The history of aluá in Brazil is long, but it is dim and unsettled. Some authorities say that the technique of fermenting grains or fruits mixed with water and sugar came to Brazil with the Portuguese and that they in turn learned it from the Moors. For these folks, the word aluá derived from the Arabic word "heluon" meaning "sweet." Other food historians think that it was the slaves from Africa that brought aluá to Brazil, and that the name comes from an African tongue. Still others think that indigenous peoples of the Americas were making aluá long before either the Portuguese or the African arrived.
|Freed slaves selling aluá - 19th cent.|
In any case, aluá has been a popular drink for centuries and remains so today, particularly in the North and Northeast of Brazil. In the semi-arid interior of the Northeast, the sertão, the drink is particularly associated with the Festas Juninas, the cycle of festivals that occurs in the month of June. People make a supply of aluá to serve to the steady stream of visitors to their homes during the festivals, and it is shared by dancers and spectators at quadrilhas, which are folk-dancing exhibitions and contests. In the state of Minas Gerais, tradition forbids the sale of aluá. It must be given or shared in a spirit of conviviality. Because it's alcoholic content is quite low, normally around 3%, aluá can lighten and animate the spirit without causing the drinker to exhibit any of the negative signs of drunkenness.
In the state of Bahia, aluá is associated with the ceremonies and rituals of candomblé, the Afro-Brazilian religion of the region. There, it is traditionally served in enormous jars, and offered to the twin divinities Ibeji (although consumed by the celebrants).
The basic concept of aluá is to create a mixture of either fruit or grain plus water, then let it ferment naturally for a short time before drinking. Normally it only takes about a day for the fermentation process to occur naturally in the heat of Brazil, so the drink is most often made the day before it is to be served. In cooler climates, fermentation will naturally take a bit longer. Unless the drink is refrigerated, however, it will continue to ferment and increase in alcoholic content, so it is best drunk when it is still at an early stage in the fermentation process - otherwise, it can become unpleasant and dangerously high in alcohol.
In the next post on Flavors of Brazil, I'll provide two recipes for aluá; one made with fruit and one with grains.