in warm water to yield a malt extract. During this step, the starch is converted into fermentable sugar.
- Sparging: Water is sent through the mash, dissolving and absorbing the sugars. The result is a dark, sugar-laden liquid called wort.
- Boiling: The wort is boiled, removing excess water and killing bacteria. Hops are then added.
- Fermenting: The yeast is added to the mixture and begins to ferment the sugars. Sometimes the mixture goes through two fermentations, the second of which allows the yeast and other particles to settle.
- Packaging: The mixture is carbonated, sometimes by adding carbon dioxide directly to the beer, sometimes by adding extra sugar or fermenting wort for a short refermentation called cask- or bottle-conditioning.
- Kegging, casking, bottling, or canning: The beer is prepared for consumption. Some beers are unpasteurized and may contain live yeasts that continue to ferment and cause the development of secondary flavors; these strong beers may require significant aging or conditioning periods, perhaps as long as a year or more.
Finally, the taste of a beer depends significantly on the temperature at which it is served, the container from which it is consumed, and the manner in which it is poured. Many beers are not meant to be served ice-cold, and most beers are meant to be drunk from specially shaped glasses. Some beers also need a bit of time to settle after they are poured, so that their full flavor can be appreciated.
Today's beer connoisseur can choose from an almost endless variety of beer, from those of Albania to those of Zimbabwe. Some of the major brands include Coopers, Fosters, Amstel, Tuborg, Stella Artois, Guinness, Labatt, Molson, Moosehead, Tsingtao, Pilsner Urquell, Budweiser, Carlsberg, Beck's, Dinkelacker, Karlsberg, Rheingold, St. Pauli Girl, San Miguel, Harp, Murphy's, Sapporo, Corona, Dos Equis, Heineken, Colt 45, Lo¨wenbra¨u, Bass, Courage, Whitbread, Michelob, Samuel Adams, Coors, Miller, Pabst, and Rolling Rock. There are even hybrid beers, such as fruit or vegetable beers, in which a fermentable fruit or vegetable adjunct has been introduced (very popular in the Benelux countries); herb and spiced beers, in which roots, seeds, or flowers have been used instead of or in addition to hops; wood-aged beers, which have been aged in contact with wood (in barrels or mixed with chips or cubes) in order to assimilate a woody flavor; and smoked beers, whose malts have been processed to produce a robust flavor.
Besides being a satisfying beverage, beer is also a wonderful seasoning. It tenderizes meat, fish, or seafood when used as a marinade. When simmering meats and vegetables, beer can be used instead of water; it brings out the richness of the food and, as the alcohol evaporates during cooking, leaves only a delicate beer flavor behind. Beer imparts a rich color to roasted or broiled foods when it is used in the basting sauce. It provides a surprising lift to cheese and other dips, soups, and salad dressings. Most surprising, beer can be used in baking, adding a lightness to biscuits, pancakes, breads, and cakes.
Bloody Mary Mix
Bloody Mary mix is used, not surprisingly, to make a cocktail called a Bloody Mary. There are many variations, but the mix generally consists of horseradish, lemon juice, pepper, garlic, onion, and Worcestershire or Tabasco sauce, plus ingredients guarded as trade secrets by the various manufacturers. The mix is added to vodka and tomato juice and often served with a stalk of celery and a lime wedge to make a Bloody Mary.
Bourbon is North American whiskey, made from corn, wheat, or rye. The whiskey is distilled to no more than 160 (U.S.) proof (about 80 percent alcohol by volume), then aged in oak barrels for at least two years before being bottled and sold.
The name “bourbon” comes from Bourbon County, Kentucky, which is where this alcoholic beverage was first developed. An act of Congress in 1964 declared bourbon to be “America's Native Spirit” and restricted the name “bourbon” to this particular type of whiskey made in the United States. Some aficionados claim that bourbon is not really bourbon unless it is made in Bourbon County.
Today, most bourbon is made by the sour-mash process: each new fermentation is conditioned by spent beer (previously fermented mash separated from its alcohol), much the way that starter is used to make sourdough bread. The acid in the sour mash controls bacteria that could harm the whiskey.
Usually, bourbon is reduced to 80–100 proof before it is bottled. Occasionally, bourbon is bottled at cask strength, which would be of significantly higher proof. Recently, 80 proof and lower has been the norm, asmany U.S. jurisdictions prohibit the sale of alcoholic beverages with greater than 40 percent alcohol content.
Some common bourbons include Early Times, Jim Beam, Old Crow, Old Forester, Wild Turkey, and Kentucky Gentleman.
Besides its obvious attraction as a beverage, bourbon can add a tasty flavor to many recipes. It can be used in marinades for meats, chicken, and seafood; barbecue sauces; candied yams; custards, cheesecakes, pecan pies, and mud cakes; and julep and punch drinks. Bourbon is often used today in Middle Eastern dishes in combination with pomegranate juice and other fruit juices.
Brandy is short for brandywine, a term for wine that has been distilled. As early as the ancient Babylonian civilization (c. 2000 b.c.e.), wine and alcoholic beverages were concentrated by evaporation, for preservation and transportation purposes. All of the ancient civilizations, including the Greek and Roman, generally added water to their wines, both to make them more palatable and to dilute their alcoholic effects. The peoples of the Bible were probably familiar with concentrated wines. In the 8th century c.e. Muslim scientists invented modern distillation, a process of removing the water from wine or other liquids but leaving all the other ingredients, and this process made its way to Europe and began to be applied to wines by the 12th century. By the 14th century, connoisseurs had realized that distilled wine stored in wooden casks was remarkably tasty and strongly alcoholic, and modern brandy was born.
Three main types of brandy are now made:
Generally speaking, the older the brandy, the more expensive it will be.
Brandy can add a wonderful flavor to many recipes, including those for chicken and turkey, beef and pork, prime rib, meatballs, seafood, wild-game dishes, goulashes, salad dressings, stuffings, yams, cabbage dishes, cheese balls, tofu, pancakes, puddings, cakes and pies, coffees, eggnog, parfaits and sundaes, and fruit cakes. Brandies are now popular in Middle Eastern desserts such as Ataif, haroset, and baked figs.
