Palo de Mallorca
Palo de Mallorca, literally means 'Stick of Mallorca', however it is in fact a Spanish liqueur which is made on the island of Mallorca, one of the Spanish Balearic Islands. The drink has been produced on Mallorca since the middle of the 19th century and today it has a Regional Designation.
This Spanish drink tends to be very dark, almost black in colour, dense and viscous. The liqueur should be aromatic but not overpowering - the main aromas being alcohol, caramel and a little bit woody which many people associate with royalty or the upper classes in Spain. The taste seems to alternate between alcohol, sweetness and then bitterness which is a true representative of the drink's ingredients.
History of Palo de Mallorca
Palo de Mallorca may literally mean 'stick of Mallorca' however it actually derives from the bark of the Quina plant (the main ingredient of the drink). This plant is also known as the 'palo quina' in Spanish. The bark of the Quina plant contains a variety of substances such as quinine, that creates a bitter and astringent taste, but which also has antipyretic and malaria fighting properties.
This plant is originally from South America and it became known in the Iberian peninsular thanks to the Countess of Chinchón. The countess, fell ill when she was in Lima during the year of 1638, and it was here that she was treated with the Quina plant and cured. When she returned to Spain, she took with her some of the bark from the plant. From then on, the Quina bark gained a large amount of fame and popularity both in Spain and other places in Europe as a herbal remedy for fevers.
One of the other main ingredients in Palo de Mallorca is the perennial plant known as gentiana. This plant is famous for its intense bitter flavour as well as being invigorating. The plant also stimulates the production of saliva and gastric juices. This was yet another plant that used to be used as a remedy against Malaria.
On the Balearic Islands, to the East of the Spanish peninsular, a lot of the coastal areas used to be made up of swampland which made an excellent habitat for mosquitoes - the main carriers of fevers and of course, malaria. This meant that the people of the Spanish islands happily accepted any plant that would help them recover from these illnesses and lots of the plants were planted and then mixed with other products with the aim of creating more medicines and remedies.
Over the years, people decided to try and sweeten the extremely bitter flavour of some of these herbal remedies, and so began adding concentrated sugars made from grapes, dries figs and carob beans. In order to concentrate these extracts even further, people would heat up the sugars to the point when they would begin to caramelise and turn dark. The strong sweet flavour acquired was enough to mask the bitter taste of the plants.
However, the problem with this syrupy concoction was that it had a relatively short life as the mixture would begin to ferment quickly. That's when people decided to add alcohol to the plants as well and the palo de Mallorca was born.
As the years went by, people began adding less and less of the bitter plants and more and more of the alcohol and sugar. In the end, the mixture had no medicinal value but had been converted into a tasty and well revered aperitif that still exists today.
In 1993, Palo de Mallorca was awarded a protected status which had a number of benefits. Firstly it helped protect the name of the drink and assured that the quality of the drink was regulated. This protection also means that the drink cannot be produced outside of the designated region; hence there is no competition from other regions.
Because of its protected status, this Spanish liqueur can only be made on the island of Mallorca. Today, there are only 8 manufacturers registered on the island, who produce a total of 120,754 litres a year.
The production of the drink is also regulated. This means that true Palo de Mallorca must be made from the fermentation of Quina and gentiana in an ethyl alcohol made from an agricultural product and water. However, it is also permitted that the plants may be infused in water and then the alcohol be added later in the process. They also add sucrose dissolved in water to this mixture, whose sugar then caramelizes when the mixture is heated.
The main ingredients of Palo de Mallorca liqueur are:
- Quina - the bark from various plants from the Cinchona genus
- Gentiana - dried roots of the gentiana lutea plant
- Alcohol - distilled or fermented alcohol made from agricultural products
- Sucrose - in any form
No oils or artificial colours are used at all. The only colouring that can be used in the making of palo de Mallorca are the whatever is contained in the plants, or what is produced during the production process - such as the colour of the caramelized sugar.