Palm wine is not your average wine. It is consumed by many African countries. Particularly, it is the traditional drink of Seychelles. Unlike other wines, palm wine is not made from grapes. As its name serves, it is made from the sap of palm trees. In Seychelles, it is locally referred to as calou, kalou, or toddy.
A part of the Palmaceae or Palmae family, the palm tree is a perennial tree that is botanically known as Arecaceae. There are approximately 2600 species present in the subtropical, tropical, rainforests and warm temperate regions of the world. However, in Seychelles, coconut palm trees are commonly used for palm wine.
The consumption of palm wine is a long-standing Seychelles tradition. Until recently, it was the most consumed alcoholic beverage on the islands. It still makes an appearance during traditional marriages, naming ceremonies and funeral wakes. Now, the influx of other alcoholic beverages is competing with its consumption, and though you may not find it being served in restaurants, almost every home as well as local food stalls and markets has some bottles of the wine.
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When in Seychelles, visit the Praslin Museum for live demonstrations on how to tap palm wine and maybe try a glass or two of it. On the islands, it is not uncommon to see regular plastic bottles hanging from palm trees, getting filled with palm wine sap. Two parts of the tree are used to make toddy; either the top of the tree where the unopened spadix is shaved or in the roots, which produces a much stronger brew of wine.
The first step to the tapping process is identifying a blooming healthy coconut tree with fruits. The tapper, who always has a sharp razor-like knife strapped to his waist, climbs the tree either with a ladder or with a rope tied to his wait and uses the trunk to push himself up.
The tapper then quickly scans through for the best-looking spathe at the crown of the tree. At this point, the tapper must be extra cautious before proceeding as there may be insects and rodents living in the crown. At the end of the day, the cloudy looking sweet juice or sap is obtained by shaving and tapping the unopened spadix of the coconut palm. A bamboo container is attached to the spadix to collect the sap or more recently plastic bottles.
A healthy coconut tree produces two to three liters of wine per spadix in a day. Freshly harvested toddy is usually sweet and after fermentation, it can have about 8 percent alcohol.
Traditionally, people drink straight from the tree when the wine is warm but it’s okay to bottle it and refrigerate as well. It’s best consumed within a day or two.