The world's most popular beverage, coffee is made from the roasted beans (seeds) of the coffee plant, either Coffea arabica or C. canephora (robusta). The former is native to the Arabian Peninsula; it is more susceptible to disease but is considered to yield superior tasting coffee than the latter. The latter is more disease-resistant because it contains much more caffeine, which is a natural insecticide.
The first people to drink coffee may have been the inhabitants of Ethiopia, where the coffee plant is believed to have originated. According to legend, a goatherder observed his goats becoming energized after eating certain berries; he tasted the berries and became energized himself, thus beginning the human consumption of coffee beans. Coffee was first cultivated in Yemen, perhaps as early as the 12th century c.e., but was not known outside of Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey until the 16th century, when the British and Dutch East India companies brought it to Europe. By the 17th century, London, Boston, Paris, and Vienna boasted a number of coffeehouses. Coffee was first planted in the Americas—in Brazil—in the 18th century. Today, coffee is the world's second most valuable commodity, behind only oil. Brazil produces the most coffee, followed by Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Philippines, though Kenya, Ethiopia, Hawaii, Jamaica, Sumatra, Yemen, and Tanzania all produce significant amounts of coffee. It is possible that the peoples of the Bible were familiar with coffee beans; certainly, coffee is now practically a “staple” of Middle Eastern cuisine.
Many coffee brands blend beans from the two different coffee species or from the different regions, as growing conditions, environment, and processing can affect the flavor of the beans. Mocha-Java is a very old blend, combining beans from Yemen and Indonesia. Other beans are so flavorful that they have become very expensive: examples include Jamaican Blue Mountain and Hawaiian Kona; these are often blended to improve the flavor of less expensive beans.
The production of coffee is a complicated process of aging, roasting, grinding, and brewing.
Many types of coffee improve as they age, becoming less acidic and more balanced in flavor. Often, beans are aged for three years, though some are aged for as long as eight years.
After aging, the coffee beans are roasted, becoming enlarged and changing color. Light roasting allows the beans to retain some of the flavor that reveals their place of origin; this flavor depends on the soil and weather where the coffee was grown. Dark roasting removes much of the “origin” flavor and imparts the flavor of roasting. Sometimes beans are roasted in butter or sugar, and very dark roasting can even result in a burnt flavor that completely masks the origin flavor. Because roasted coffee beans quickly turn bitter and deteriorate in flavor, they are usually stored in pressurized cans or bags.
When the consumer is ready to make coffee, the beans need to be ground. In general, the degree of grinding needs to match the brewing method to be employed in order to get the most flavor from the beans and to avoid bitterness or weakness. Coarse grinding works best when the coffee grounds are to be brewed for a lengthy time, and fine grinding works best when the brewing method is very quick. Grinding the beans does make them deteriorate more quickly, so it is best to grind them just before brewing; otherwise, refrigeration, even freezing, can retard the deterioration of ground coffee.
There are four primary methods of brewing coffee: boiling, pressure brewing, gravity brewing, and steeping. In each case, hot water passes through or comes in contact with the coffee grounds, absorbing soluble components that impart flavor to the water. The recommended brewing temperature is 2048F: cooler temperatures will not release all the flavors, and hotter temperatures will pull unpalatable tastes from the grounds. Boiling is used to make Turkish and so-called cowboy coffees. Espressos are made by pressure brewing, which can employ a pressure percolator or a vacuum brewer. Gravity brewing makes use of gravity to cause the hot water to drip down onto the coffee grounds, which are placed in a coffee filter; this is sometimes called drip brewing, and older electric percolators use this method. Steeping coffee requires the coffee grinds to be placed in a coffee bag or special cafetière, allowing the hot water to seep into the grinds, which are then easily removed en masse, leaving the coffee.
Once the coffee is brewed, there are many ways of serving it:
- Black coffee, to which sugar may be added
- White coffee, with milk or cream added, and sometimes sugar
- Cappuccino, which is a mixture of equal parts of espresso, steamed milk, and frothed milk, sometimes flavored with cinnamon, cocoa, or other spices
- Caffèe latte (also called cafe´ latte or simply latte), which is a mixture of equal
- parts of espresso and steamed milk, often topped with frothed milk
- Cafe´ au lait, which is a mixture of equal parts of drip-brewed coffee and milk, sometimes sweetened with sugar
- Americano coffee, which is espresso diluted with hot water
- Iced coffee, which is sweetened coffee with milk, on ice
- Flavored coffee, which is coffee flavored with spices such as cinnamon and nutmeg, light fruit syrups, or chocolate
- Irish coffee, which is coffee flavored with whiskey and topped with a layer of cream
- Indian filter coffee, which is drip-brewed for several hours, then served with milk and sugar
- Vietnamese coffee, which is drip-brewed coffee mixed with sweetened condensed milk
- Turkish (or Greek or Armenian) coffee, which is boiled coffee served with sugar, cardamom, anise, and other spices
- Frappe´ coffee, which is made from instant coffee and served cold, with or without sugar and milk
There are innumerable other ways of preparing coffee, and each culture has created its own favorites. It is important to note that if brewed coffee is kept heated, it will quickly become unpalatable; sealed off from oxygen, it will retain its flavor longer.
To make coffee preparation easier, both instant and soluble coffees have become available. In these types, coffee grounds have been dried into powders or granules, which dissolve in hot water. Many coffee gourmets believe that instant, even freeze-dried, coffees are markedly inferior to freshly brewed coffees.
Coffee naturally contains caffeine, a stimulant. For people who are sensitive to or even addicted to caffeine, decaffeinated coffee (or decaf) has been developed, the caffeine being removed from the raw beans either by soaking them or subjecting them to a chemical solvent. However, caffeinated coffee is sometimes believed to improve the effectiveness of migraine medication and some other pain killers, to prevent gallstones and gallbladder disease in men, to reduce the risk of suicide in women, and to decrease the incidence of diabetes, liver cirrhosis, colon and bladder cancers, and heart disease in both men and women. In some people, however, caffeinated coffee can produce caffeine jitters (caffeinism).
Cognac is a type of brandy. Double distilled in large pots, cognacs include brands such as Martell, Re´my Martin, Hennessy, and Courvoisier (which was favored by Napoleon Bonaparte).
