The uniqueness of sugarcane is that it is widely available in India and so easy to get fresh juice. However, the biggest problem is that it is almost ever-ready for fermentation. Within fifteen minutes of crushing sugarcane, you will see the color and flavor of the juice to change visibly.
Traditionally, fresh sugarcane juice is stored in earthen pots for 24 hours and drunk fresh as a mildly intoxicating fizzy drink. It has 6-8% alcohol and a refreshing sweet-sour taste. The earthen vessel serves three purposes.
Firstly its porous surface is home to the yeast needed to bring out the unique taste. Hence an old vessel will make better toddy than a fresh one. Secondly, it allows evaporation and natural cooling of the juice under fermentation. This temperature regulator helps reduce fusel alcohol production, especially during Indian summers. Thirdly the evaporation allows for sugar concentration to build up. this allows us to make a stronger beverage with higher alcohol content.
However, this wild fermentation has its downside. Firstly, it is nearly impossible to store or age toddy. It will soon become sour and vinegary. Secondly, since it is supposed to be drunk semi-fermented, bottling it leads to complete fermentation and explosive build-up of gasses.
If you still want to recreate this magical traditional beverage for your next ethnic party. This is what you need to do.
Sugarcane toddy wine
- airtight jar (fermenter)
- 5 liters Sugar Cane juice 5 liters
- 5 gm Toddy yeast
- 2 gm Wine stabilizer (sorbate) optional needed only if you want to store
- Priming sugar optional for sparkling toddy
- Fresh ginger roasted cumin, and other spices as per taste.
- Take freshly crushed sugarcane juice, filter it and put in in a vessel
- Add yeast to it and cover it. (if you have airlock it is good but not necessary)
- After 24 hours taste it with a straw (don’t stir. Let the natural C02 blanket prevent your juice from turning into vinegar)
- If the taste is right (alcohol, tartness, and sweetness) then add some wine stabilizer, and put it in the refrigerator.
- Serve chilled, garnish the glass with some mint, lime or fruit slice. Terracotta pots and glasses pairs very well with this drink.
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Sidhu or Vedic Sugarcane Wine
Indians were harvesting and fermenting sugar millenniums before Rum was introduced in the Caribbean. Derived from the Sanskrit word. शर्करा (śarkarā), sugar-cane originated in India 6,000 years ago and spread all over the World.
It is a bamboo-like 10-20 feet tall grass that grows in a hot humid climate. 20% of the world’s sugarcane crop is grown in the Indian States of Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Karnataka.
ज्ञेयः शीतरसः सीधुरपक्वमधुरद्रवैः ।
सिद्धः पक्वरसः सीधुः सम्पक्वमधुरद्रवैः॥Śa. Ma Kha. 10/4
Sugarcane juice or any other madhura dravya (honey or sweet juice) fermented without boiling is called as apakwa rasa sīdhu.
If a liquid is fermented after boiling, it is called as pakwa rasa sīdhu. The benefit of boiling is that the sugar concentration increases from 10-12% in raw juice to ~25% in boiled sugarcane juice. This thickening increases the alcohol content and introduces some interesting Belgian candy notes that beer drinkers prefer.
Sugarcane has a sweet juicy stem. Crushing the stem leads to a gush of a greenish-brown cloudy and extremely sweet juice. Fresh juice is sold as a beverage across the nation in summers for kids. The adults, however, prefer a stronger fermented variety also known as Toddy. If you distill this juice, then you will get the RUM that we all are so familiar with.
Within 15 minutes of juicing, the color of the liquid starts to change from greenish to light brown to dark brown. This is because of the wild spontaneous fermentation. The yeast is converting the sugars into ethanol, resulting in fizzy toddy. A 24-48 hour old sugarcane juice served in the bio-degradable terracotta pot (matki) is a perfect break from the hardships of daily life. Toddy is a cure for stress and dehydration from heatwaves.
In winters, toddy consumption goes down. Farmers start looking for alternative markets. One can see overloaded tractor lorries and trucks rushing towards the nearest mill or crusher. Here factory transforms sugarcane into various products, including white sugar, molasses, rum, and confectionaries for the delight of city dwellers.