SOUTHERN AFRICA: MARULA TREES AND AMARULA LIQUEUR

Savor the Spirit of Africa

Text and photos by Vivienne Mackie

The African continent is home to a variety of fascinating ancient trees and plants, a fact that enhances the mystery and appeal of this continent.

Amarula tree.

One is the Marula Tree, often called “The Great Provider,” because of its many uses. The Marula tree grows naturally in the warm, frost-free regions of southern Africa, especially Botswana, Zimbabwe and South

Although not commercially cultivated the Marula is part of the mango, cashew and pistachio family. Its fruit, which looks like a worn tennis ball, is used for making jam, beer, and wine, and it is the basis for a Amarula Cream Liqueur, one of South Africa’s most successful exports.

The Marula is also known as “hard walnut” from the Greek, refers to the hard stone inside the fleshy fruit. It is a medium sized deciduous tree that has been extremely important to the indigenous Bantu peoples and their migrations for at least 10,000 years, according to archeological evidence. The ripe Marula is the size of a small yellow plum, its fleshy fruit high in vitamin C (more than 4 times that of an average-size orange), the nutty kernel is high in protein and oil, while the bark has medicinal properties that are helpful in malaria prophylaxis, for pain, and for scorpion or snake bites. The inner bark can be used to make rope and the soft wood is good for carving.

Marula fruit.

Held sacred among those who inhabit the region, the Marula tree plays a prominent role in tribal legends. Commonly nicknamed “the Marriage Tree,” it is widely believed to bestow vigor and fertility upon those who marry beneath its branches. Even today, tribal wedding ceremonies occur beneath its branches. The hard stones inside the soft yellow fruit are often dried and strung together in a necklace that traditionally symbolizess love.

During southern Africa’s spring and early summer when the ripe Marula fruit hangs on the tree, animals travel for miles to collect and enjoy their share of this delicious, natural bounty. Warthog, waterbuck, giraffe and kudu all eat the fruit and leaves of the tree, but foremost are the herds of African elephants that have roamed the continent for thousands of years. For this reason, some communities also refer to the Marula tree as the “Elephant Tree.” This age-old relationship between these two African symbols is why both this majestic creature and the Marula tree feature as icons for the Amarula Cream Liqueur.

Amarula Cream Liqueur

A popular centuries-old myth is that elephants and other animals eat the rotting Marula fruit and get intoxicated. It was put to rest by a National Geographic story. (See: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/12/1219_051219_drunk_elephant.html )

Once a year, the Marula tree is responsible for a remarkable event – the annual Marula harvest. Celebrations occur as the bountiful fruit is gathered from across the plains. A single tree can produce over 10,000 fruit.

Here is where the process of making Amarula Cream begins. After it is collected by hand, this lush and exotic pale yellow fruit is pulped and fermented before undergoing slow and careful distillation in copper pot sills. This process further concentrates the flavor of the fruit, yielding the unique-tasting Marula spirit that is then matured for at least two years in small French oak barrels.

When the tasters say that the contents of each barrel are ready, the Marula spirit is blended with the finest, freshest cream. This is final step toward creating this distinctively smooth liqueur. Amarula Cream has been enjoyed by people who live in and visit its native African continent, and in the last decade or so, has become available to other regions, allowing connoisseurs and and the no-so-experienced to discover this unique flavor. Many people have commented that if you like cream liqueurs, then you owe it to yourself to try this one.

There are also wonderful Amarula Cream chocolates, if you’d like to savor the Spirit of Africa in yet another form.

Amarula Cream can be enjoyed on its own, splashed over ice, or in a variety of delectable cocktails. Many locals and visitors love the southern African tradition of “Sundowners.” A splash of Amarula Cream over ice is one perfect way to watch the sun go down in one of Africa’s spectacular sunsets.

For more information:

Amarula Cream, www.amarula.com (You must include a birth date to enter the site).