An orange-flavored liqueur that is both sweet and bitter, Cointreau was first distilled by Edouard-Jean and Adolphe Cointreau of Angers, France, in 1849. This liqueur generally is 80 proof (40 percent alcohol content) and is most often consumed as an after-dinner drink, or digestif. It is also used to make cocktails or mixed drinks, such as B-52 shooters, Cosmopolitan, Singapore Sling, Long Island Iced Tea, Sidecar, and Pink Flamingo. Cointreau is considered to be a very high quality triple sec, which means that it has been distilled three times. Cointreau is often used in Middle Eastern dessert recipes.
Gin is an alcoholic drink made from the distillation of white grain spirit and juniper berries. Juniper berries are the seeds of trees of the Juniperus genus, of which there are several dozen species found around the world. Gin was first made in the Netherlands in the 17th century, created by Francis de la Boe, but spread to the British Isles when William and Mary became the regents of England in 1689. In the 18th century gin became very popular in England when the government allowed its manufacture to proceed unlicensed while heavily taxing imported spirits. Gin became much less expensive than beer and became a favorite drink among the poor, but it was blamed for many social problems, and terms like “gin joint,” “gin mills,” and “gin-soaked,” which date from this era, indicate the negative feelings that became associated with its consumption. Gin production was licensed by the mid-1700s, and drinking gin became more respectable in the 19th century with the introduction of a dry style and the use of gin in quininebased tonic drinks (gin and tonic) in areas of the British Empire that were subject to malaria. The creation of the martini in the United States at the end of the 19th century did much to establish gin's reputation as a sophisticated spirit. Gin-based cocktails became quite popular during Prohibition in the United States (because it is clear and looks like water), and gin has remained a common base for mixed drinks ever since.
The original name for gin was jenievre, or jenever (sometimes genever or geneva), which was shortened to gin when the beverage made its way to England.
Today, gin comes in at least four main types:
- London dry gin, which is usually made in a column still. This high-proof spirit is redistilled after botanicals like orange or lemon, anise, cinnamon, cassia bark, cardamom, licorice, orris root, and bitter almonds, in addition to juniper, are added to the base.
- Dutch gin, often called jenever, which is the original gin.
- Plymouth gin.
- Old Tom gin, which is supposed to be reminiscent of the pot-distilled spirits of the 18th century.
Some of the popular brands of gin include Beefeater, Bombay, Gilbey's, Gordon's, Seagram's, and Tanqueray.
Gin is not often used in cooking but can serve as a splendid flavoring for roasted wild boar, caribou, elk, pheasant, salmon, and seafood. It also serves as a special ingredient in marinades, fruit salads, sorbets, cookies, and cobblers. In modern Middle Eastern cooking, gin is added to fish dishes and light desserts.
First created in 1880 by Alexandre Marnier-Lampostolle, Grand Marnier is an alcoholic beverage made from a combination of various cognacs, distilled essence of orange, and other flavorings and ingredients. About 40 percent alcohol by content (about 80 proof), Grand Marnier is often consumed “neat” or “straight” (by itself ); it is also mixed with other spirits and beverages for a variety of mixed drinks.
The main types of Grand Marnier include
- Red Label, also known as Cordon Rouge: This is usually called simply Grand Marnier and is consumed either neat or in mixed drinks.
- Yellow Label, also known as Cordon Jaune: This is a scarce type, made with grain alcohol instead of cognac, and is considered to be of inferior quality; it is used for mixed drinks and in cooking recipes.
- Black Label: Another scarce type, this is considered to be of a higher quality and is generally very expensive; it is consumed neat.
- 100: Officially called Cuve´e du Centennaire (Centennial Edition), this is made with twenty-five-year-old fine cognacs; it is very expensive and is consumed neat.
- 150: Officially called Cuve´e Spe´ciale Cent Cinquantennaire (Special Sesquicentennial Edition), this is the finest and most expensive Grand Marnier available; it is made with fifty-year-old fine cognacs and is consumed neat.
In just a short time, Grand Marnier has found an extremely important place in the kitchen. It adds a touch of flair and a special flavor to ice cream, cake, crèpes, souffle´s, flambe´s, tortes, chocolate dips, fruit salads, and coffees and iced teas. It is an especially delicious addition to chicken and pork marinades, stuffings, shrimp salads, and scallop dishes, and it adds a wonderful flavor to marmalades and jams.
Some mixed drinks that use Grand Marnier include Red Lion, Cosmopolitan, B-52, French Connection, Grand Royale, and even Sangria. Grand Marnier is often an ingredient in Middle Eastern sauces, puddings, creams, and pastries.
Grenadine is, strictly speaking, the juice or syrup extracted from pomegranates. Deep red in color and intense in taste, grenadine is often used to sweeten and color cocktails such as 77 Sunset Strip, Arizona Sunrise, Bahama Mama Sunrise, Boxcar, California Lemonade, Cherry Blossom, Cotton Candy, Flamingo Cocktail, Hawaiian Punch, Jamaican Rum Punch, Zombie, Watermelon Shooter, Tequila Sunrise, Shirley Temple, Ruby Slipper, Pink Lady, and many more. Grenadine is a popular addition to Middle Eastern marinades, desserts, and sauces, as well as savory vinaigrettes.
Orange Blossom Water
Orange blossom water is simply water that has been flavored with orange blossoms, either by adding an extract from the blossoms to the water or by boiling the water and blossoms together, then filtering and cooling the water before consumption. It is often an ingredient listed in recipes for baklava and other Middle Eastern pastries.
Pear Juice (Pear Nectar)
Pear nectar is the juice extracted from the fruit of the pear tree (Pyrus genus), which is, surprisingly, a member of the Rose family. Native to central Asia, pears spread across temperate Asia and Europe, mutating and speciating until today there are about thirty types of wild pears that inhabit various ecological niches from Spain to China. Pears were an important part of the diet of prehistoric humans, and pear remains have been discovered in archaeological sites dating from before 4000 b.c.e. in Germany, Switzerland, Italy, and Greece and in a Chinese tomb dating from 2100 b.c.e. The earliest written record of pears is found on an ancient Sumerian tablet dating from about 2750 b.c.e., and it is possible that this is also the first record of cultivated pears; an Egyptian wall painting dating from about 1400 b.c.e. shows a pear that may have been cultivated. It is possible that the ancient Israelites knew of pears, though the fruit would not have been readily available to nomadic peoples. Pears are mentioned in some translations of the Bible (e.g., Douay-Rheims Version of II Kings 5:23 and I Chronicles 14:15); but the reference is most likely erroneous. Reliable records of pear cultivation date from about 1000 b.c.e., when the people of the Aegean region began to understand grafting techniques. By the time of Aristotle (c. 300 b.c.e.), pears were an important fruit of the Greek garden, and the ancient Romans continued to develop pear cultivars and spread cultivated pears as far north as the British Isles. Pear cultivation continued throughout the Middle Ages, kept alive by monastics. Pears did not cross the Atlantic until the 16th century c.e., carried by Spanish missionaries and spreading rapidly along the Pacific Coast. They made their way to New England with English colonists and then spread westward, and French missionaries also introduced pears to the Iroquois.
The pears first cultivated in Europe are probably descendants of P. pyraster and P. caucasica, which grow wild in Europe, Asia Minor, and the Caucasus. The pears first cultivated in Asia probably descended from P. pyrifolia and P. ussuriensis, which grow wild in the Far East. There are now more than three dozen species of pears under cultivation, the most notable being the European pear (P. communis). Some well-known varieties include Anjou, Bartlett, Bosc, and Comice; lesserknown but just as tasty varieties include Seckel, Winter Nellis, Clapp, and Forell. Asian pears (P. pyrifolia) are relatively difficult to find in the United States.
The Pear trees can live to be a hundred years old and can grow to heights of sixty feet. They need sunny exposure and little winter chilling to produce profuse white blossoms and fruit. Cultivated pears are almost always picked before they are ripe and are allowed to ripen in the market or at home.
Pears are a delicious fruit to eat fresh or as part of a fruit salad. The skin contains most of the vitamin C to be found in pears, so they should not be peeled. Pears can be baked, poached, saute´ed, and made into “pearsauce,” flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, allspice, brown sugar, rum, or orange juice. They go well with raisins, figs, dates, yogurt, cheeses, poultry, and pork.
Pear nectar is relatively high in sugar and so has more calories than most fruit juices.
Pomegranate syrup is extracted from the fruit of the pomegranate tree (Punica granatum), which is actually a large, drought-resistant bush growing to a height of about 16 feet. The pomegranate is probably a native of central Asia, perhaps the mountains of Afghanistan, though its origins are lost to prehistory, as it entered cultivation about 8000 b.c.e. Cuneiform writing tablets from ancient Mesopotamia (about 2500 b.c.e.) refer to pomegranates, and their remains have been discovered in archaeological sites at Jericho from about the same time, in Egypt from about 1800 b.c.e., and in Greece and Cyprus from about 1500 b.c.e. By this time pomegranates had spread throughout the eastern Mediterranean and into India. To the Israelites, pomegranates were one of the fruits of Egypt that they longed for during their desert wanderings (Exodus 28 and 39 and Numbers 20) and one of the fruits to be expected in the Promised Land (Deuteronomy 8:8); the temple of Solomon also incorporated a pomegranate design into its decorations (I Kings 7:17). Homer mentioned pomegranates in the Odyssey, and the ancient Romans also grew pomegranates, though they imported many more than they raised. Pomegranates made their way to China by about 100 b.c.e. but seem to have been lost to Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire, to be reintroduced by the Moors in the 9th and 10th centuries c.e. The fruit had made its way to England by the 16th century, and to the Americas with the Spanish by the 17th. Today, pomegranates are raised in many tropical and subtropical regions, but they are not as important as they once were, for citrus fruits and melons have replaced them as a thirst-quenching fruit in many areas.
Pomegranates have a thick, reddish skin, red pulp, and an extraordinary number of seeds and are about four inches in diameter. Because of the great number of seeds, in ancient times the pomegranate was a common symbol of fertility. Its red juice, reminiscent of blood, also made it a symbol of death. It was associated with Cybele, the Great Mother Goddess of Asia Minor, and with Persephone, whose annual journeys to and from the underworld marked the turning of the seasons. Early Christians baptized the pomegranate and made it a symbol of fidelity, and in Christian art the Holy Family, the Blessed Mother, and the Christ Child are all depicted with pomegranates. Pomegranates are still a traditional part of the Jewish Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot meals. Muslims also honor pomegranates as one of the fruits to be found in the Garden of Paradise.
Usually peeled and eaten fresh, pomegranates are extremely high in vitamin C and are a good source of folic acid and antioxidants. Their taste ranges between sweet and sour.
Pomegranate juice is still a popular drink in the Middle East. Pomegranate (grenadine) syrup—simply thickened and sweetened pomegranate juice—is used to dress various Middle Eastern dishes such as baba ganoush and shawarma. It is also used to make cocktails (see grenadine) and can be fermented and distilled to make a liqueur.
Rose water is simply water that has been flavored with roses, either their petals, buds, or hips. Extracts from these parts of the rose can be added to water, or water can be boiled together with the petals, buds, or hips, then filtered and cooled before consumption. It is often used as a flavoring in Middle Eastern pastries such as baklava.
Rum is an alcoholic beverage, fermented and distilled from sugarcane byproducts (molasses and sugarcane juice), then aged in wooden casks. Modern rum was not developed until the 17th century, but peoples of ancient India and China produced fermented beverages from sugarcane juice, and the practice spread to Malaysia and beyond. Systematic rum production did not occur until sugarcane had been planted in the Caribbean. There, perhaps in Barbados, plantation slaves took molasses, which is a residue of sugar refining, and fermented it into an alcoholic drink. Distillation removed impurities, creating the first true rums.
Rum became quite a popular drink and helped create the so-called triangular trade in the 17th and 18th centuries: Europe was in great need of sugar and so purchased cane sugar and molasses from the Caribbean, distilling the molasses into rum; European ships then took the rum to the western coast of Africa, where slavers traded the rum for Africans, who were sold or traded to them as slaves and transported to the Caribbean; there, the slaves were sold to the sugarcane plantations, where they worked the fields to grow, harvest, and process the cane. The American colonies became involved in two ways: as owners of rum distilleries (in the Northeast), and as owners of cotton plantations (in the South) in need of slave labor, the cotton being sold to textile mills in England. This triangular trade created enormous profits for the merchants and owners and enormous pain and suffering for those who had been sold into slavery.
The triangular trade in sugar-rum-slaves was one of the causes of the American Revolution. In 1733 Parliament passed the Sugar Act (also known as the Molasses Act), levying a tax upon all molasses purchased from the French West Indies; the intention was to force the American colonies to purchase sugar from the British West Indies. However, British sugar was more expensive than the French, and there was not enough of it to supply the demand; consequently, the act was widely ignored. To bolster enforcement, the British passed the Revenue Act in 1764, and this crackdown on sugar smugglers caused hardships for the New England rum distillers and fostered further resentment of British rule of the colonies.
Rum was a popular drink in the new United States until supplanted by the development of U.S. whiskey in the 19th century. Rum continued to be one of the most popular beverages in England until very recent years. When the British captured Jamaica in 1655, the Royal Navy stopped granting its seamen a daily ration of French brandy and substituted a daily ration of rum. The ration was served neat, or mixed with a small amount of lemon juice (which helped prevent scurvy), but in 1740 the Royal Navy began watering down the rum ration to minimize its alcoholic effects. This mixture of water and rum became known as grog, after the grogram cloak worn by Admiral Edward Vernon, who first directed the mixing of the rum ration with water. The Royal Navy continued this practice until 1970, when beer replaced the rum ration.
In New South Wales, Australia, rum became a medium of exchange (a substitute for money). Governor William Bligh (who had lost his ship HMS Bounty to a mutiny in 1787), thinking to curb a problem with drunkenness, outlawed the use of rum as a substitute for money, but this provoked a mutiny of the New South Wales Corps, who arrested Bligh and took control of the colony until a new governor arrived.
Nowadays, rum is made mostly from molasses, though some producers use sugarcane juice. Yeast is added to start the fermentation process, and different yeasts will cause the rum to have varied tastes and aromas. Afterward, the mixture is distilled, using either pot stills or column stills. Then the rum is aged, often in wooden barrels but sometimes in stainless steel tanks, for extended periods. Filtering and blending to adjust the final color and taste complete the process.
Rum is usually classified according to the following types:
- Light Rums, also known as silver or white rums: These are clear and generally sweet but have little other flavor and so are best used in making mixed drinks and cocktails.
- Gold Rums, also known as amber rums: These are medium-bodied, usually yellowish in color, having darkened from aging in wooden barrels, and are flavored by the addition of spices and caramel.
- Dark Rums: These are much darker in color, having been aged for longer periods in charred casks; they have a strong flavor, with hints of spices and molasses, and are used in many rum drinks and in cooking.
- Flavored Rums: These have had mango, orange, citrus, or coconut flavors added and are generally used in tropical fruit drinks.
- Overproof Rums: These rums have more than 40 percent alcohol and are commonly 150 to 160 proof.
- Premium Rums: These are well aged and specially prepared, having more character and flavor than other rums; premium rums are usually consumed neat.
However, there is no world-wide standard for defining or grading rum, so the varying rules and laws of the producing countries apply. For example, some countries require rum to have at least 50 percent alcohol by volume; others, only 40 percent. Some countries require at least eight months of aging; others, a year or two. But there are some general guidelines:
- Spanish-speaking countries traditionally produce light rums.
- English-speaking countries usually make darker, richer rums.
- French-speaking countries produce mostly agricultural rums, those made from sugarcane juice that retain the sugarcane flavor.
Most of the world's rum is produced in the Caribbean islands and in parts of South America. Some of the major brands are Bacardi, Captain Morgan, Cruzan, Mount Gay, Myers, and Pusser's. Among the favorite drinks made using rum are Planter's Punch, Daiquiri, Pin? a Colada, Mai Tai, Zombie, Mojito, Rum Toddy, and Hot Buttered Rum. Certain liqueurs, such as spiced rum, are also manufactured from rum.
Rum has achieved a special place in the kitchen too. Rum adds a distinctive touch to coffees, teas, and ciders. It flavors special desserts, such as rum balls and rum cakes, bananas Foster, fruit cakes, fritters, ice cream, and some hard sauces for pastries. As a marinade ingredient, rum works wonders on chicken, pork, shrimp, and fish. It is also an important component of many Caribbean dishes, and not a few Middle Eastern rich desserts.
Seltzer (Seltzer Water)
Quite simply, seltzer is water containing carbon dioxide. Also known as carbonated water, soda water, sparkling water, and club soda, seltzer was inspired by spring-fed mineral waters that naturally contained carbon dioxide and became quite popular in the 19th century as a curative. In the 18th century English chemist Joseph Priestley invented a method of carbonating water (that is, dissolving carbon dioxide in water) by locating a bowl of water over a vat of fermenting beer. What he called a method of “impregnating” water was also discovered independently by Swedish chemist Torbern Bergman, who applied sulphuric acid to chalk to produce carbon dioxide. Both men believed the carbonated water would help improve the health of anyone who consumed it.
Nowadays, water is carbonated by passing carbon dioxide through it under pressure, and the pressurization allows more carbon dioxide to dissolve than would be possible under standard atmospheric pressures. This is the reason why carbonated beverages bubble when opened: the release of the pressure allows the gas to emerge from the solution. On old-fashioned seltzer bottles, the release of pressure was controlled by a handle on the side, and the liquid would shoot out in a stream.
Many seltzers are now flavored or tinged with fruit juices, and others are sweetened, flavored, colored, and sold as soft drinks (soda, pop). Seltzer water is also used to make cocktails and fruit spritzers and is a common ingredient in matzoh-ball soup recipes and Middle Eastern lemonades.
Sherry is a very specific type of fortified wine, made exclusively in Spain from three types of grapes: Palomino, Pedro Xime´nez, and Muscat (Moscatel). The name derives from the place where it was originally produced, Je´rez (in Andalusia, southern Spain), which was known during Moorish times as Xerex (pronounced “shareesh”). At times, sherry has been known as sack. Other countries besides Spain produce sherries, but they must be named according to their place of origin.
Sherry became extremely popular during the 16th and 17th centuries aboard oceangoing ships of the Spanish, British, and French navies. Wines would spoil easily and quickly during ocean voyages because they were subject to huge temperature changes and extreme jostling. Fortifying wines with brandy served to stabilize them, as well as making them more alcoholic, so sherries (along with ports and marsalas) became a regular part of the captain's “wine” store.
Sherry begins its life like other wines, but after fermentation it is fortified with brandy. If it is to be a Fino-style sherry, yeast is allowed to grow. If it is to be an Oloroso-style sherry, the fortification is so strong that yeast cannot grow. Then the sherry is aged according to the solera system: using a series of casks or other containers, a portion of the sherry from the last barrel is removed and bottled, then the last barrel is filled from the next-to-last, and so forth, until the first barrel is filled with new sherry. Bottling occurs about twice a year.
Several varieties of sherry are commonly identified:
- Amontillado, medium-dry sherries that are medium in color and sweetness between the Finos and Olorosos
- Fino (which means “fine” in Spanish), the driest and palest sherries, consumed young before they become too sweet
- Manzanilla, very pale, dry, and somewhat salty sherries
- Oloroso (which means “scented” in Spanish), sweet, dark sherries that are aged for considerable periods
Other sherries include the cream sherries, the pale cream sherries, and the brown sherries, most of which are made from Olorosos.
For some cooks, sherry has become an essential ingredient. Sherry is used in making vinaigrettes, mustards, and salad dressings, marinades for chicken and pork and lamb, gravies, jams and jellies, soups, fruit salads, fish and seafood, vegetable dishes, rice, breads, bread pudding, and even chili. It also adds flavor to cakes, fruit bars, cookies, custards, chocolate desserts, trifle, and ice cream. Sherry eggnog is also a favorite holiday beverage.
A number of cocktails also rely on sherries; some examples include Apricot Collins, Cream Sherry Flip, In the Sack, Jerez Cocktail, Nelson's Nightcap, Radio City, Spanish Guitar, Winter Garden, and Xerex Cocktail.
Sherry is a very popular ingredient in Middle Eastern recipes, especially in chicken dishes, with lentils and rices, and in desserts.
Tea comes from the tea shrub (Camellia sinensis), which is believed to be native to southeastern Asia, possibly China. Tea has exerted such an influence on human culture that it has become fixed in ancient mythologies. According to Chinese legend, about 3000 b.c.e. the emperor Shen Nung (Shennong) ordered the boiling of all drinking water to prevent sickness. One day, while his servants were boiling his water, dried leaves fell into the pot, and the water turned dark. Curious, the emperor tasted the liquid and was refreshed by it; he also found that it eliminated “poisons' from the body. Tea thus became both a medicine and a beverage in China. According to Buddhist legend, it was the Buddha who had this experience of a leaf accidentally flavoring his drinking water. Another legend relates that tea bushes miraculously sprouted from the place where master and monk Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism and the Shaolin school of Chinese martial arts, had thrown his eyelids, which he had removed in order to keep himself awake while he was meditating.
Most archaeologists believe that tea was grown and brewed in China by about 1000 b.c.e., though specific written references to tea date from the Tang Dynasty (7th–10th centuries c.e.). During this era, the performer-turned-scholar Lu Yu wrote the Ch'a Ching (Cha Jing), a book that recorded in detail the Chinese methods of tea cultivation and preparation. A Buddhist priest named Yeisei, who had studied in China, brought tea seeds and the culture of tea to Japan, where tea preparation became a form of art, as embodied in the Japanese Tea Ceremony known as Cha-no-yu. Tea houses were built to accommodate the ceremonies, and the geishi (geishas), Japan's cultural and artistic hostesses, specialized in performing the tea ceremony. The practice often lost its meditative aspects, but by the 16th century Zen Buddhist priests succeeded in integrating the art of tea so completely into Japanese life that even soldiers meditated over tea before battle.
If Marco Polo ever encountered tea, he never mentioned it; the first European to make reference to tea was Jasper de Cruz, a Portuguese Jesuit priest-missionary, in 1560, soon after Portugal had won trading rights with Japan. The Portuguese shipped tea to Lisbon, where the Dutch purchased it for shipment farther north; by the early 17th century the Dutch had entered the Pacific trade in tea themselves. Tea was initially very expensive, but by the beginning of the 18th century it had become common in food stores in the Netherlands and France. Tea made its way to England by 1600 but did not become the national beverage until Charles II (who grew up in Holland) and his Portuguese bride brought their love of tea with them when he ascended the throne and helped England establish trade routes to Asia. By 1700 tea became so popular in England that a new meal, “afternoon tea,” was established as part of the daily routine. So-called low tea was served in aristocratic society and consisted of tea, light refreshments, and conversation. So-called high or “meat” tea was considered the province of the working classes and consisted of a full dinner served with tea. By the end of the 18th century the Royal Navy controlled most of the world's sea-lanes, and the British East India Company had a virtual monopoly on the tea trade. Tea became the primary beverage served in English coffeehouses, and the English also planted tea gardens, where low tea could be enjoyed outdoors.
Earlier, in the 17th century, the Chinese had introduced tea to Russia, and Russians became great tea drinkers, adapting the Tibetan “hot pot” to create the Russian samovar.
Also in the 17th century Dutch settlers brought tea to New Amsterdam (New York). By the early 18th century tea drinking had spread to Boston and Philadelphia, and tea had become an important trading commodity between the American colonies and England. Seeking to cash in on a lucrative business, smugglers found ways to bring contraband tea into the colonies. To protect its monopoly on tea, the John Company (predecessor of the East India Company) pressured the English Parliament to take action, and in 1767 it passed the tea tax, which was promoted as a way to make the colonists pay for the cost of the French and Indian War. To avoid paying the tax, the American colonists reacted by purchasing Dutch tea. When the John Company was merged with the East India Company and allowed to bypass colonial merchants and sell directly to consumers, the American colonists refused to buy any English tea and, in 1773, raided English ships in Boston harbor and tossed hundreds of pounds of tea into the water, an action now known as the Boston Tea Party. Events moved quickly: the British closed the harbor and occupied Boston, and colonial leaders soon declared independence.
Despite the war in the Americas, the British continued their extensive trade in tea with the Chinese. To cure the trade deficit that developed on the British side of the exchange, the John Company (and then the British East India Company) began to grow poppies in India, which the British had recently colonized, and to sell opium to China. Though the caffeine in tea is addictive, opium is much more so, and the British created a limitless market—and also sparked another war. In the Opium War (or wars), which lasted until the early 20th century, British (and other European) military forces prevented the Chinese from forcing the British out of China. At the same time, the British attempted to create tea plantations in India, but their early efforts failed, and Indian tea did not become a profitable enterprise until the end of the 19th century.
Meanwhile, the newly independent United States, looking to develop its own commercial interests, entered the tea trade with China at the start of the 19th century. By constructing fast sailing vessels called clipper ships, and paying with gold instead of opium, the United States was able eventually to end the British monopoly in tea. John Jacob Astor was one of the U.S. merchants who made his fortune in the tea trade.
Iced tea was an invention of necessity at the 1904 World's Fair, as the steamy weather in St. Louis made fair-goers uninterested in sampling hot tea. In 1908 the tea bag was invented, to enable New York restaurants to avoid the mess of loose tea leaves when brewing tea. Tea dances became popular at this time as places for single young men and women to meet and socialize; during Prohibition, the tea dance became a secret opportunity to enjoy bootleg alcoholic beverages, and gay men also gathered for tea as a way of meeting other like-minded men.
Today, tea is grown world-wide, in China, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran, Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, Nepal, Australia, Argentina, and Kenya. But tea is not usually classified by its place of origin. Rather, it is classified by its processing. After the tea leaves are picked, they are heated and dried; although this process is called “fermentation,” it does not involve true fermentation, but it does stop the leaves from oxidizing (breaking down). The amount of oxidation determines the type of tea:
- White tea consists of young leaves and new buds that have not been oxidized; this tea is relatively expensive.
- Green tea consists of leaves that have undergone only a slight amount of oxidation; this tea is processed within a couple of days after the leaves are picked.
- Oolong tea consists of leaves that have been oxidized for two to three days.
- Black tea (also known as red tea) consists of leaves that are completely oxidized, a process that takes from two weeks to a month.
- Pu-erh tea consists of leaves that have gone through a second stage of oxidation, then aged for some time (perhaps years).
- Yellow tea consists of tea leaves processed in the same manner as green tea leaves, but with a longer drying phase.
Like coffees teas are often blended, to achieve consistent taste and affordability. Some of the more popular blends include
- Breakfast teas, which are blends of black teas
- Jasmine tea, which is flavored with jasmine flowers while it is drying
- Earl Grey tea, which is a mix of black teas with extract of bergamot added
- Indian chai, which is flavored with spices such as ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg
- Touareg tea, which is a very strong green tea flavored with mint
- Jagertee, which is flavored with rum
- Gen Mai Cha, which is a Japanese tea flavored with roasted rice
- Lapsang souchong, which is a black tea dried/smoked over burning pine wood
Because tea is so popular, its effects on the body have been extensively studied. Certain teas are high in antioxidants, and there is evidence that drinking tea can help prevent cancer, heart disease, and arthritis, and promote weight loss.
The term “tea” properly denotes an infusion made from tea leaves; other infusions, such as those of other herbs or fruits, may be commonly known as “herbal teas,” but they are properly known as “tisanes.”
Though probably unknown to peoples of the Bible, all types and colors of tea figure prominently in Middle Eastern recipes.
Vermouth is classified as a fortified wine—a wine to which alcohol has been added. Originally, fortifying wine was a method of preservation; nowadays, it is a matter of taste. After being fortified, the wine is aromatized—flavored with aromatic spices and herbs. The Germans used wormwood (Wermut in German) to impart the aroma, and the French turned the word into vermouth.
Three styles of vermouth are recognized:
- Dry, about 36 proof (18 percent alcohol), which is white and is used in martinis
- Sweet, about 32 proof (16 percent alcohol), which is either white (bianco) or red (rosso) and is served as an aperitif, usually straight, but also in cocktails
The most popular vermouths are now French and Italian made; among these are Martini & Rossi, Cinzano, Campari, and Dubonnet. Cocktails that include vermouth are Dry Manhattan, James Bond Martini, Perfect Rob Roy, and American Beauty.
It may seem odd to “define” or “explain” water in a book about cooking and the history of food, but water is absolutely vital to human life. The human body is more than half water by weight, and all the body's processes depend on water. But the body loses water daily, through perspiration, evaporation, and urination. Although most of the food consumed by humans can consist of as much as 85–95 percent water, this does not yield enough water for the human body to survive. People have to drink water—at least six to eight large glasses a day, and more if one is active or lives in a very dry or cold climate. Other beverages can add water to the body, but usually not enough to supply the body's needs; and alcoholic and caffeinated drinks can even result in the loss of more water. Drinking lots of plain water is the best way to keep the body hydrated. Water does not contain any nutrients except those that might have been mixed in with it, either deliberately or from contact with the earth.
Wine is, strictly speaking, an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting grapes and grape juice. Wild grapes were native to the mountainous areas south of the Caspian Sea, and archaeologists believe that the cultivation of grapes began by 8000 b.c.e. in the Fertile Crescent. Fermentation probably followed not long afterward, though the oldest archaeological artifacts of wine production and consumption date from 5400–5000 b.c.e., having been discovered in Hajji Firuz Tepe in Iran. Some scholars maintain that earlier wine has been discovered in Jiahu, China, dating from 7000–6000 b.c.e., but it is not certain whether this fermented beverage had been made from wild grapes or hawthorn fruit. In ancient Mesopotamia, archaeological evidence of wine consumption dates from 3500–3100 b.c.e. By 2700 b.c.e. the ancient Egyptians were importing grapes and possibly wine from Canaan (Palestine); Egyptian tombs depict scenes of wine-making, and wine was included among the provisions buried with the dead to nourish their journey through the afterworld. Egypt had planted its own vineyards for growing winemaking grapes by 2100 b.c.e. The peoples of the Bible certainly drank wine, as it is mentioned in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, in the story of Noah (9:21). The ancient Israelites included wine in all their important rituals, from Passover to Purim, and modern Jews still follow these ancient wine customs. The Greeks introduced wine-making to Europe, planting vineyards in their colonies throughout the Mediterranean, and became large wine exporters themselves. Wine performed an important role in Greek religious ceremonies: libations of wine were offered to the gods for success in battle, bountiful harvests, and plentiful hunting; and certain cults employed wine to inebriate both sacrificial victims and the priests/priestesses who performed the sacrifices. The ancient Romans spread wine culture even farther, planting vineyards in Gaul and Central Europe, classifying grapes, recording vintages, introducing the use of bottles to store wine, and perhaps taking the consumption of wine to excesses hitherto unknown. When early Christians began to develop their rituals and theologies, wine came to stand for the sacrificial blood of Christ. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Roman Catholic Church and its monasteries preserved and advanced the knowledge of grape growing and the practice of wine-making in Europe. At the same time, the Arab peoples continued to be producers and connoisseurs of fine wine until the rise of Islam in the 7th century c.e., which prohibited (and still does) the consumption of alcoholic beverages. When Europe exploded into creativity during the Renaissance, numerous new wine grape cultivars were developed and wine varieties were produced. During the Reformation, the Roman Catholic Church began to lose its absolute control over the land, and some wine vineyards came under royal or private ownership. In the 16th century Spanish missionaries planted vineyards in Argentina and Chile and, in the 18th century, in California, establishing the beginnings of a thriving wine industry that continues to this day. In the 16th and 17th centuries French and British colonists planted vineyards along the Atlantic Coast of North America, but European grapes did not thrive until crossed with the native wild grapes to produce hardy hybrids. The Dutch transplanted wine grapes to South Africa in the 17th century, and British colonists established vineyards and wine-making in Australia and New Zealand in the 19th century. Today, France, Italy, Spain, the United States, Australia, Argentina, Germany, South Africa, Portugal, Chile, Greece, Georgia (former Soviet republic), Romania, and Hungary are the world's largest producers of wine.
Almost all wine today is made from grapes that are descended from the wild Eurasian grape (Vitis vinifera sylvestris), native to the lands between Spain and Central Asia. Some wine is made from native North American grapes (V. labrusca, V. aestivalis, V. rupestris, V. rotundifolia, and V. riparia); more often, these grapes have been hybridized with V. vinifera to produce hardy, disease-resistant varieties. The quality of the wine depends, of course, on the quality of the grape, and many variables affect the taste, juiciness, and aroma of the grapes: the soil of the vineyards, the amount of rainfall and sunshine, the temperatures during the growing season, not to mention the quality of the local yeast cultures used in fermentation, the material used to make the wine barrels and casks, the length of fermentation and aging, the blend of grapes used, the additives included, and so on. One year's wine cannot be duplicated the following year.
Making wine is a relatively simple process. Basically, the ripe grapes are harvested and crushed. The result is called must. When yeast is introduced into the must, it causes fermentation, converting the sugar in the must to carbon dioxide and alcohol. The carbon dioxide is allowed to evaporate, and the result is an alcoholic beverage called wine.
Generally, wines are named by the grape variety used (such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir) or by the place where the wine is made (such as Bordeaux and Burgundy). But there are many ways to classify wines. The most common is by their vinification method:
- Still wines, which are the most common, are either red or white wines. A wine's color is independent of the color of the grape used to make it; rather, red wine is made by allowing the grape skin to remain with the juice mixture during fermentation. Rose´ wine is made by leaving the red grape skins in the fermenting mixture for a short time.
- Sparkling wines, such as champagnes, which contain carbon dioxide, retained during the fermentation process or added later
- Fortified wines, such as marsala, madeira, port, and sherry, which are sweeter and more alcoholic than still wines, having been fortified with alcoholic spirits
- Distilled wines, such as brandy, which are made from fermented grape juice or pomace
Wines can also be classified by harvest year:
- Vintage wines, which are made from the grapes of a single year's harvest, often develop improved flavors as they age.
- Nonvintage wines, which are made from the grapes of multiple harvests, do not improve with age and are intended for immediate consumption.
Vintage wines tend to be more expensive than others, and wines that are deemed to be of superior or super-premium vintage can command tremendous prices as they age; of course, there is also the risk that they will spoil and turn to vinegar.
Wines can be classified by taste:
- Dry wines, which contain little residual sugar after fermentation
- Fruity wines
- Sweet wines, which contain significant amounts of residual sugar
And wines can be classified by use:
- Aperitifs (or appetizer wines), which are intended for consumption before eating, to awaken the appetite. Examples include sherry, vermouth, and madeira.
- Table wines, which contain no more than 14 percent alcohol by volume. Table wines include:
- Red dinner wines, which are usually dry, are intended to be served with a meal's main course, usually red meat dishes, stews, or pastas with tomato sauce. They are most flavorful when served at room temperature. Examples include claret, Burgundy, Chianti, and Cabernet Sauvignon.
- White dinner wines, which are either very dry or sweet, are also intended to accompany the main course, usually seafood, white meat, and poultry. Examples include Chablis, wines from the Rhine, Pinot Grigiot, and Chardonnay.
- Sparkling wines, which are usually served at celebratory occasions. Examples include champagne and sparkling Burgundy.
- Dessert wines, which are sweet, are served with desserts. Examples include port, sweet sherry, muscatel, and often rose´.
- Cooking wines, which are the lowest grade of wine and are usually salty.
Wines can also be used to make cocktails, punches, spritzers, and coolers.
Recent medical studies have indicated that drinking one or two glasses of wine daily can lower the risk of coronary heart disease and reduce mortality rates. Overconsumption of wine can, however, increase the risks of liver cirrhosis, mouth cancer, and upper respiratory tract infections. Some people can also have allergic reactions to the sulfites that are added to wines as preservatives; also, the histamines in wine can induce headaches and hangovers.